Congress returns to tackle a highly politicized agenda
Members of Congress, having pumped hands and eaten their share of hot dogs and watermelon at Labor Day picnics all over the country, are heading back to Capitol Hill for the final five weeks of politics-saturated legislating.
With elections only two months away, virtually every action will be measured by its effect on the voters and on the national presidential campaigns. The agenda will include symbolic moves on the government's red-ink woes, additional funds for Israel, and possibly an offering to women and other groups in the form of a new civil rights law.
On budget deficits, both Democrats and Republicans are fighting for the political high ground. During the next weeks, the GOP plans to seek a vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, which has long had backing from President Reagan.
Meanwhile, Democrats are planning a counterpunch to help their party's candidate, Walter Mondale. One strategy, proposed by House Budget Committee chairman James R. Jones (D) of Oklahoma, is to pass a law requiring the president to submit to Congress a balanced budget each year. ''I think we're going to do something to try to smoke Reagan out'' on how he would reduce the federal deficit, says Christopher J. Matthews, spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts.
Former Vice-President Mondale has made the budget deficit one of the chief rallying points in his campaign, and liberal Democrats have matched him by raising the fiscal-responsibility banner in Congress.
The budget dispute will come to a head soon, as both houses try to resolve longstanding disagreements over how much to spend on defense and whether to continue the MX-missile program next year.
The Democratic House has agreed to a 5 percent real increase for defense, but the White House and Republican Senate has held out for more. Meanwhile, the Democratic House leadership also is continuing to try to halt the MX, which has strong presidential support. The defense debate is so snarled that a ''summit'' meeting of Speaker O'Neill, Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee, and other top leaders has been called for soon after Congress reconvenes.
In other action during these campaign weeks, Israel's supporters can expect to reap some campaign-year benefits before adjournment. A controversial effort to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is picking up steam in the House, where backers are seeking passage of a nonbinding resolution this month. Passage would put pressure on the Senate to take up the proposal, which is opposed by the Reagan administration as destabilizing to the Mideast.
But regardless of the outcome on the embassy issue, Israel can count on Congress to increase the aid levels this election year. For example, Sen. Charles H. Percy (R) of Illinois, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been under fire for failure to give full support to Israel in the past. He has said that when Congress returns, he will propose an amendment to give Israel $353 million more than the Reagan administration requested, making the total $2.6 billion for 1985.
Also on the agenda for the waning days of the 98th Congress will be the Civil Rights Act of 1984, a bill to guarantee that schools accepting federal funds do not discriminate by sex or age or against the handicapped. Although federal law has long prohibited such discrimination, a Supreme Court ruling last February found that the law applied only to individual programs receiving federal dollars , not to an entire school.
Civil rights groups and the US Olympic Committee have warned that the result of the ruling will be cutbacks in opportunities for women, especially in sports scholarships. The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to reverse the court ruling , but it is running into conservative GOP opposition in the Senate.
Senate majority leader Baker, one of the sponsors of the civil rights legislation, has agreed to bring the bill to the floor this month, but he may face a filibuster, despite the fact that the bill has 63 cosponsors, far more than a majority of the Senate.