WASHINGTON - As the end of the 103d Congress nears, death is in the air: Death for hundreds of bills introduced during 1993 and 1994 that did not make it to enactment.
It's a politically important fact of life that the slate is wiped clean every two years. Anyone with a pending bill that failed to be enacted in 1993 and 1994 will have to reintroduce the bill in the next Congress, which begins in January 1995.
That being the case, why are dozens of bills still being introduced in what are certainly the waning days of the current session? Are a lot of legislators just stupid? Did someone forget to tell them that if they are trying to seriously more a legislative proposal, they are wasting their time and the paper on which the bill will be printed?
Not by a longshot. Lawmakers introducing bills at this late date in the session know exactly what they're doing. Usually, they're either trying to win votes back home in the current election or signaling their intentions for the next session. Two examples from last week illustrate the point.
The first came last Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol as a band played "God Bless America." House Republicans announced that they were introducing 10 separate pieces of legislation covering everything from tax cuts to fighting crime to welfare reform. The Republicans said they were entering into a contract with the American people under which they would promise to pass their agenda next year if enough Republicans are elected this November to give the party control of the House.
For the municipal market the announcement was important because one of the bills would create American Dream Savings Accounts, a kind of super Individual Retirement Account in which interest earned would be tax-exempt. Municipal market participants have warned that creation of such accounts could harm demand for tax-exempt bonds.
The Republicans have plenty of other tax proposals as well. First, they would give tax credits to people with children, people who adopt, and people who care for elderly relatives. Other proposals would phase in a repeal of the so-called marriage penalty that exists under the federal income tax, and a repeal of tax increases on Social Security benefits that were enacted in 1993.
Given what the Republicans are calling for, it's not hard to predict that major tax legislation is in the works for next year. That is especially true given recent press reports that President Clinton may want to resurect this campaign proposal for a tax cut for the middle class.
The day after the Republicans' media blitz, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced legislation that attracted much less attention, but would also have a strong effect on the municipal bond market.
The bill would establish a National Infrastructure Development Corp., which would indirectly sponsor pooled and insured tax-exempt bond offerings through state revolving funds for infrastructure projects.
Another component of the plan would encourage pension fund managers to invest in infrastructure bonds by exempting from federal taxation any distributions by pension funds representing interest income on bonds used to finance infrastructure facilities.
The two lawmakers introduced their bill now instead of waiting four months because "they wanted to start the dialogue as soon as possible," on infrastructure financing, said a spokesman.
If President Clinton keeps a promise he made in May, that dialogue should get a big boost early next year, when he unveils a comprehensive plan for financing infrastructure development, No details have been offered so far, but lobbyists are betting it will include proposals for easing curbs on tax-exempt bonds.
So if "infrastructure" is one of the hot topics in Congress in 1995, the two lawmakers championing the measure will be ahead of the game.
DeLauro, Gephardt, and those House Republicans with their tax proposals may look crazy for offering bills at the tail end of the legislative session. But there's no question there is a method in their madness.