President Bush dubbed it the “gridlock” Congress. And while many politicians blamed him for the lack of legislative action, many agreed that when the 102nd session of Congress adjourned last month, the record left behind was rather thin.
• Family: Congress was unable to override President Bush’s veto of the Family and Medical Leave Act, a bill that would have required employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees facing family emergencies. Religious groups had lined up on both sides of the issue, although most conservative, profamily groups opposed the measure (CT, May 27, 1991, p. 44). Congress was also unable to pass any new tax relief for families, a concept that was aggressively pushed by conservative Christian groups.
• Education: Bush’s “educational choice” proposal, which would have allowed low-income parents to use federal vouchers at the public, private, or religious school of their choosing, was killed by the Democrats.
• Religious liberty: Despite a strong last-minute push by some members of Congress, time ran out on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bill designed to restore free exercise of religion protections that most church groups believe were gutted by the Supreme Court’s 1990 Smith decision (CT, June 24, 1991, p. 52). For much of the session, the bill was stalled over charges raised by the Roman Catholic Church and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) that it would expand abortion rights. Many prolife evangelical groups disagreed and aggressively lobbied for RFRA.
• Abortion: All attempts to lift federal restrictions and expand abortion rights were defeated. Concern over political fallout kept the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)—considered the cornerstone of the abortion-rights agenda—from ever reaching a floor debate. FOCA would prohibit any state from passing any regulations on abortion. Congress failed to override the Bush veto of legislation that would have lifted the administration’s ban on abortion counseling at federally funded family-planning clinics. The President also vetoed an appropriations bill that would have allowed Medicaid-funded abortions in the District of Columbia. In the face of more veto threats, proabortion provisions were dropped from several other appropriations bills as well.
• Cable television: One measure that did see final congressional approval was the bill that will reregulate the cable industry.
The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and other religious television associations strongly favored the bill, claiming it will prevent local cable operators from discriminating against religious programming. The NRB, usually very supportive of President Bush, expressed deep disappointment over his veto, which was later overridden in Congress.
Most of the unresolved issues will come up again next session, but it appears the 103rd Congress could be a whole new ballgame.
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