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Congress Puts Trial Behind Them, Begins to Work On Policy Important To Mayors

By Katie Cullen

With the trial of the century behind them, Senators and Representatives of both parties turned to issues of importance to the nation like Social Security , the Budget, the airport bill, education and Medicare Reform. In particular, Republicans worked to show the country that they and their party stand for more than just trying to remove Clinton from office.

Currently, Republicans are struggling with Clinton over how to launch a major overhaul of Social Security. Although most agree with Clinton's proposal to set aside about 60 percent of future budget surpluses for the program, few agree on how to do that. According to Clinton, this set-aside provision would add approximately 17 years of solvency to the big benefit program.

However, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) intend to begin this legislative session with popular non-controversial proposals dealing with education and national defense.

Hearings on the multi-year aviation bill are likely to begin early this spring following a similar course as the highway/transit legislation did in the 105th Congress. Two of the top priorities in the bill are continuation and increased funding for the Airport Improvement Program and expanded local authority to impose Passenger Facility Charges.

The first bill to come to the Senate floor is the "Soldiers Bill of Rights," a popular proposal that would increase military pay and expand benefits. The Republicans will offer larger pay increases and more benefits than that proposed by the White House in hopes of taking this issue away from the President.

The second item scheduled for floor consideration is the Education Flexibility Partnership Act, dubbed "ed-flex", a bi-partisan proposal viewed as the first step in a wider Congressional debate over broader education items. Democrats may use this legislative vehicle for their larger education initiatives like "100,000 teachers" and school modernization funding. On the other hand, Republicans are more interested in loosening up strings on education funds and for education-related tax breaks.

The Appropriations process will begin to heat up with House and Senate hearings scheduled for next month. These hearings will focus on many popular programs important to mayors including CDBG, Housing initiatives, urban parks and inner city revitalization proposals.

For the next month, the House of Representatives will concentrate on legislation that would give governors more flexibility in spending education funds, patient protection legislation, a couple of small banking bills, and hurricane relief money for Central America.

On the budget front, both the House and Senate are likely to move legislation out of their respective committees by mid-march, in hopes of getting a House-Senate budget compromise through their respective chambers by the April 15 deadline.