The sleepy season is over on Capitol Hill. Here come the bills.
For the past three months, distracted by the Persian Gulf war and its aftermath, Congress has coasted along and deferred action on a raft of major issues.But now the merry month of May is about to become the mad month of May.
This week, the House is scheduled to vote on the Brady gun-control bill, which would require states to adopt a seven-day waiting period to buy a handgun.
It will the first in a series of high-octane issues to be addressed this month that could have a direct impact on working parents, consumers, trade negotiators and even Congress itself.
Some of the other upcoming issues include a new civil rights bill, reform of campaign-finance practices, price-fixing on retail goods, a trade accord with Mexico, unpaid leave for workers with family emergencies, extension of jobless benefits, a bill to make it easier to register to vote and more aid to Kurdish refugees.
All are expected to be considered by at least one house, and some, such as the Mexican trade and family leave bills, could be addressed by both before the month is over.
Despite opinion polls showing strong public support for the Brady bill, the outcome is far from certain. A lavish lobbying campaign by the National Rifle Association, which opposes the legislation, could sink it.
The civil rights bill, snarled in a dispute between congressional supporters and the White House, would reverse recent Supreme Court decisions that weakened the ability of those claiming job discrimination to press their cases in court.
President Bush has branded it a "hiring quota" bill, but proponents insist that it would simply restore protections that the high court stripped from the law. House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., said it would go to the House floor in about three weeks.
The Senate is preparing to vote later this month on a bill to outlaw election campaign contributions by political action committees and to provide limited public subsidies for Senate races. It also calls for voluntary spending limits, scaled to the size of each state, in general election campaigns.
Senators are expected next week to try to break an anticipated filibuster on a bill to bar manufacturers from cutting off retailers who sell their products at discount prices. Opponents say manufacturers have a clear right to choose who can sell their goods. Sponsors say the practice is a ruse to shield high-price Main Street retailers from more competitive discounters.
Again, the attempt here is to overturn Supreme Court decisions that weakened longstanding antitrust protections against "vertical price-fixing."
On the Mexican trade issue, Bush wants authority to speed the signing of a new trade agreement as the final touch on a North American free trade union.
Congressional opponents say an accord must include job protection for U.S. workers and anti-pollution requirements that impose on Mexican factories essentially the same environmental protection costs that U.S. companies incur.
The family leave bill would provide up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave to employees who need time off to take care of new children or ailing spouses or parents. Workers would be assured of returning to their old jobs, or similar ones.
Similar legislation passed Congress last year but was vetoed by Bush, who said the question of leave should be a matter of collective bargaining between workers and managers and not mandated by the government. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin told Congress recently that Bush intends to veto the bill again.
As the economic recession persists, pressure is mounting on Congress to extend unemployment payments to displaced workers. An increasing number have exhausted their benefits with little hope for rapid re-employment.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., a high-ranking House leader, said Thursday: "We are going to move pretty fast on this. We're not sure yet how to pay for it, but it's something that simply has to be done to ease the burden on unemployed families."
The Bush administration, citing the high cost of extending payments, opposes the idea.
Senate Democrats and Republicans are also likely to square off later this month on a "motor-voter" bill that would automatically register people to vote when they got their driver's licenses. It would further allow registration by mail and in person at federal and state offices.
Sponsors say it would boost lagging voter participation in elections. Opponents say it would foster fraud. Democrats hope it would thicken their thinning ranks, and Republicans fear that they're right.