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Capitol Hill Review

March 5-9, 2001 (Updated Weekly)

Table of Contents:

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

    Across-the-Board Tax Cut Passes House
    Organ Donation Bill Clears House
    Ergonomics Rule Overturned by House

U.S. Senate 107th Congress First Session

    Ergonomics Rule Overturned by Senate
    Education Bill Approved by Senate Committee



On March 8, 2001, the House of Representatives voted 230-198 in favor of an across-the-board tax cut for almost $1 trillion over the next 10 years. (Economic Growth and Tax Relief Act of 2001 To see how your representative voted visit: http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=45)

The measure would gradually reduce the current five graduated income tax rates at 15 percent, 28 percent, 31 percent, 36 percent and 39.6 percent. The new rates would be 10 percent, 15 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent by 2006.

And, to provide tax relief immediately, the bill would create a retroactive tax cut for January 1, 2001, applied to the first $12,000 of taxable income for couples and $6,000 of taxable income. This legislation would reduce the lowest tax bracket of 15 percent to an interim 12 percent and would result in a maximum tax cut this year of $180 for an individual and $360 for a couple.

When the plan is completely implemented, six million families who currently pay taxes would no longer be required to according to the current administration.

(David Espo, "House OK's Bush Tax-Cut Plan, The Associated Press, March 8, 2001)

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The House of Representatives, on March 7, 2001, unanimously passed 404-0 the Organ Donation Improvement Act of 2001 that encourages organ donation, including the first federal money to encourage Americans to consider donating while still alive and putting aside issues about how to distribute scarce organs for transplants. (To see how your representative voted visit: (http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=31)

The measure, for which 31 members did not vote, would help pay travel costs and other expenses for many people who donate a section of liver or kidney.

The number of living donations doubled during the 1990s, as medical techniques improved and the demand for organs become more acute. Traditional organ donation after death has continued to grow very slowly.

The current debate and vote is in stark contrast to the last time the House considered the issue of organ donation, At that time, legislatures were sharply divided over how available organs should be distributed.

The current system gives preference to patients in the local areas and is supported by most members. However, others argue, even if they live outside the local area organs should be offered to the sickest patients first.

For now, that debate is largely on hold. The power to order changes in the allocation system lies with the Department of Health and Human Services, however whether officials will use it is unclear.

Much of the attention has turned to donation, where there is more consensus for now. For grants to states and organ banks, to reimburse travel and other expenses for certain living donors the legislation approved on March 7, 2001, authorized $ 5 million annually.

For grants that would help states develop registries of people who wish to donate and for public education about donation it allows for $15 million. However, through the annual budget process, the money still must be appropriated.

In a letter, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said that the Bush administration supports the legislation but the Secretary has promised to offer his own program promoting organ donation.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where Senator Richard Durbin (Democrat-Illinois) is working on a similar bill that would put more emphasis on encouraging donor registries.

(Laura Meckler, "House Clears Organ Donation Bill," The Associated Press, March 8, 2001)

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To follow the Senate's lead and repeal Clinton administration regulations aimed at reducing repetitive-motion injuries in the workplace the House voted 223-206 in favor of Senate Joint Resolution S. J. Res. ) 6 to overturn the ergonomics rule. (To View S. J. Res. 6 visit: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:s.j.res00006:)

To see how your representative voted: http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=33)

For further information, refer to the article: "Ergonomics Rule Overturned By Senate"

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To overturn, new work-place ergonomic rules that took effect four days prior to former President Clinton leaving office, the Senate on March 6, 2001 passed S. J. Res. 6. The resolution was sent to the House, where the leaders of the Republican majority said they can pass another "resolution of disapproval, after it was approved by a 56-44 vote, mostly following party line.

To see how your senators voted visit: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00015.html

Knowing the President would have to intercede in order to repeal former President Clinton's regulations, the administration indicated on March 6, 2001, that it would sign the resolution repealing the regulation issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The White House said in a declaration of support, issued March 6, 2001, as the Senate debate unfolded, "These regulations would cost employers, large and small, billions of dollars annually while providing uncertain new benefits."

The Congressional Review Act was used by senators in their vote to the overturn of the OSHA rules. Use of the 1996 Act would kill the regulations as well as similar standards being issued without congressional approval. Until now the 1996 Congressional Review Act has never been used.

The regulations, intended to reduce repetitive stress injuries, would have affected 102 million American workers. Businesses indicated that implementing the regulations would cost between $20 billion and $120 billion. If the rules are repealed, a new "comprehensive approach" to dealing with repetitive-motion injuries will be pursued said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Senator Tim Hutchinson, (Republican-Arkansas) said, "OSHA has grossly underestimated the cost effect of its proposal. My great concern is for the small businesses of this country."

The cost of compliance to employers nationwide is estimated at $4.5 billion by OSHA. Employers will save $9 billion annually in lower medical insurance premiums and greater productivity. An average $250 annually would be the cost for updating a work station. In the United States (U.S.), 1.8 million workers had injuries related to ergonomics, with 600,000 missing work annually as a result say officials. Covered by the regulations would have been health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome as well as other ailments related to repetitive motion, contact stress, vibration, force and awkward postures.

Business groups opposed the new workplace ergonomics rules while labor unions favored them.

After a decade-long OSHA struggle to regulate repetitive-motion injuries, the Clinton administration issued the 600-plus pages of rules in November.

By distributing information to employees and beginning the process of receiving and responding to injury reports, the rules gave businesses until October to comply with the first regulation.

For the first 90 days they are out of work, recuperating employers would have been required to pay with musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive stress 90 percent of their normal wages was another provision.

