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Capitol Hill Review

April 23 - May 4, 2001 (Updated Weekly)

Table of Contents:

U.S. House of Representatives 107th Congress First Session

Pension Reform Clears House
High Speed Internet Access Bill OK'd by House Subcommittee
Fetus Harm Bill Passes House

U.S. Senate 107th Congress First Session

Education Bill Debated in Congress
Gambling Loophole Closed by Senate Committee
Energy Compromise Saught
Bill to Reclaim Contaminated and Abandoned Industrial Sites

U.S. House of Representatives

Pension Reform Clears House

The amount of money Americans can save annually in tax-favored accounts such as IRAs was increased by legislation overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives on May 2, 2001. This bill (Comprehensive Retirement Security and Pension Reform Act - H.R. 6) was part of a broad effort to help workers better prepare for retirement.

The maximum amount workers can contribute annually to their individual retirement accounts, from $2,000 to $5,000, would be increased over three years by the bill. Also, the annual contribution limits to 401(k) would be increased over five years from the current level of $10,500 to $15,000 along with other employer-sponsored plans.

The measure also would make it easier for Americans to transfer their pensions with them, while reducing the length of time from five years to three years in which workers must wait until they are fully "vested" in employer-sponsored plans. This will accommodate Americans who frequently switch jobs.

At a time when President Bush and Congress are contemplating separate proposals to restructure Social Security by creating new private investment accounts for individuals, this bill represents a tool to help workers save for retirement said sponsors of the pension package.

With strong support from the White House and both sides of the aisle, the bill passed on May 2, 2001, by a 407 to 24 vote. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-in/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=96) After former President Clinton voiced opposition to a similar measure last year, it passed in the House but stalled in the Senate.

Representative Rob Portman (Republican - Ohio) who authored the bill with Representative Benjamin L. Cardyl (Democrat - Maryland said, "It's something Republicans and Democrats can agree on. It will help millions of Americans enjoy the promise of retirement."

(Juliet Eilperin, "House Approves Pension Reform. Bill Would Raise IRA, 401(k) Limits," The Washington Post, May 3, 2001)

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High Speed Internet Access Bill OK'd by House Subcommittee

On April 26, 2001, the House Commerce Telecommunications subcommittee voted 19-14 to approve a measure (Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001 - H.R. 1542) that would allow local telephone companies to sell high-speed Internet access nationwide without opening their home markets to competition.

The Committee on Energy and Commerce will meet in an open make-up session on Wednesday, May 9, 2001, and subsequent days after if necessary.

Sheffield said, "We're pleased that the subcommittee approved the bill. We didn't reinvent the wheel here. We're talking about a bill that was around for two years and was reintroduced."

The measure failed to reach the House floor and was not brought up in the Senate last year. According to Senator Browback's (Republican - Kansas) spokesman, a similar bill will be introduced in the Senate later this year by the senator.

A day after a hearing on the bill, the subcommittee vote was decried by consumer groups and a prominent cable Internet provider.

An already ailing group of companies that compete with telephone companies to provide high-speed Internet access over telephone networks using Digital Subscriber Lines, or DSL technology could be destroyed by this deregulation say opponents of this bill.

If the measure becomes law, Covad, a leading provider, would have to quit the residential market.

Gene Kimmelman, of the Consumers Union said, "We're quite disappointed that rather than addressing consumers' needs for more local phone competition, and competition to cable monopolies, Congress has headed down the path to reinforcing the power of the biggest telephone monopolies."

The bill was "rammed" through the committees, and lawmakers should have gotten more time to consider its implication said long distance phone company and cable provider AT&T.

AT&T spokesman Jim McGann said, "It will drive capital from an industry already under stress, slam shut the Bell monopoly networks to any hope of competition, and extend their dominance to the Internet."

Several once-vibrant competitors like Northpoint and Winstar have already filed for bankruptcy or gone out of business. Deregulation would cause money to become even more scarce for the companies according to testimony from a venture capital executive.

To encourage telephone companies to provide service in rural markets and be able to compete with cable Internet firms, which hold a commanding share of the broadband Internet market, the legislation is needed countered Tauzin and his allies.

Representative Tauzin said in a statement, "Broadband is a nascent market that does not need regulation. What it needs is the ability to thrive."

