Congress has gone home for the holidays, and while some folks issue report cards and such about now, I persist in thinking that the only proper grade is "Incomplete"; there is still a long way to go, and no apparent consensus on how to get there.

Not that the session was without its amusements. President Clinton bucked the protectionist wing of the Democratic Party — which is to say, most of it — with his request for a renewal of his lapsed authority to conduct so-called "fast-track" trade negotiations. On this faster track, trade agreements could be approved or disapproved in toto by the Congress, but it's all or nothing: no picking over individual nits. In general, Congressional Republicans liked the idea, though enough of them found the idea of watching Mr Clinton being embarrassed more appealing than the idea of uncomplicating future trade negotiations, and joined the majority of Democrats in defeating the measure. Then again, the President was entitled to some embarrassment on the matter. After wielding the line-item veto on project after project, and doing his best to get around the provisions of the Base Realignment And Closure Act in an effort to win support in key states before the 1996 election — under BRAC, the President can approve or disapprove in toto any base-closing list, but it's all or nothing: no picking over individual nits — his insistence on the need to keep another branch of government from micromanaging things is awfully unconvincing.

No more persuasive was the most recent nail in the coffin of campaign-finance reform. The Democrats managed to make one point during the entire spectacle: that they haven't been as successful at shaking down donors as the GOP. Needless to say, the Republican majority isn't about to come up with anything that levels the playing field. I have never been particularly comfortable with the concept of public financing of political campaigns, but one more episode like this and the electorate might actually be annoyed enough to demand it.

And so, the Beltway goes into semi-hibernation for the rest of the year. The real trick for the next couple of months will be to see if anyone notices that C-SPAN is in reruns.

The Vent

16 November 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill