Democrats Use Session to Embarrass the GOP : Refusal to Adjourn Congress Focuses Attention on Republican Opposition to Social Legislation

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to assist the campaign of presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, Senate Democratic leaders are keeping the 100th Congress in session longer than originally planned to focus attention on the Republican Party’s opposition to child-care, parental leave and other popular social legislation.

Congress had been expected to adjourn by the end of this week, but congressional leaders now predict that the session will continue through next week--and possibly longer--because Senate Democrats refuse to concede defeat on those social measures.

Drug Bill Pending

The added time would also allow the Senate to work on a variety of other measures, such as the omnibus anti-drug bill.


Republicans contend that the child-care measure would give the federal government too much control over day care centers and that parental leave would impose a costly new burden on employers. But the Democrats hope to portray GOP opposition to those bills as evidence that Republicans and their presidential nominee, Vice President George Bush, are not as committed to family values as they claim.

The Democrats’ strategy of prolonging the debate on the child-care and parental leave issues is similar to the course they followed last month on a proposed increase in the minimum wage, a measure that most Republican members opposed.

Republicans Angered

The delay has angered Republicans, not only because they want to avoid voting on those issues but because several GOP incumbents who are facing tough challenges in the Nov. 8 election want to get home to campaign. None of the Democratic senators up for reelection appear to be threatened with defeat.


In a floor speech Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) defended the Democrats’ strategy of keeping Congress in session and vowed to bring to a vote both the child-care and parental leave measures. The two have been wrapped together into one piece of legislation that also includes several anti-child pornography provisions. The Democrats appear to have the votes to pass the measure but not enough support to force a floor vote on it.

“What we see going on here is an effort to kill this bill,” Byrd added, pointing to the GOP side of the aisle. “If the Republicans want to kill this bill, they can do that . . . (but) at least we want to make the effort.”

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) then erupted in frustration, accusing the Democrats of political “monkey business” intended only to embarrass Bush and the Republicans immediately before the Nov. 8 election.

‘Election Year Ploy’

“It’s an election year ploy, and we understand that,” Dole added. “We’d do it, too, if we were in the majority.”

Dole called on Byrd to put aside the child-care and parental leave legislation and, instead, allow the Senate to begin work on two other bills that many members want to pass before adjournment--the anti-drug legislation and proposed changes in the tax law.

Republicans contend that Senate Democrats are focusing on the so-called family issues because their party leadership is divided on key aspects of the drug bill, such as a provision that would impose a federal death penalty in drug-related murder cases. Liberals in both parties are likely to filibuster the drug bill.

Not ‘Monkey Business’


Byrd assured Dole that the Senate will get to those other matters eventually but not until it has voted on the so-called family bills. “This isn’t monkey business--day care legislation, child pornography, parental leave,” he said. " . . . It’s the people’s business.”

According to GOP sources, some Republicans who are up for reelection have told Dole that they plan to leave Washington soon--even if Congress has not adjourned--to concentrate on their campaigns. GOP senators believe that their party lost control of the Senate in 1986 in part because they had too little time to campaign and that Sen. Steve Symms (R-Ida.) was reelected in a very close race because he returned home before Congress adjourned.

In fact, Sen. David Karnes (R-Neb.), who is being challenged by popular former Gov. Bob Kerry, is already back in his home state and does not plan to return to Washington unless the Senate begins work on the drug or tax bill, according to a spokesman.

“We’re anxious to do something on the floor that’s worthwhile or go home,” added Bill Livingston, spokesman for Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), who has made drug legislation a key element in his campaign for reelection. " . . . I don’t think the Democrats want a drug bill.”

Not Eager to Adjourn

Nevertheless, the Senate’s Democratic majority does not appear to be the least bit eager to adjourn--not even those senators who are up for reelection. At a closed Democratic caucus on Tuesday, according to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), none of the senators up for reelection objected to Byrd’s strategy.

“The horses haven’t smelled the water yet,” Biden said.

But Republicans predict that even Senate Democrats who are not facing reelection will begin to “smell the water” of adjournment by next week. Already, they noted, many Democrats in the House are beginning to complain about their party’s delaying tactics in the Senate.


The House, where all members stand for reelection every two years, already has passed the tax and anti-drug bills.

No Omnibus Spending Bill

What makes this year’s march to adjournment somewhat irregular is that there is no omnibus spending bill working its way through Congress, as has usually happened in recent years at the end of a session, that can serve as a legislative vehicle for wrapping up many extraneous issues. All of the bills needed to fund the government were passed before the 1989 fiscal year began on Saturday.

In addition to the drug and tax bills, many other measures are still pending before Congress. The Senate must vote before adjournment on 11 of President Reagan’s judicial nominees who were cleared by the Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Fourteen of Reagan’s nominees to the federal bench will not be voted on, however, because the Judiciary Committee refused to report them to the floor. Those include U.S. District Judge Pamela Ann Rymer of California, who was nominated to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.