Let's give the 104th Congress its due. It helped change the terms of political debate in America, making balancing the budget a serious issue (albeit a fading one in this Presidential election season as candidates rush to cut taxes and pander for votes). The 104th also began to apply the laws of the land to Congress, which is belated progress of sorts. And it passed two important bills--lobby reform and farm subsidy reform.
But this is pretty meager fare given the great promise of the 104th when it was voted into office in 1994. The actual legislative accomplishment to date is below par, and time is running out. There are only a few working weeks left for Congress to do the serious work the nation expects of it. We hope the new Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) can hold their respective extremists at bay to make the compromises necessary to get things done.
Take the health-care reform bill. The two sides agree on 90% of Kennedy-Kassebaum, which would provide health-insurance portability and exempt preexisting conditions. The only dispute is about Medical Savings Accounts, an intriguing new concept that can wait until next time. Sacrificing important health-care reform for MSA is an outrage.
Ditto for welfare reform. There is consensus on getting people to work for their benefits and placing time limits on receiving them. This is breakthrough stuff. But hardline conservative legislators insist on ending Medicaid entitlement for poor people. We say drop that proposal and pass the bill. Neither this Congress nor this Administration has done much to end middle-class entitlements or special benefits to corporations this year. So let's give the poor a break.
Our wish list for legislation extends to campaign finance reform (killed by the Senate, but beloved by most Americans) and reform of the Food & Drug Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration. The 104th Congress still has a chance to make its mark in history. It should seize the day.