A look at what President Clinton wants and what Congress wants:


Medicare, providing health care to nearly 38 million elderly and disabled Americans, tops the agenda for both parties. Any balanced budget plan will need significant savings from the $200 billion-a-year program.

In part because it gives politicians a rationale for extracting savings from Medicare, part of the focus will be on saving the system's hospital trust fund, set to go broke by 2001. A fight already is brewing over Clinton's plan to help the trust fund by transferring home health care to a fund with unlimited access to general revenues. Republicans call it a gimmick.

Republicans welcome Clinton's plan to wring more total dollars from Medicare than he has ever proposed before _ $138 billion over six years. Republicans last proposed $158 billion, although their strategy for achieving savings was different from Clinton's.

Both sides say they'll consider boosting the monthly premiums _ now $43.80 _ for doctors' coverage, with the steepest increases aimed at the well-off. Fearing public backlash, neither side is eager to unilaterally embrace the idea.

Republicans want broad reforms to the system in preparation for the baby boomers' retirement, though they have not offered specifics this year. Clinton suggests some structural reforms, such as broadening managed care options, but believes long-term reform can wait.

Social Security also faces long-term financial troubles when baby boomers retire. But with Medicare set for center stage, no action is expected on the retirement program this year.

_By Laura Meckler


Clinton and Democrats hope to take another small step toward universal health coverage by covering the nation's 10.5 million uninsured children. The Clinton administration backs a combination of state grants and incentives to expand Medicaid and to establish new subsidies. Senate Democrats propose direct subsidies to families through credits or vouchers.

Clinton also wants to subsidize coverage for temporarily unemployed workers.

Some Republicans in Congress have signaled they support coverage for uninsured children, but they have not offered details.

For AIDS, Clinton is expected to request an additional 6 percent for National Institutes of Health research into treatments and vaccines. Last year, Congress surpassed Clinton's AIDS request.

The Clinton administration will battle Congress again over attempts to revamp the Food and Drug Administration. Congressional critics who say the FDA holds up new medical treatments want regulations eased and some duties given to private companies.

Clinton is seeking an extra $23 million for the FDA to enforce new seafood safety regulations. And the agency is expected to seek millions to crack down on teen-age tobacco use.

Congress again will chip away at insurance controversies, taking up a bill to guarantee women can spend at least 48 hours in the hospital after a mastectomy.

_By Lauran Neergaard


Clinton and Republicans in Congress share plenty of common ground on tax cuts but they differ on the details _ mainly the size of the cuts and how to pay for them.

Senate Republicans have proposed tax breaks totaling $200 billion over six years; Clinton is expected to offer half that. Much of Clinton's tax relief would be paid for by eliminating breaks for multinational corporations and other businesses, while Republicans indicate they will rely on spending cuts.

Both sides have proposed a $500-per-child tax credit. The version Clinton offered a year ago is for children through age 12. Republicans would cover children through age 17. Clinton would impose stricter income limits for eligibility.

In a hint at a possible compromise, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said families with 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds had the greatest need for the credit.

A top Republican priority is cutting the capital gains tax on profits from selling securities, real estate and other assets. Clinton would eliminate capital gains taxes on most sales of personal homes _ and has indicated he's willing to bargain over the rest.

Both sides would expand Individual Retirement Accounts. Clinton would make more middle-income people eligible. He would allow penalty-free withdrawals for first-time home purchases, extended unemployment and college tuition. And he would create a new non-deductible IRA permitting tax-free withdrawals after five years.

Senate Republicans also would offer a new type of non-deductible IRA. On traditional IRAs, they would phase out income eligibility limits altogether plus allow non-working spouses to have IRAs, even if their spouses were covered by company pension plans. They'd strike first-time home purchases from Clinton's list of permitted withdrawals but add starting a new business.

The president would provide only a modicum of estate-tax relief by making more family-owned businesses and farms eligible to spread payments out over 14 years. Republicans want more.

_By Dave Skidmore


Republicans aim to undercut two gun control laws supported by the White House.

Under a bill by Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga, the Brady law's five-day waiting period for handgun purchases would end this Nov. 28 _ a year earlier than scheduled _ and be replaced by an instant background check system.

Congress has provided $175 million to upgrade criminal records to make an instant check system viable. Many states are still far from getting up-to-date information computerized.

Barr is also targeting the retroactive application of the 1996 law barring gun possession by anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. The law has cost several hundred current policemen their beats.

Juvenile crime is getting attention. Senate Republicans would make it a crime to recruit someone into a gang and would allow federal prosecution of criminal gang members under a statute with tougher penalties.

The Senate and House bills would give states financial incentives to prosecute violent youths 14 or older as adults. The House version would allow for federal prosecution as adults of juvenile drug-trafficking crimes.

The administration's bill would make it easier for federal prosecutors to move juvenile cases to adult court and would target at-risk youths before they become serious offenders by pressing truancy prevention efforts to keep them in school, said a Justice official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

_By Carolyn Skorneck