The witching hour is approaching, and Congress is quickly turning into . . . The Dead Zone.
Earlier this month, President Clinton killed a $792 billion tax cut that had passed both houses of Congress. Last week, Senate Republicans killed the campaign finance overhaul that had passed the House. The House and the Senate both passed managed-care reform bills, but hopes of reconciling them before Congress recesses for the year look just about dead as well.
And then there's gun control.
Last Wednesday, six months after the chilling rampage at Columbine High School, the juvenile justice bills that passed the House and Senate in the massacre's aftermath are now stalled in a conference committee. It would take some kind of Halloween sorcery to revive this issue this year.
"This thing is going nowhere," said one Democratic staffer. "The Republicans don't really want to see anything with any gun control pass. And most of our members would rather let the Republicans kill gun control and go campaign on the issue than just pass something weak."
In May, with Vice President Gore casting a tie-breaking vote, the Senate barely passed a juvenile justice bill with some fairly modest gun controls. In July, after a raucous debate over the causes of youth violence, the House passed a package that allowed teachers to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms but included no gun restrictions.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) has been trying to broker a compromise over the Senate's gun control provisions, especially a controversial measure designed to require background checks for purchases at gun shows, but so far anti-gun Democrats have refused to budge.
Hyde believes many Republicans would support a compromise, but Democrats think that will happen only if the bill is loaded with "poison pills" that would force them to vote against it on the floor--the Ten Commandments provision, for example.
The bottom line is: Both parties want to blame each other for shooting down gun laws.
"The Democrats are playing rope-a-dope," said one GOP staffer. "Every time we make a concession, they add a new objection. They can't have it both ways. They can't say they're trying to stop the violence and at the same time block the only reasonable chance of getting anything done. So yeah, as far as we're concerned, this is their fault."
A HUNGER FOR ACTION: Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) is continuing his unlikely crusade for America to cancel the debts owed by the world's poorest countries.
First, he sent $1.20 of his own money to each of his House colleagues, to hammer home the point that Third World debt relief would cost only $1.20 per American per year. Then he appeared at a news conference with outspoken leftist rocker Bono.
On Thursday, Bachus went even further beyond the call of duty: He fasted for a day to demand action on his Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Act. Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio) plans a one-day fast as well.
Of course, sacrifice is a relative thing: In the debt-ridden nations the bill would help, many people go hungry every day.
ON HOLD: California lawyer Marsha Berzon has waited more than two years for a vote on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals. President Clinton's nomination to promote U.S. District Judge Richard Paez has languished for almost four years.
Now Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is trying to break the logjam. She has put a "hold" on Glenn McCullough, who is the mayor of Tupelo, Miss., and, more importantly, the nominee of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) for the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Under the customs of the Senate, all it takes is one recalcitrant senator, for whatever reason, to block a vote.
"I have no problem with Sen. Lott's nominee, who has been waiting for a Senate vote for two days, as long as Sen. Lott and the Republican majority also consider those who have been waiting for years," Boxer said in a statement.
THE WEEK AHEAD: The Senate will take up a bill liberalizing trade with Africa and the Caribbean Basin; Democrats may try to attach other proposals, including a minimum wage hike. The House is expected to take up a bill that would ban assisted suicide.
And Congress will try to hash out the spending bills for major domestic programs and the District of Columbia.