For two guys trying to bury the hatchet, Reps. Bill Archer (R-Tex.) and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) have a long way to go. Archer, the courtly Ways and Means Committee chairman, and Rangel, the hard-edged ranking Democrat, have clashed for years. When Rangel compared Archer and other Republican leaders to Hitler during the welfare reform battle, a furious Archer excluded him from any significant meetings.
Lately, however, Archer has been wooing Rangel, trying to get his support for a Social Security reform plan before Archer leaves Congress next year. And it did appear that their icy relationship was begining to thaw--until Archer rammed an $864 billion tax cut plan through committee last week without bothering to consult Rangel in advance.
Archer was unyielding in his approach, criticizing President Clinton and the Democrats for caring more about spending than tax relief.
"I am doing this because I think it's the right thing to do," Archer said in unveiling his plan.
Rangel was furious that Archer would "kick the president in the teeth" over taxes but still expect him and the Democrats to be sympathetic to Archer's highly controversial Social Security reform plan.
"I didn't think we would use this committee for the national Republican congressional campaign," Rangel sneered during his opening remarks in committee. "I thought we would work together on a tax bill. . . . If this is really a piece of campaign literature, I would join you in saying, 'Let the campaign begin.' "
The two men conferred the next morning and agreed to cool their rhetoric, but it's not at all clear whether they can repair the damage. "But I'm professional enough to try," Rangel said late last week.
DO-NOTHINGS?: Usually, it's the minority party that accuses the majority party of running a "do-nothing Congress." But last week, Republicans began road-testing a new theme, gleefully bashing the "do-nothing Democrats."
"The Democrat leadership has adopted a do-nothing partisan agenda that is designed to produce gridlock," House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) wrote in a press release to his GOP colleagues. An aide to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) issued a strategy memo: "It has become clear that the Do-Nothing Democrats believe stalemate is their ONLY option for taking back the House." Armey, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.) and Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) repeated the new GOP mantra in fiery speeches on the House floor.
"They've decided to spend the next 18 months sitting around pouting that they're not in the majority," explained Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), head of the GOP's "Theme Team." "That's something we definitely need to make clear to America."
It must be confessed that the spark for this rhetorical fire was a Washington Post article about House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), suggesting his main focus these days is the 2000 elections. The story detailed how Gephardt has united his caucus behind a fairly confrontational partisan agenda and quoted several aides and other Democrats playing down the likelihood of compromise with the Republican leadership.
But Gephardt never said he didn't want to compromise; he complained that the GOP has moved so far to the right that he cannot in good conscience compromise on most bills. He said that if Republicans were interested in passing items on the Democratic agenda, he would gladly move to the middle. Otherwise, he said, voters will decide in 2000 whether they want that agenda passed.
In any case, Gephardt said at a news conference Thursday that Republicans can't blame Democrats for partisan gridlock. "They are in charge of this place. They've got their hands on the wheel," Gephardt said. "In the face of a do-nothing Congress they want to figure out who to blame for it, because they sure don't want to be blamed for it."
They sure don't. Armey returns to the House floor this week. His topic: the do-nothing Democrats.
WEEK AHEAD: The House will take up legislation regulating U.S. embassies and empowering teachers, as well as considering the Financial Freedom Act, the defense appropriations bill and possibly a major tax cut bill. The Senate will take up an intelligence reauthorization bill, including amendments to tighten security at national nuclear labs.