The following is a report of how some major bills fared last week in Congress and how Southern Maryland's representative, Steny H. Hoyer (D-5th District), and Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski voted.
Members passed a bill (HR 1259) requiring automatic record votes in the House for spending Social Security surpluses for purposes other than paying benefits or restructuring Social Security or Medicare. Under the GOP "lock box" plan, any member could raise a point of order against diverting Social Security funds to other programs. It would take a simple majority vote to waive the point of order and allow tapping into Social Security. A Senate plan would require a three-fifths majority for diverting surpluses. Both measures are designed to protect an estimated $1.8 billion in Social Security accumulations over the next 10 years. A yes vote was to pass the bill.
The House rejected an alternative to HR 1259 (above) that was backed by most Democrats and many fiscal conservatives. It went beyond the GOP plan by using a lock box to block the spending of any federal surplus, not just the Social Security surplus. And it kept the lock box in effect until laws are enacted assuring the solvency of Social Security for 75 years and Medicare for 30 years. A yes vote backed the alternative lock box plan.
The House refused to cut administrative expenses at the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $3.1 million in fiscal 2000. The sum represents a 12 percent increase over 1999. The $3.1 million will be taken from Social Security surpluses, according to amendment sponsor Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), because without a subsidy from Social Security, the 2000 federal budget is in deficit. The vote occurred during debate on a $60.8 billion USDA budget for 2000. It was one of several amendments by Coburn aimed at cutting departmental spending by $260 million. Coburn's purpose, he said, was to freeze the USDA budget at its 1999 level and thus keep it from tapping into Social Security. His strategy forced House leaders to pull the bill (HR 1906) from the floor. A yes vote was to cut the agriculture budget.
The House agreed to Senate language requiring deployment of a national missile defense system as soon as it is technologically possible. This sent the bill (HR 4) to President Clinton. Now in a years- long testing stage that has yielded mixed results, the system would be deployed primarily against missiles from terrorist states, but also is touted as helpful against ICBMs from countries like China. Clinton and the Pentagon have recommended waiting until June 2000 before making a decision on whether to deploy, saying that to rush uncertain technology could create a false sense of security and weaken U.S. security. A yes vote was to pass the bill.
The Senate refused to order another round of base closings. Under a post-Cold War procedure enacted in the 1980s, an independent panel targets bases it deems surplus to national security, and Congress votes to accept or reject the entire list. The law has produced four rounds of closings involving nearly 100 bases, the last occurring in 1995. This amendment was offered to a bill (S 1059) authorizing $289 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2000. A yes vote backed another round of base closings.
Senators tabled (killed) an amendment making it legal for U.S. service women and dependents to receive abortions at military hospitals abroad if they pay for the procedure. The vote occurred during debate on S 1059 (above). Under current law, abortions at military facilities overseas are permitted only in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. If one of those conditions is met, they are paid for by the government. A yes vote was to ban privately financed abortions at military hospitals abroad.