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Congress Convenes to Tackle The Voters' Top Priority: Jobs

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THE newly elected 103rd Congress, sporting nearly 120 freshmen members, convenes tomorrow for what could be a history-making session that touches the lives of every American.

Capitol Hill expects to get proposals this year from soon-to-be-President Clinton on health care, education, job-training, the federal deficit, and emergency measures to prime the economy.

"This is arguably the most important Congress since 1965," when President Johnson pushed through landmark civil rights legislation, says an aide to House majority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri.

It will also be the most diverse Congress in history, with record numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and women, including six women in the Senate.

This Congress, like the president-elect, got its marching orders straight from the voters: Jobs must be the nation's top priority in the year ahead. With that in mind, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill anticipate that four areas will top the agenda for Congress and the White House:

* Short-term economics. Mr. Clinton must decide how many billions of dollars of extra funds for roads, bridges, and other government projects he would like to spend to jump-start the slow-moving economy. Estimates range from $20 billion to $40 billion.

* Long-term economics. In the first half of 1993, Clinton will try to find the right mix of spending on education, training, infrastructure, research, development, and other programs to create millions of new jobs in 1994 and beyond.

* Health-care reform. Even if the economy revives, the nation will eventually go bankrupt, Clinton says, unless health-care costs are controlled and coverage is provided for the 35 million Americans now left uninsured or underinsured.

* Deficit reduction. With the federal budget in the red by $341 billion and with the national debt rapidly rising toward $4.5 trillion, Clinton is under severe pressure to take strong measures, perhaps including tax increases, to bring the books closer to balance. One option: higher taxes on energy, including gasoline.

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