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Changing How Congress Runs Itself Tops the Republicans' 1995 Agenda

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NOW that Republicans are taking over Capitol Hill, their vow is not just to seek lower taxes and resume work on a strategic-missile defense system. All that will come soon enough.

Before transforming what it does, the new barons of the Capitol grounds want to change the ways and means of how Congress operates.

In doing so, they would give away some of their own new-found institutional power almost as soon as they get it.

But now that the election is over, Republicans have shown every sign of following through on their pledges. Many expect that Republican leader Newt Gingrich of Georgia - certain to be House Speaker next year - will stay with his winning game plan even if it contains some self-sacrifice.

``It will be easier for Gingrich to keep moral leadership if he gives up some of the inherent powers'' of his position, says Jeffrey Bell, a Republican strategist and economic forecaster in Washington.

As the elections drew closer this year, the technicians who monitor and analyze voter sentiment in both parties were increasingly convinced that voter discontent was focused directly on the way that Congress does business.

Even the early October rise in President Clinton's approval rating, according to his pollster Stanley Greenberg, was partly due to Congress going home. Viewers were spared the unsavory sight of them in action.

Many political consultants now believe that when the voters sought change in 1992, they not only wanted policy change ``but a fundamental change and reform of Congress,'' says Republican campaign adviser Bill McInturff.

So on the first day of the new Congress in January, the Republican leadership-in-waiting has vowed to cut committee staffs by a third, reduce the number of committees and subcommittees, apply laws to themselves that Congress applies to the rest of the country, open committee meetings to the public, require a three-fifths majority for tax increases, and more.

Term-limit vote

Then comes a much more fundamental matter: Republicans have pledged to bring a constitutional amendment limiting members of Congress to three terms in the House and two in the Senate to a vote in the first 100 days.

If such an amendment were to become law, it would bar the new Republican leaders from ever establishing the deeply rooted seniority-based power that has always been strong in Congress. But so be it, Mr. Gingrich says.

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