Senate Democrats and Republicans yesterday unveiled rival agendas for the early days of the 102nd Congress, including a GOP proposal to address the "Keating Five" ethics controversy by requiring lawmakers to disclose contacts with federal officials involved in enforcement and contract work.
While Congress's first week was dominated by debating and approving an authorization for war against Iraq, "we were elected to put our own house in order, not only to seek a new world order," said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine). "We cannot postpone that responsibility indefinitely because of crises abroad. We have crises here at home as well."
In back-to-back presentations, Mitchell and Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) introduced the first 10 bills of the session and sketched out some of their legislative priorities, which for both parties include initiatives in education, health and energy policy.
Mindful of the possibility of war in the Persian Gulf, they agreed to swift passage of a cost-of-living increase in benefits for disabled veterans and their survivors, which failed in the waning days of last year's session, and to an extension of tax filing deadlines for troops in Operation Desert Shield.
They also gave a high priority to reform of Congress's campaign finance laws but offered no indication of a break in the impasse that blocked passage of legislation before the 101st Congress adjourned last October.
Both plans go beyond last year's bill in seeking to increase a candidate's access to television. Democrats would increase the amount of publicly financed vouchers for television advertising from the amount in their 1990 bill. Republicans would require broadcasters to provide five hours of free time every two-year election cycle to be shared by all candidates in a particular race.
Neither Mitchell nor Dole specifically mentioned the "Keating Five" case. But, in an obvious reference to it, Dole proposed new disclosure requirements that he said were aimed at preventing intervention by lawmakers that they would not feel "comfortable reading about . . .on the front page of the newspapers."
In two months of public hearings that are expected to end later this week, five senators -- four Democrats and one Republican -- are being investigated for their ties to savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr., who contributed more than $1.3 million to their campaigns and political causes.
A key question in the case is their intervention with federal thrift regulators on behalf of Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan, including two 1987 meetings that included discussion of what Keating might do in exchange for relaxation of enforcement action against Lincoln.
The Senate ethics committee is seeking to determine if disciplinary action by the Senate is warranted in any or all of the cases. The five senators are Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.).
Under current law, campaign contributions must be reported and disclosed, but there is no uniform requirement for public reporting of contacts with regulatory agencies or other governmental offices.
Dole's proposal would require disclosure of a lawmaker's written and unwritten contacts, such as telephone calls and personal visits, in dealings with enforcement actions and awarding of contracts. Written communications would be put in public files, and all pertinent information dealing with unwritten contacts would be reported monthly to relevant congressional committees and printed semiannually in the Congressional Record.
In addition to campaign finance reform and veterans' benefits, Mitchell's initial agenda included an education package, an expansion of last year's legislation aimed at improving health care for poor children, and a bill, vetoed last year, to require unpaid leave for workers to care for infants and sick family members. Mitchell also listed civil rights, health care for long-term illness and for the uninsured, energy and transportation among priorities for the session.
Dole, among his first five bills, proposed a revamping of the foreign aid program under which aid could be channeled to democratic and market-oriented republics within communist countries and called for the abolition of limits on income that can be earned by Social Security recipients. He also cited energy, budget constraints and health care and said he will later introduce legislation aimed at helping women combat discrimination in the workplace as well as domestic and street violence.