This Week

Issue: "America votes 1998," Oct. 31, 1998

World in brief

The fox and the hedgehog
Negotiators for unity and peace in Northern Ireland John Hume and David Trimble will be the recipients of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Fellow laureate Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996, said the Catholic and Protestant negotiators had a working relationship like the fabled fox and the hedgehog. "John Hume is the hedgehog, who knew the big truth that justice had to prevail," wrote Mr. Heaney. Mr. Trimble, a lawyer, was the clever fox who chose the right moment to bring the dominant, pro-British Protestants to acceptance of Catholic positions on unionism. Mr. Heaney, a Catholic, attended college in Londonderry with Mr. Hume, who he said at that time gave the impression "of somebody with a very steady moral and intellectual keel under him, somebody reliable and consistent." Millenium dome
The roof is on, but organizers are not sure a subway link can be completed in time to transport Y2K enthusiasts to Britain's largest and latest attraction, the Millennium Dome. Larger than the current record-holder, the Georgia Dome, the Millennium Dome covers 20 acres, has a circumference of two-thirds of a mile, and is 165 feet high. Forty-four miles of cabling support the Teflon-coated glass fiber roof. Exhibits will be organized around 14 lifestyle zones, which include a "multi-faith spirit zone" that features a monastery and a Zen garden. The dome sits astride the Greenwich Meridian, marker of longitude zero degrees, where the dawn of the new millennium will first arrive.

Calling off trust busters

As one end of Washington pursues antitrust action against Microsoft, another end is lifting antitrust restrictions so American companies can fix the Y2K bug. En route to Middle East peace talks, President Clinton signed a law that encourages companies to help each other prevent massive computer malfunctions in the year 2000. "The Y2K problem is an enormous challenge, and we must meet it," Mr. Clinton said. This law lets competing companies show each other how to repair their computers without getting a knock on the door from Janet Reno. It includes limited liability protection so companies can help one another without the risk of lawsuits.

All aboard the runaway train

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"Train wreck" is the shorthand term politicians and journalists in Washington use to describe the series of events that leads to the government's running out of money and having to shut down. The term evokes images of two unyielding locomotives-the Congress train and the White House train, each laden with different spending and policy priorities-bearing down on one another. Kablooey! There is no term, however, to describe the course of action Congress and the White House took last week to avoid a "train wreck." Time was running out to get home to campaign for reelection and there were billions of dollars left to spend to keep government running for fiscal year 1999. So Congress and the White House agreed to crunch together several funding bills-representing almost a third of all federal outlays-into one 4,000-page, 40-lb. budget bill worth more than $500 billion, funding 10 Cabinet-level agencies. The bill passed 333-95, but not without angry opposition. Congressional conservatives seemed to suggest a way to describe their leadership's anti-train wreck deal with the White House. Derailment, perhaps? "What does the Republican majority in Congress stand for?" a disgusted Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) asked rhetorically in a letter to colleagues last week. "Do we have an agenda? What is it? Do we believe in anything?" But it wasn't only Republicans. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) called it a product of "a kind of a bastard parliamentary system," where the leadership of the Congress and the White House cut a deal that is imposed on the rest of the membership. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) complained that members could not even get a copy of the legislation they were being asked to vote on. Mr. Taylor said on the House floor before the vote that he was wary of White House and congressional leaders saying "trust us"-noting that President Clinton faces perjury charges and House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted in 1996 to misleading the ethics committee. Mr. Gingrich took to the floor to criticize conservative opponents-whom he referred to as "the perfectionist caucus"-and to laud supporters: those "who have grown up and matured in this process understand we have to work together on big issues." Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) dismissed the "process" as "business as usual, in the form of high taxes and more spending." Conservative Republicans in the House took their criticism a step further. "It's unconscionable, it's un-American, it's untruthful," said Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). An aide complained that the deal busted by $40 billion the budget caps agreed to in the last White House-Congress budget deal. Although President Clinton won almost all of his spending priorities, there were sweeteners designed to attract conservative support. The legislation defunds the United Nations Population Fund, writes into the foreign aid budget some restrictions on coercive family-planning activities, and requires federal family-planning clinics to report evidence of sex crimes. The big budget deal brought to a conclusion the 105th Congress; members headed home to wrap up their reelection campaigns.

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