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Economic, social issues caught in the whirlwind of presidential politics. Child care, wage levels, parental leave buffeted by legislative ups and downs

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Like kites in a windstorm, children's and family issues are suddenly soaring or plummeting in Washington on political currents over which they have little control. What was down - parental leave - is soaring. What was grounded - minimum wage - will likely soon take off. What was up - child care - is down, maybe for good.

What's causing all this change? Lots of things, all occurring together. Presidential politics. Congressional politics. Conflicts of convictions. And the biennial Capitol Hill sport that rivals the perils in the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain: the running of more congressional bills toward floor action than Congress has time to consider in the month before adjournment.

A week ago a majority in the House of Representatives flatly opposed a proposal to require large United States companies to provide unpaid leave to parents to care for newborn, adopted, or ill children. Many Republicans, and some conservative Democrats, lined up against it. Businesses adamantly opposed it as too expensive.

Suddenly, both the House and Senate are expected to approve the proposal - and President Reagan to sign it. Presidential politics has made the difference: This week Republican nominee George Bush began letting out word that he would soon take a position on it.

``With all this telegraphing, he's not going to say he's against it,'' Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute says of the vice-president. A Bush proposal in support of parental leave is expected any day. At the White House, officials ``figure it's just hard to veto this one,'' Mr. Besharov notes. ``They don't have a really good argument against'' parental leave, and don't want to lose votes among young adults.

A similar situation applies with the minimum wage. Voting against an increase isn't easy in an election year. With Mr. Bush also having signaled his willingness to consider a change in the minimum wage, it too may find sudden acceptance this fall. The prime problem - reaching agreement on a subminimum wage for teen-agers - seems less thorny than the disagreements enmeshing child-care proposals.

A few weeks ago it seemed that child care was the one family issue to which Congress could not say no.

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