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Gingrich Won’t Slow Pace of House

March 24, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Speaker Newt Gingrich spurned a request from the head of the Congressional Black Caucus to postpone votes on controversial bills until lawmakers accompanying President Clinton on his African trip return home.

The decision comes at a time when GOP leaders _ after a slow start to the congressional session _ are struggling this week to have their way on measures dealing with campaign finance, union organizing and curbs on overseas abortion counseling.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who chairs the Black Caucus, spoke with Gingrich by phone last weekend, according to officials in both parties. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt underscored the request for a delay in a letter dispatched Monday to Gingrich and Majority Leader Dick Armey.

``Ironic, isn’t it,″ replied Gingrich’s spokeswoman, Christina Martin. ``After much complaining about the pace of legislation, Democrats are now asking the speaker to slow down and delay.″

``The Republican Congress will continue on schedule,″ she said, adding that her comments were intended to convey a rejection of the request.

In a sarcastic rebuttal, Laura Nichols, Gephardt’s spokeswoman replied, ``What schedule?″

Gephardt and other Democrats have been critical in recent weeks of the slow pace of House floor activity. Last week, for example, the GOP leadership scheduled no votes before Tuesday at 5 p.m., and lawmakers were free to leave the Capitol for their home districts by midday on Thursday.

This week, however, Republicans are laboring to prevail on at least three controversial measures, and seem eager to take advantage of the prolonged absence of as many as 16 lawmakers, many of whom are Democrats likely to oppose the GOP agenda.

According to a list provided by the White House, 14 Democratic lawmakers were to travel with Clinton _ 12 of them members of the Black Caucus _ and two Republicans.

Democratic officials said some members of the delegation had already left, while others intended to depart on Wednesday.

Ms. Waters’ office declined to confirm her conversation with Gingrich. ``She’s in Africa,″ said her spokeswoman, Marcella Howell.

Republicans currently hold a thin 12-vote majority in the House and can ill afford many defections, particularly on procedural votes that are instrumental in maintaining control of floor proceedings.

The absence of 12 or so Democrats gives them additional breathing room on the three controversial measures on the week’s schedule.

One would implement a reorganization of the nation’s foreign policy apparatus, and include a provision for payment of back dues to the United Nations. At the insistence of conservative Republicans, that measure contains a provision to deny federal funding to any organization that provides abortion counseling overseas. Most Democrats oppose the abortion provision, and many Republicans oppose the U.N. money, meaning the GOP leadership is struggling to line up the votes for passage.

A second bill would restrict unions’ ability to place organizers on company payrolls. It is part of a series of bills the GOP has advanced this year to place organized labor on the defensive. The AFL-CIO is lobbying hard against the measure, and the GOP leadership is worried that enough labor-friendly Republicans might defect, either on procedural or substantive votes, to block passage.

In the case of the campaign finance legislation, sources have said the GOP leadership is not so much trying to pass the bill they’ve drafted as they are trying to prevent Democrats and certain Republicans from seizing control of the floor and passing a measure opposed by most Republicans.

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