(D. Ian Hopper, "Congress Panel OKs Deregulation Bill," The Associated Press, April 26, 2001)

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Fetus Harm Bill Passes House

On April 26, 2001, the House of Representatives voted to make it a federal crime to harm a fetus during an assault on its mother, urging action on behalf of "unborn victims." The measure was decried by pro-choice advocates as a foot in the door toward legal recognition of fetuses as people.

The House passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (H.R. 503) by a 252-172 vote, almost identical to the 254-172 margin by which it was passed a year ago after a lengthy and sometimes testy debate that included pictures of a woman holding a stillborn baby who died after she was assaulted. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-in/vote.exe?year=2001& rollnumber=89)

Unlike last year, the measure has the support of the President. A veto was promised by former President Clinton. However, since there was little support for it in the Senate, it never reached the President. Yet to set a hearing on the issue this year is the Senate Judiciary Committee, now evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

President Bush said, "This legislation affirms our commitment to a culture of life, which welcomes and protects children."

House supporters characterized the bill as an anti-crime measure, not an abortion issue.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Republican - Texas) said, "The law must not look upon a violent criminal's unborn victims with an indifferent eye. Every young life must be acknowledged. And every young life must be protected from predatory criminals."

A Democratic amendment that failed by a 196-229 vote which would have stiffened penalties for harming a pregnant woman but not make harming a fetus a separate crime was assailed by the House Majority Whip. He said, "Life and death should not be subsumed beneath a semantic fog." (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-in/vote.exe?year=2001& rollnumber=88)

Abortion supporters called the measure a veiled attempt by conservatives to chip away at abortion rights guaranteed in the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Representative John Conyers (Democrat - Michigan) said, "This would be the first time in the federal legal system that we would begin to recognize a fertilized egg, a zygote, an embryo or a fetus. That's what the bill is trying to do. No sneaking around today, fellas."

Representative Lindsey Graham (Republican - South Carolina), the bill's sponsor said, "Today is about bringing the country together to put people in jail who deserve to go."

(Janelle Carter, "House Passes Fetus Harm Bill," The Associated Press, April 26, 2001)

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U.S. Senate

Education Bill Debated in Congress

Surviving a challenge in the House while the Senate proposed adding billions of dollars for poor children and those with disabilities, the President's education package passed through its first battle.

As a House committee rejected a bid to kill the tests for third through eighth grade annual testing in reading and math, the cornerstone of the President's plan - standardized testing - cleared its first serious hurdle.

In addition, members of both parties in the Senate went on record for more money for programs to help poor children and those with disabilities about $2.5 billion more a year for ten years than the President originally proposed.

An amendment to increase aid for students with disabilities was sponsored by Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican - Nebraska) and Tom Harkin (Democrat - Iowa). Although Congress has been providing only 15 percent toward student disability, federal law already mandates a 40 percent federal contribution of the existing program.

The federal share would be increased by $2.5 billion annually over 10 years, reaching the 40 percent level in 2007 by the amendment, which passed by voice vote.

Currently, the program receives only about 3.6 million of an eligible 10 million children. On May 3, 2001, the Senate expanded funding that covers education for poor children in a second vote. The program receives only about 3.6 million of an eligible 10 million children. The program expanded by a 79-21 vote, approving the measure (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate. gov/legislative/ vote1071/vote_00091.html).

Senator James Jeffords (Republican -Vermont) a longtime advocate of increased funding for the programs that assist the disabled said, "We owe our children no less."

Although the money will need to be approved by Congress annually, the total additional cost could be well over $100 billion over ten years said officials.

Supporters of the measure said the victories would increase support for final passage of the bill, expected in the next few weeks.

An amendment to eliminate the system of annual tests, which would measure the progress schools make in increasing student achievement was offered on May 3, 2001, by Representative Betty McCollum (Democrat - Minnesota).

In light of a committee vote on May 2, 2001, that stripped out a private school voucher provision for students left in failing schools, Republican conservatives have gambled that aspect of the President's program.

Republican Bob Schaffer (Republican - Colorado) said, "The only reason conservatives are willing to tolerate testing is because it is balanced with flexibility and choice. The value of testing has always been to empower parents. Now parents have been cut out of the bill."

As recently as May 2, 2001, Bush advisers met privately with GOP lawmakers. It was made clear that the White House supports the testing. It was pointed out at the meeting that new polling data suggests most Americans favor mandatory state testing said sources speaking on condition of anonymity.

