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GOP Hits the Wall in Pushing Through 'Contract' Clauses

By Edwin Chen
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Only a week after their devastating defeat on the balanced budget amendment, Republicans are facing the potential loss of two more priority items in their vaunted "Contract With America" - a limit on congressional terms and a presidential line-item veto.

House Republican leaders have delayed for at least two weeks a vote on a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress, thus averting a near-certain defeat next week while buying more time to try to galvanize public support.

In the Senate, GOP leaders still cannot muster sufficient votes to adopt a House-passed line-item veto bill that grants presidents the unprecedented authority to kill single-line items in appropriations and tax bills.

And in a city where perception becomes reality, the seeming loss of legislative momentum by the GOP juggernaut already has emboldened the Clinton administration and Democrats in Congress, who are escalating their attacks against such GOP initiatives as litigation reform and shifts or cuts in funding for school lunches and the arts - and even against House Speaker Newt Gringrich, R-Ga., for alleged ethical violations.

President Clinton lunched on tacos Thursday in an elementary school cafeteria in Northern Virginia to underscore his opposition to GOP plans to shift federal funding of school lunch programs to states.

With Republicans pressing their agenda for the first 100 days, the bumps in the road ahead also will test the leadership qualities of Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. And the fruits of their efforts to rescue the line-item veto and, perhaps, congressional term limits, may well end up influencing the 1996 elections.

Republican leaders vigorously dispute such characterizations, saying their program has not lost energy. They note that the "Contract with America" promised to put the planks of its 10-point campaign manifesto to a vote within the first 100 days.