The costs would cut deeply into small businesses' revenue and make some employers exoert jobs to countries that lack adequate job-safety rules said Senator Hutchinson.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce summary handed out on Capitol Hill said, "OSHA's rush to issue an ill-conceived, expensive and unscientific ergonomics standard is irresponsible government at its worst. The rule will cost businesses billions of dollars, yet the benefits to workers-if any-are uncertain."

(Leigh Strope, "Congress To Repeal Workplace Rules," The Associated Press, March 8, 2001;Leigh Strope, "House To Vote on Ergonomics Rules," The Associated Press, March 7, 2001; Tom Ramstack, "Senate votes to undo ergonomics rules," The Washington Times, March 7, 2001; Leigh Strope, "Unions Want Ergonomics Regulations, The Associated Press, March 2, 2001)

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The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved an education bill on March 8, 2001, that included key proposals of President Bush's plan "No Child Left Behind." (To view the plan visit: http://www.ed.gov/inits/nclb/index.html ) However, key modifications sought by Republicans and Democrats were left out.

Last's week's 20-0 vote (To view the markup of The Better Education for Students and Teachers Act go to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions web site: http://www.senate.gov/~labor/107hearings/107hearings.htm and click on March 7-8, 2001 Full Committee) was only the first step in what will likely be a protracted debate over the federal government's role in schools with both sides making that clear. Choosing instead to let senator's address them on the Senate floor, the committee did not even consider a couple of the President's most contentious proposals. It was unclear when the debate would take place at a press conference. On the other hand, on the legislation the House of Representatives has not yet taken action.

So far, both the Republicans and Democrats have compromised on the measure. For example, Democrats have sought to consolidate or eliminate some of the programs they favor. Also some of the Republican demands were withheld as a result of the 50-50 breakdown of the Senate.

Senator Tim Hutchinson, (R-Arkansas) said in an interview, "I think that while there's some modest steps in the right direction on flexibility, consolidation of programs, and...the testing that the President wanted, the two key components of the President's proposal are omitted."

Senator Hutchinson said, one of those components is the President's proposal for "charter" states and districts, which allow states or school systems to convert most Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funding into a block grant in exchange for negotiating with the Department of Education five-year performance agreements. The President's voucher proposal which would allow parents of students in persistently failing school to take their portion of federal funding elsewhere to pay for public or private school tuition, or outside tutoring was the other.

The measure would mandate that states test students in Title I schools annually in grades three-eight and authorized funding of up to 50 percent of the cost to assist states in creating and administering those exams. Also contained in the bill were the President's proposed program to improve mathematics and science instruction as well as a version of the Presidents K-2 and early-reading initiatives.

Simultaneously, some additional flexibility in spending aid, another of the President's priority would be provided by the measure. It would, for example, combine into a single, more flexible funding source seven existing technology programs. And combined into a broader teacher quality funding category the President has proposed would be the federal class-size reduction program.

An amendment from Senator Patty Murray, (Democrat-Washington) that would have provided $2.4 billion to reduce elementary school class sizes through third grade was rejected by the committee.

Also, eliminated would be more than a dozen programs including those for the creation of smaller learning environments in high schools, for school renovation, arts and physical education.

To assist schools form partnerships with colleges and universities to improve science and math instruction, the measure provides funding. An amendment from Senator Jeff Sessions, (Republican-Alabama) that would give schools flexibility in spending federal "Safe and Drug Free Schools" funds for school uniforms, background checks for teachers, metal detectors and other safety-related uses was approved by committee.

Senator Hillary Clinton, (Democrat-New York) proposed three amendments to improve teacher and principal recruitment which were adopted.

Sandy Kress, the President's education adviser said in an interview the bill is an "extremely fine first step. We would like to see some further steps in consolidation and flexibility and we think there really needs to be greater parental choice as part of the consequences [for failing schools]."

Mr. Kress said when asked how wedded the President is to the inclusion of the proposal for "charter" states and districts that, "we'll see how much consolidation we can achieve. If we can keep moving down the consolidation road it may become necessary."

During the debate, considerable time was spent trying to save some of the very programs that were combined or repealed, and trying to create new ones were Democrats.

Amendments were introduced for example to preserve separate programs for school renovation and for class-size reduction which were both defeated by a 10-10 party-line vote.

For professional development, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (Democrat - Massachusetts) sought a guarantee that 50 percent of the teacher-quality money be set aside ($1.5 billion). However, the proposal was rejected and Republicans called it a set backward.

Senator Judd Gregg, (Republican-New Hampshire) said, "The prescriptive input approach hasn't worked. This amendment ends up undermining...the whole concept of the bill."

If the President really wants to fulfil the vision of his "No Child Left Behind" education plan,much higher federal spending would be required argued Democrats throughout the deliberation. Furthermore, the President's proposal to increase the Education Department's discretionary budget by about six percent next fiscal year would not be enough they suggested.

Without assurances that the President would agree to a bigger spending increase Senator Hillary Clinton, said she could not be able to vote for the bill on the Senate floor. She said, "I can't vote for something that's going to be a Trojan horse."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, on March 8, 2001, as the panel prepared for final vote said, "Although we have some very important differences, I think we've got a good bill that's out of this committee. I want to see a better bill, and I'm counting on a better bill."

For the Education Department the President proposed a $44.5 billion budget which was an 11.5 percent increase over the original budget this year.

Erik W. Robelen, Senate Ed. Committee Unanimously Approves K-12 Bill," Education Week, March 14, 2001; Greg Toppo, "Senate Panel OK's Education Bill," The Associated Press, March 8, 2001)

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