Also, an amendment sponsored by Senator Jefford, which would provide federal money for the tests, allowing schools to skip them if the government does not allocate the money was approved by a vote of 93 to 7 on May 3, 2001. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/ vote_00090.html)

For private tutoring or transportation to another public school, students in schools that failed to improve significantly would be able to use federal funds.

Straight A's, a plan that would give localities far more control, has been removed from the legislation.

Although the President's effort toward bipartisanship led him to place education as a priority, he is learning that fostering a new tone of cooperation has consequences as the plan moves through the House and Senate. The new developing education plan no longer looks like his original bill.

Many important provisions that the President "promoted on the campaign trail" have been picked apart by lawmakers from both parties in negotiations with the White House.

Despite these compromises, the President has been urged to stand strong by former education secretary Bill Bennett.

Bennett said at a news conference, "The proposals he sent up to the Hill are good proposals. But right now they are in the process of being eviscerated."

He added, "I would plead with the President to fight for these proposals. I know he wants to get a bill signed. But it's critical to get a good bill signed."

President Bush as a candidate promised to identify and fix the worst of the nation's schools. He said he would give some parents the power in the form of vouchers to switch their children to other schools, including private ones if they failed to do so.

Unfortunately, that voucher program has been all but obliterated. In addition, diluted measures to consolidate programs have given states more control over how to spend federal money.

To increase spending sharply, amendments are to be offered in the Senate. Compared to the funding the President sought for the Department of Education, the House bill already provides more money and Senate Democrats seek billions more.

The President signaled he was willing to compromise hoping for an early victory.

Senator Kennedy on May 3, 2001 said, "Just a few years ago, Democrats and Republicans were light years apart on the issue of education. President Bush has made education one of his top priorities. Education is our priority, too, and we're willing to meet him halfway."

However, the President has come more than halfway say conservatives.

For example, consolidating the hundreds of existing federal education programs was one goal. However, the House Committee approved amendments sponsored by Republicans to restore two programs the President sought to consolidate to create a new one on May 3, 2001.

(Greg Toppo, "Education Bill Passes Key Test," The Associated Press, May 5, 2001; Lizette Alvarez, "On Way to Passage, Bush's Education Plan Gets a Makeover," The New York Times, May 4, 2001)

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Gambling Loophole Closed by Senate Committee

After its supporters narrowly defeated an amendment that would have gutted the legislation, a bill to ban betting on amateur sports cleared a key senate committee on May 3, 2001.

A legal loophole that allows such betting in Nevada even though the practice is banned in the rest of the nation would be closed by the measure posed by the senate commerce committee on a voice vote. It would remove a major corrupting influence on college sports programs and student athletes according to supporters of the legislation, that include the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

However, an uphill battle still awaits the legislation. Similar measures last year passed in House and Senate committees with solid margins only to die when leaders in both chambers kept them from coming to the floor.

On May 3, this year's bill to ban betting came close to a similar fate as last year's bill when Senator John Ensign (Republican - Nevada) offered an amendment that would have kept the loophole open for amateur sports betting in Nevada. The panel split 10-10 on the vote until Senator John McCain (Republican - Arizona) exercised his prerogative as committee chairman to break the tie causing the amendment to fail.

Although confident the legislation enjoys broad support, supporters of the Senate bill and its House companion say they have received no assurance that House and Senate leaders this year will permit it to come to a floor vote. However, even if it means offering the measure as a floor amendment to unrelated legislation, Senator McCain and his principal co-sponsor on the bill Senator Sam Brownback (Republican - Kansas) are committed to "forcing the issue," said Mark Buse, staff director for the Commerce Committee.

Buse said in an interview, "It was never brought to the floor before, under its own will, through the normal process because there is opposition to it privately. But the reality is that Senators McCain and Brownback are not going to just wait for the regular process but will do whatever maximizes their ability to proceed."

Betting on Olympic, college and high school sports which has occurred legally in Nevada since 1992 would be outlawed by the Amateur Sports Integrity Act. The Nevada loophole helps legitimize illegal gambling on amateur sports and, in doing so, has contributed to scandals involving student athletes and gambling say ban supporters.

