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Mandate measure proves resilient to challenges.

Despite partisan bickering and obstruction, House and Senate leaders forged ahead in Congress on unfunded madnate relief legislation last week. In its first, key test, the Senate rejected the most severe challenge to the bill.

After five days of snail's pace floor action, Senate consideration of substantive amendments to the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act (S.1/H.R.5) began on a favorable note for cities. In a litmus-test vote of 53 to 44, Republican Senators defeated a significant NLC-opposed amendment, sending a clear message that the Senate will defeat any and all efforts to weaken or defeat the bill.

The amendment sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), Robert Kerry (D-Neb.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) would have exempted from the legislation, "any provision in any legislation, statute or regulation that would equally be applicable to the activities, facilities or services of state, local, or privately owned business including activities, facilities, or services in which there may be competition between state and local governments and private businesses."

In a letter sent to Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho), NLC President Carolyn Long Banks explained that amendments such as these would gut the bill: "The argument that S.1 gives the public sector a 'competitive advantage' over private sector entities is an unfounded fear...We would note that the Motor-Voter bill is one of the very few bills we are aware of the very few bills we are aware of which imposed mandates upon the public but not the private sector. Therefore, we are apprehensive that any so-called 'competitive disadvantage' amendment would largely eviscerate your NLC-supported legislation."

Democrats blocked Senate floor consideration of S.1 throughout the week of January 15-21, filing nearly 100 amendments as part of an effort to tie up any progress. Sen. Robert Byrd's (D-W.V.) statement during one of his many lengthy speeches--"Sometimes repetition bears being repeated"--captured the overall tone of the Senate floor discussion, during which Democrats reiterated concerns about the lack of time provided to fully consider the legislation.

In response to the Democratic filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kans.) made a motion to cut off debate and complete action on the bill by Friday, January 20th. The motion, to invoke cloture, would have set a time limit for debate and action and prohibited nongermane amendments. Cloture requires 60 votes, which meant the 54 Republicans needed the support of at least 6 Democrats for the motion to pass. By a vote of 54-44, the motion was denied on Thursday, January 19th. Leaders from both parties expected a subsequent cloture motion will eventually pass. But with 117 amendments (30 of them Republican amendments) filed thus far, final vote on S.1 may well be pushed into next week.

To get an idea of the amendment situation, as of January 18, Sen. Glenn (D-Ohio) had filed 24 amendments to the bill, Sen. Ford (D-Ky.) 10, Sen. Levin (D-Mich.) 11, Sen. Wellstone (D-Minn.) 8, Sen. Bingaman (D-Mont.) 9, Sen. boxer (D-Calif.) 7, Sen. Dorgan (D-N.D.), Sen. Grassley (R-Iowa) 4.

House floor debate began January 19th under an open rule, which allows an unlimited number of amendments to be considered. Amendments expected from Democrats include exemptions for labor mandates, environmental mandates, and situations where the public sector may hold a "competitive advantage" over the private sector. Amendments anticipated from conservatives include a 3/5ths majority override for points-of-order and a regulatory moratorium. Debate on amendments began on Friday, January 20th, and the House expects to vote on the measure by the end of this week.
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Author:Larmouth, Mary-Margaret
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 23, 1995
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