Angry Congress wreaks havoc with Clinton programme

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AS THE 103rd Congress ground to a rancorous end, President Bill Clinton effectively launched the Democrats' campaign for next month's mid-term elections yesterday, with a blistering attack on Republicans for their obstructive tactics on Capitol Hill - a policy, he said, of 'slow it, stop it, kill it, or talk it to death.'

At a White House press conference Mr Clinton also took aim at the much ballyhooed 10-point 'Contract', which Republican candidates launched as a campaign platform last week. It was a throwback to Reaganism, 'a trillion dollars of unfunded promises,' that would lead to a soaring budget deficit, rising unemployment and greater social injustice.

In a spirited defence of his record, the President placed the blame squarely on Republicans for the mountain of wrecked legislation in Congress - testimony to a partisan viciousness that will see 1994 go down as one of the nastiest and least productive years in the recent history of Capitol Hill.

The last few days have been the legislative equivalent of a slaughterhouse, as Republicans have used the filibuster and other procedural weapons to hand, to block measures that might reflect credit on the unpopular President and his party before November's mid- term elections.

Thus armed, the Republicans will go into combat this autumn playing on the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington mood in the country, confident that they will capture at least the seven seats needed for control of the Senate, and, conceivably, the 40 seats that would give them a majority in the House of Representatives.

The biggest casualty, of course, has been health care reform. But this week one important bill after another has failed. Proposals to overhaul campaign finance and Congressional lobbying rules have died, as has a sweeping telecommunications bill and the 'Superfund' law, tightening controls on hazardous waste.

By yesterday only one piece of legislation remained afloat, a law to turn large sections of the threatened Californian desert into national parks. Its prospects look bleak. The bill's chief sponsor is a Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, locked in a fierce struggle with Republican Michael Huffington for a vital California Senate seat.

Several of these measures had earlier received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.

So too, in normal circumstances would the bill ratifying the Gatt treaty. But, despite the fact that the Republican party has traditionally supported free trade, the Republicans decided to deny President Clinton even that satisfaction before 8 November. Thus, both houses must return for a brief, lame-duck session in late November to approve Gatt.