WASHINGTON – Interest groups from across the ideological spectrum are giving the first session of the 106th Congress a resounding ho-hum — as are some Democrats in Maryland’s congressional delegation.
But where others see the work Congress did not do in this session, Maryland’s Republicans prefer to focus on what was accomplished.
“Actually, I thought it was pretty good,” said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R- Kennedyville, who was pleased that Congress increased the budget surplus while locking away the Social Security trust.
“We continued to be efficient in the way we spent our money,” Gilchrest said.
But off of Capitol Hill, conservatives and liberals alike called the session unproductive.
“There were a few highlights but, from our perspective, they could have done a lot more,” said Christian Josi, executive director of the American Conservative Union. “I think overall there could be a lot more courage coming out of both bodies.”
Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, which focuses on balanced budget issues, said this Congress “had a lot of missed opportunities. They haven’t really bitten the bullet on Social Security or Medicare reform.”
Debbie Atlas, a spokeswoman for Americans for Democratic Action, said “this Congress can be characterized by what they did not do, and what they should have done” on issues such as gun control, a patients’ bill of rights and campaign finance reform.
Some Democratic members of the Maryland delegation agreed.
“I regret to say it, but it was not a productive Congress,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore.
“I would agree with that,” said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Baltimore. “There were individual victories, but the overall agenda was not one the American public can be pleased about.”
But a spokesman for Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-Bethesda, said the public can be pleased about such victories as the balanced budget and appropriations for biomedical research.
“It was actually a very successful session,” said Jonathan Dean, the spokesman, noting that there will always be some unfinished business.
“Clearly there are other issues which need to be addressed, such as managed care reform, but they will return in January,” Dean said.
An aide to Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., R-Timonium, said much of this session’s action occurred in committee and will come to fruition next session.
“The committees have been so prolific, there’s going to be a lot of legislation that will be ready to move in the spring,” said Steven Kreseski, the aide.
But even Republicans concede that more could have been done and they, like the Democrats, blame partisan politics for any shortcomings of this session.
Gilchrest said President Clinton and Democratic leaders were unwilling to work with Republicans.
“There were a lot of bipartisan efforts,” he said. Gilchrest said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is “by his very nature a bipartisan guy,” whereas Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., are “more interested in winning a majority next year.”
Sarbanes criticized Republicans for using “procedural tricks” to prevent issues from coming to a full vote.
“There were a number of issues which the Republican leadership failed to come to grips with,” he said. “They wouldn’t allow measures to come to the floor for an up or down substantive vote.”
Both Democrats and Republicans did agree on one thing — the spring session will likely be less productive than this one was.
“We’re moving into a political year, with a presidential election before us,” Sarbanes said. “I’m concerned things will get even more partisan.”
“You’re going to have a volley of political howitzers exploding all over the place,” Gilchrest said. “I hate to say it, but it’s true.”