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Clinton's Priority Issues ail to Excite GOP

GOP Has Own Timetable for Campaign Reform

CAMPAIGN finance reform. Lobby reform. Banning gifts and trips to members of Congress.

All are conspicuously absent from the Republican agenda, while Democrats have hammered on these themes early and often in the 104th Congress.

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President Clinton raised them early in his State of the Union address, challenging the new Republican majority to pass legislation that would ``require lobbyists to tell the people for whom they work, what they're spending, what they want.

``We should also curb the role of big money in elections by capping the costs of campaigns and limiting the influence of PACs [political action committees],'' Mr. Clinton said Tuesday night. He proposed giving free TV time to candidates.

Lobby reform and a gift ban will likely, in due course, be passed by this Congress, say supporters of the measures. But Republicans have made it clear that such reforms will get serious attention on the GOP schedule - not now, while Republicans make their way through their own set agenda.

Some Democrats don't want to wait. Several senators used the bill to end Congress's exemption from federal workplace laws as a vehicle to introduce amendments on the gift ban and lobbying reform. Republicans voted them down, saying Democrats were trying to deny the GOP a legislative victory early on.

Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan has led the fight. On the second day of the 104th Congress, he introduced a gift-ban amendment that was identical to one the Senate had passed overwhelmingly in the last Congress.

The measure would bar members and staff from accepting trips, gifts, or meals from nonfamily or close friends worth more than $20. The amendment - and subsequent efforts by other senators - was defeated.

The proposed lobbying reform would require anyone who has paid to lobby Congress or the executive branch to register with a new Office of Lobbying Registration and Public Disclosure.

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All lobbyists would have to report who they are lobbying, the issues they are lobbying on, and who is paying them. Under the current, antiquated law, only a fraction of the city's lobbyists are registered.

Campaign finance reform will be much tougher to get through this Congress. Republicans and Democrats reached an impasse last year over the core issues of PACs, caps on spending, and public finance - in part because Clinton himself was persuaded by the Democratic leadership not to push hard for them, congressional sources say. In this Congress, members say it's virtually hopeless to bridge the fundamental gaps on the issue between the parties.

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