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Rep. Gallegly in the Middle of Republican Intraparty Squabbles

Politics: The Simi Valley lawmaker is fighting members of his own party over immigration. Other GOP congressmen have battles too.

February 25, 1996|MARC LACEY and BARBARA FERRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WASHINGTON — Once criticized for voting in lock-step, congressional Republicans are starting to step on each other's heels. And Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) is in the middle of the fray.

During the launch of the GOP-controlled Congress last year, Republican lawmakers kept dissent to a minimum, working out disagreements behind closed doors and putting on the face of a party on the move together.

This year, however, the unifying "contract with America" is a distant memory and the issues facing Congress are intensely divisive. With party lines fading, squabbling has broken out among members of the GOP on issues ranging from immigration to the Endangered Species Act.

On illegal immigration, Gallegly and other California Republicans are pitted against GOP colleagues with less fury on the issue.

Last fall, for instance, the state's GOP delegation wrote to Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) urging him to schedule floor debate for December for their immigration reform bill. Aware that Armey opposed a key provision of the legislation, the California lawmakers feared that he was trying to push immigration to the back burner.

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Armey delayed, so the Californians stepped up their pressure--with some lawmakers even subtly threatening Armey's job as the No. 2 man in the House. Eventually, Armey agreed to allow the bill to advance to a vote in mid-March and withhold any public criticism of the legislation until it reaches the floor.

Once that debate begins, intraparty warfare is expected to break out on several fronts.

Gallegly, for instance, will go head to head with Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) over a proposal to require employers to call a toll-free number to check on the immigration status of new hires.

While Gallegly considers worker verification an essential aspect of the bill, Chabot dismisses it as an unfair imposition on small businesses and a threat to individual liberties.

Already the immigration bill has been amended so the worker verification pilot project would not take place in Chabot's home state. Still, he is seeking to kill the plan, infuriating Gallegly.

"I'm really disappointed with Steve Chabot," he said. "I'm offended he has been as aggressive as he has been in trying to eliminate a proposal that is a pilot project and that is not even in Ohio."

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Gallegly has also pushed a controversial plan that would allow farmers to sponsor more immigrants as guest workers--as long as there are provisions ensuring that the workers go home when their stints are over.

But heavy opposition is developing among those who contend that guest workers often remain in the country after their temporary stays have expired. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a senior Republican, has joined Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) in trying to block a guest worker bill.

Aware of the criticism, Gallegly has decided against introducing such a measure himself, handing off the hot potato to Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy).

Pombo, however, has problems of his own on another front. He headed a task force set up last year to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, which he argues is being abused at the expense of land owners.

But his bill, which offers financial compensation for property owners affected by the act, has not moved far, largely because of concerns within the GOP that it goes too far.

To tone down the legislation, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is expected to name Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) to head a new environmental task force next month. Boehlert was one of a group of moderate Republicans who recently wrote to Gingrich saying the party's agenda on the environment has become too extreme.

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"We're all Republicans, but we see things differently," explained Rep. Howard (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), who is involved in a dispute with Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) over job-training legislation. "This is just part of the process."

Even the elder statesman of California's Republican delegation, Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead of Glendale, has been dragged into a messy intraparty dispute.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach has been relentless in attempting to push a patent reform bill through Moorhead's subcommittee on courts and intellectual property. Moorhead, however, has his own patent bill and doesn't particularly care for Rohrabacher's approach.

The dispute centers around the length of time inventors will be protected under patent law. Under a change included in the 1994 GATT world trade agreement, patents are no longer valid for 17 years from the date they are issued. Now, patents last 20 years, but the clock starts winding down as soon as the application for a patent is filed, not when it is issued.

That technicality has Rohrabacher and many small inventors up in arms, saying the change could knock years off the length of the patent. To pressure Moorhead to make a change, Rohrabacher has taken to the House floor to denounce his longtime colleague and rallied inventors to criticize Moorhead in his Glendale district.

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