The coming year will be key to any domestic accomplishments by the 106th Congress. Posturing for the 2000 elections - with both parties smelling victory - and the early start of the presidential race will politicize events by next fall, making any compromise more difficult.
That's what makes the timing of the current impeachment drama so problematic. While Senate leaders are searching for a way to get some legislative work done, a drawn-out trial could make that difficult.
The residual bitterness on both sides in the House following the impeachment vote will complicate probable Speaker Dennis Hastert's job. But the Illinois Republican and Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi have an incentive to act: They need to prove to voters that Republicans can govern and aren't the impeachment-obsessed fanatics that Democrats portray.
Some central issues for 1999:
Social Security, Medicare, and taxes. President Clinton promises a detailed Social Security proposal; if he doesn't deliver, progress will come hard. Ditto for the Medicare commission's recommendations to come this spring. Since both are related to the surplus and the budget, they can and should be resolved together, along with a needed tax cut. After years of Clinton attacks on these subjects, Republicans won't move on entitlement reform unless the president is on board. Here's his opportunity for a legacy other than impeachment.
Social issues. Democrats want a minimum-wage hike, more federal spending on education, and health-care reform. Raising the wage will be mostly symbolic in a full-employment economy. Republicans have solid ideas on education spending that don't include federal meddling and a bigger Education Department. There's room for compromise on health-care reform that increases patients' rights, but suing HMOs is not the answer. Increased spending in any sector must be balanced by real cuts elsewhere.
Meanwhile, campaign-finance reform supporters will certainly push toward their goal again. Any increase in defense-readiness spending should be paid for with additional base closings. Farmers hurting from low commodity prices will demand assistance of some kind. The most effective would be enactment of free-trade legislation, including fast-track trade-negotiating authority for the president.