A worn-out 101st Congress, battered by partisan acrimony and deep frustration, shuffled into oblivion Sunday, leaving a rec-ord of both landmark achievement and bitter failure.
With the Nov. 6 elections right around the corner, members of the Senate and House up for re-election rushed home for frenzied, last-minute campaigning, some in fear of a voter revolt at the polls.After two years, the 101st Congress left behind a legacy of success in many areas but also grappled with bitter partisanship, ugly confrontation and unprecedented scandal.
The historic agreement to cut the deficit by $490 billion over five years is the glittering star in the record written by the 101st Congress, although the budget plan will be painful for all Americans.
The package means higher income taxes on the very wealthy; increased taxes on gasoline, tobacco, liquor, beer, wine and a big surtax on luxury cars, furs, yachts and planes; higher costs for the elderly in the form of increased Medicare premiums; steep hits on farmers; and loss of benefits for veterans, students and many others.
Still, Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell said that in adopting the agreement, Congress "will have dealt with the problems accumulated over a decade and five years into the future."
House Speaker Thomas Foley said, "I think you have to understand that this Congress has an extraordinary record. It is one of the most positive and strongest in recent years. We have done things that were not possible to do in previous Congresses, including the much credited and justifiably credited last Congress."
Vice President Dan Quayle, the former Indiana senator, took a different view of the 101st Congress.
"This is truly a great day," Quayle said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Congress has finally left town and America is now safe."
"I would not like to be a Democrat incumbent running for re-election," Quayle added.
President Bush used the veto - and sometimes just the threat of a veto - to impose many of his ideas on a reluctant Congress. In all, the president vetoed 16 bills in the two years, and Congress failed to override any of them. But Bush did not kill catastrophic-health insurance for the elderly. Enacted in 1988, Congress, unable to withstand the heat from the elderly forced to pay higher premiums, repealed the program in 1989.
Although willing to make it harder for other Americans, who face the pinch of an economic turndown, members of Congress raised their own pay - an issue never raised in the talks leading to the budget agreement.
Now paid $98,600, House members approved legislation that will take its members to $124,600 Jan. 1 but prohibited the taking of any honorariums for speeches. A less gutsy Senate tried but failed to vote a comparable pay raise and settled for cost-of-living increase to $104,600.