If the NCAA is serious about guarding the integrity of amateur sports, it should focus on illegal sports betting rather than the legal variety, which accounts for legislating one percent of all sports betting contend measure opponents.

Senator Ensign said, "If there is a fixing at the game going on, the legal sports books are going to get burned. It is in their own self-interest to make sure the game's integrity is protected."

(John Lancaster, "Panel Acts to Close Gambling Loophole. Ban Targets Betting on Amateur Sports," The Washington Post, May 4, 2001)

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Energy Compromise Saught

In the energy debate on April 26, 2001, with proposals to reduce demand and increase supply, two senators tried to stake out middle ground.

Wanting to open up federal land in the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico for drilling while increasing fuel efficiency standards for sports utility vehicles are Senators Charles Schumer (Democrat - New York) and Susan Collins (Republican - Maine).

If supply does not increase and demand continues to rise, already high energy costs could nearly triple by 2010 indicated data the senators released. (To view this report, visit http://www.senate.gov/~collins/ 010426.htm)

Senator Schumer said, "We're on the precipice of an energy crisis."

On Capitol Hill, energy issues have moved to center stage as a result of skyrocketing power prices and rolling blackouts on the West Coast. To overt severe price spikes this summer, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on April 25, 2001, ordered limited price caps during California electricity emergencies.

The issue is being examined by President Bush's White House task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The senators want to construct a new national gas pipeline from Alaska and use new superconducting technology to increase electricity transmission capacity on existing power lines to address the supply side. They would not allow the opening up of the national monuments or parklands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but would expand incentives for drilling on federal lands.

The plan would increase incentives to invest in greater fuel efficient technologies and restore money to the Department of Energy's renewable energy programs to address the demand side. For light trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles, fuel efficiency standards would be increased.

(Shannon McCaffrey, "Senators Seek Energy Compromise," The Associated Press, April 26, 2001)

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Bill to Reclaim Contaminated and Abandoned Industrial Sites

Strengthening efforts to reclaim thousands of contaminated and abandoned industrial sites known as brownfields, the Senate voted on Wednesday, April 25, 2001, to overwhelming approve the first major environmental measure of the Bush administration.

To shield developers who purchased abandoned factory sites and inner-city junkyards from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lawsuits and Superfund penalties for pollution caused by previous owners, the bill would increase annual spending for the cleanup program from $92 million to $200 million.

Particularly in midwestern and eastern Rust Belt states, the proposal would accelerate the development of blighted industrial areas say Congressional and administration advocates.

Senator Lincoln D. Chafee (Republican - Rhode Island) a former mayor who co-sponsored the bill with Senator Harry Reid (Democrat - Nevada) said, "With this legislation today, we have the opportunity to protect the environment, strengthen local economies and revitalize our communities. Communities whose fortunes sank along with the decline of mills and factories will once again have residents and well-paying jobs."

The bill to amend the comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 was approved 99 to 0 with Senator Tim Hutchinson (Republican - Arkansas) absent. This summer the House is expected to pass the measure.

Throughout the nation posing a safety and health problem and serving as a drag on local tax rolls are an estimated 450,000 contaminated or abandoned industrial or commercial sites.

Ensnared in a larger controversy over how to reform the federal Superfund program, which requires polluters to pay for the clean-up of contaminated sites, have been previous efforts to pass brownfield's legislation. The program, which business groups consider onerous regulation and some environmentalists see as ineffective, has long been debated by lawmakers on how it can be improved. Despite this effort, broad reform has been stymied for years.

By providing additional liability safeguards for purchasers and developers of abandoned sites, Chafee and other supporters of the brownfields bill gained support.

To clean up abandoned gasoline stations and petroleum sites that do not qualify under the Superfund program, Senator James M Inhofe (Republican - Oklahoma) won a guarantee of an additional $50 million annually.

In light of strong differences in a Senate divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Robert C. Smith (Republican - New Hampshire) signaled that Congress likely would abandon other efforts to revamp the Superfund program. He said, "I always thought we needed Comprehensive Superfund reform, but it's probably not going to happen and maybe it shouldn't happen. Maybe we should move forward in a piecemeal fashion."

(Eric Piamin, "Senate Passes Environmental Cleanup Bill Measure Targets Brownfields, Aims to Boost Redevelopment in Blighted Areas," The Washington Post, April 26, 2001)

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