When Democrats tried last month to tuck their health care legislation into a farm spending bill, Republicans decided they had made a mistake--a really big one--when they voted four years ago to allow members to write policy into appropriations bills from the Senate floor.
So today, Republicans will try to revive the Senate's old ban on legislating on spending bills, and they appear to have the votes to overcome complaints from many Democrats that they are simply trying to find one more way to keep from having to vote on Democratic initiatives.
Policy could still be written into spending bills by the House or Senate Appropriations Committee, but under the new plan, the full Senate would have to stick to dollars and cents.
Even though most Democrats opposed the rules change in 1995, they have exploited it ever since, to piggyback their legislative proposals onto must-pass appropriations bills. They argue that they have no alternative because Republicans, especially since Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) took over in 1996, have blocked them from trying to amend other bills.
"The problem is not legislating on appropriations bills, but legislating" at all, complained Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), during a testy debate Friday with Lott as they sparred over conditions for voting on the latest rules change. Not so, contended Lott. "If we're going to do all our legislating on appropriations bills, why have legislation?" he asked.
It wasn't just the dispute over legislation to protect patients in managed care plans that triggered the Republicans' move. Their frustration has been building for some time, and they knew they faced more appropriations challenges from the Democrats later this year on such issues as raising the minimum wage.
The Senate will also vote on a tit-for-tat move by Democrats to curb the Republicans' penchant for adding extraneous provisions in House-Senate conferences. Democrats are not holding their breath about prevailing on that vote either.
LOBBYING BY MOUSE. In what may be a boon to low-budget, high-tech lobbying, an advocacy group is beaming nonstop video spots into the districts of every member of Congress via the Internet and giving constituents an opportunity to fire off an instant response to their lawmaker.
The "Take Pride in America Coalition," which includes labor, business and consumer groups that are pushing for legislation to curb cheap imports made by foreign guest workers in the Northern Mariana Islands, will launch its new effort today. An early run of the videos received a good response, according to coalition spokesman Jim Sims.
Viewers can go to the coalition's Web site at www.takepride.org, enter their Zip code to find out how their member of Congress stands on the Marianas issue and then watch a 60-second lobbying video tailored for each member. Then, with a few clicks of the mouse, people can send an e-mail, letter or fax to their lawmaker.
DEMOCRATIC DISSENT. Even though Senate Republican leaders and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) finally resolved their differences over scheduling votes on legislation to tighten campaign fund-raising rules, Democrats have objected, charging that the terms are unfair.
Democrats who are allied with McCain on the substance of the legislation do not object to putting off the campaign finance debate until this fall. But Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) protested that the agreement would allow only one vote to cut off an anticipated GOP filibuster. Levin also said it might allow the bill's foes to delay votes on amendments until it was too late to force action.
No matter, Republicans responded. So long as McCain and GOP leaders agree on the procedure, they will follow it.
NEW "CATs" CHIEF. The House's Conservative Action Team is losing its leader now that Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.) is running for governor and is stepping down from chairing the group. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), the vice chairman, will serve as its head for the rest of the year, until the group holds a formal election.
WEEK AHEAD. The House will vote Tuesday on whether to continue normal trade relations with China and will devote the remainder of the week voting on bills to fund the District of Columbia, foreign operations and energy and water programs. It will conduct no legislative business Wednesday because of funeral services for Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.).
After its rules fight, the Senate will begin a procedural struggle to get a juvenile crime and gun control bill to conference with the House and will start work on an Interior Department spending bill. On Wednesday, it is scheduled to begin action on its $792 billion tax cut bill.
Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.