Elevation of the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet rank was supposed to be a no-brainer for Clinton. After all, legislation giving the EPA new status without changing its powers nearly passed in the final months of the Bush Administration. But a flurry of amendments to either strengthen or weaken the new department caused the Senate-passed bill to stall in the House. It won't be taken up again until February, and even then, enactment isn't assured.

The greatest threat is an amendment, sponsored by Representative John L. Mica (R-Fla.), requiring the reconstituted EPA to produce a cost-benefit analysis for all regulations. Environmentalists would rather see the EPA remain as it is than see an upgraded department born crippled. So the stalemate may continue. "Time is definitely on our side," comments an aide to Mica.