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Congress returns to face agenda with heavy impact on cities and towns.

Congress returns from its month-long recess this week with a long list of issues affecting the nation's cities on its agenda and less than three weeks to pass and send to the White House the thirteen funding or appropriations bills for the new federal fiscal year beginning October 1. Moreover, President Clinton has scheduled a triple barrage of priorities he wants Congress to act on before its scheduled adjournment next month.

White House Agenda

Vice President Gore expects to unveil the White House proposal for reinventing the federal government (REGO) this week, sending legislation up to Congress which could affect not only thousands of federal jobs, but also the way in which the federal government deals with state and local governments. A draft portion of the report recommends substantial changes in the way the federal government imposes regulations on local government.

The next week, President Clinton plans to begin a strong push for Congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The treaty with Canada and Mexico and side agreements face strong Democratic opposition in the Congress and harsh attack from Ross Perot, assuring that the issue will be difficult and time consuming.

The following week, the White House intends to introduce the president's comprehensive health care reform legislation. The health care plan will affect every city in the nation, both as employers expected to make mandatory contributions towards health care insurance for municipal employees, and as providers of clinical, emergency response, and other health care services for all citizens.

To make sure Congress is busy, the White House also plans to send up a major anticrime bill this month, including so-called a Brady Bill to impose a five-day waiting period before the purchase of handguns, and to authorize funding for cities and towns to implement community policing programs. The crime bill fight is expected to be difficult with opposition from the National Rifle Association to any limits on handguns or assault weapons to Republican opposition. The bill does not go far enough to limit prisoners' rights efforts by police unions to insist upon a police bill of rights. The combination of competing White House priorities on controversial issues and lack of consensus in the Congress with so little time remaining raises questions about the likelihood of successful action this year.

Finally, the administration will push Congress to complete action on the national service bill and to act on its community banking legislation. Both the House and Senate have raised a compromise version of the national service bill, but need to reach a final compromise before sending the package to the White House.

Both the House and Senate Banking Committees have taken action on the president's proposal to provide seed funding for community banks as early as this month.

Congressional Agenda

The first priority for the Congress will be to complete action on the thirteen annual appropriations bills before the September 30 deadline. The House has passed and sent to the Senate eleven, but still has to act on the key transportation (HR 2490) and Defense finding bills.

The House and Senate have passed the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary bills (HR 2519), but have to work out their differences on key issues affecting rural development ACIR funding, EDA and anti-crime funding levels in conference.

The Senate has yet to begin action on the House HUD-VA and Independent Agencies funding bill (HR 2491) set funding levels for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME state and local housing block grant programs, and for all EPA grant programs to help finance a small portion of the costs of complying with federal environmental mandates.

Mandates and Mandate Relief

Congress will begin this week with hearings on legislation to repeal the prohibition against federal regulation of how cities and towns provide information and issue tax-exempt municipal bonds (see related story on pages 1,6).

The Senate will consider action to re-authorize the Clean Water Act, including major relief from the stormwater mandates scheduled to go into effect beginning this November for the nation's largest cities, and next November for all other cities. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking Republican John Chafee (R-R.I.) have proposed S 1114, which includes a ten-year moratorium on mandates to meet stormwater effluent limits and would significantly and permanently reduce mandates for most small cities.

No counterpart bill has been proposed in the House, however, nor has the administration taken an active role to help reduce these mandates--limiting the chances for successful action this year.

Similarly, despite intensive lobbying by cities, the outlook is cloudy for relief on the drinking water front. The administration has proposed to sharply cut the Clean Water revolving loan fund and use a portion of the savings to create a drinking water revolving loan fund to provide loans to cities and towns to finance drinking water mandates. The proposal, however, would double state administrative costs and mean a net cut in local revolving loan funds available to meet both Clean Water and drinking water federal mandates. The administration has proposed no relief from the existing mandates.

The Senate appears to support the NLC position of opposing action on the new revolving loan fund legislation proposed by the administration unless there are substantive changes to address the burdens imposed on cities in the current law.

Infrastructure

The White House is apparently considering alternatives to meet then-candidate Clinton's pledge to invest $20 billion annually into public infrastructure. Bound by the budget limits set by the Economic Recovery Act the president signed last month, the Treasury is looking at alternatives to reduce some of the costly obstacles to municipal tax-exempt financing of infrastructure in cities. The efforts come along with humors that Congress might act on a second tax bill this year, including simplification and efforts to change Social Security contribution requirements for municipal election and elected officials.

Budget

Congressional leaders have also promised they will consider additional efforts to reduce the federal deficit this fall, including options to limit entitlement spending or to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Efforts to simply cap federal entitlement spending would transfer enormous mandates to states and local governments. Any constitutional balanced budget amendment is projected to lead to a faster increase in the imposition of unfunded mandates on local governments.

Outlook

With little time left in this session of Congress, and vast array of complex and emotional issues, it is unclear how much progress Congress will make.
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 6, 1993
Words:1081
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