The following is a report of how some major bills fared in Congress last week and how Southern Maryland's representative, Steny H. Hoyer (D-5th District), and Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski voted.
The House passed a Republican bill (HR 2488) reducing federal taxes by $792 billion over 10 years, with the cuts to be "paid for" with non-Social Security surpluses expected to accumulate over that period. The bill phases in a 10 percent cut in personal income tax rates, with each year's reduction allowed to take effect only when interest payments on the national debt go down. Also, the bill reduces the capital gains rate from 20 to 15 percent; eliminates estate and gift taxes over 10 years; eases the "marriage penalty" by raising the standard deduction for couples filing jointly to twice that of a single person; expands Education Savings Accounts to cover K-12 private and public education as well as higher education; and provides an array of business and personal breaks, including ones to help workers protect pensions and the elderly meet medical costs. A yes vote was to pass the bill.
The House defeated a proposal to commit budget surpluses to reducing the national debt before they are allocated to cutting taxes. Conservative Democrats offered the measure to a GOP tax cut bill (HR 2488, above). Under their plan, tax cuts would take effect only after half of the projected non-Social Security surplus over 10 years, and all of the projected Social Security surplus over 10 years, had been set aside for use in paying down the public debt. Now at $3.6 trillion, that debt requires about $225 billion in annual interest payments to holders of Treasury notes. If it were reduced, debt service would diminish and interest rates likely would decline, stimulating the economy. Sponsors said that would generate funds for such purposes as cutting taxes or bolstering Social Security and Medicare. The measure defeated by this vote also limited total tax cuts to about $250 billion over 10 years. A yes vote was to give debt reduction priority over tax cuts each year.
The House passed a GOP bill (HR 1995) that authorizes $2 billion annually in elementary and secondary school block grants for such purposes as hiring more teachers, testing and improving the skills of existing faculty, and establishing new tenure and merit-based advancement systems for teachers. Debate focused on whether the block grant program would undermine a year-old Democratic program for hiring 100,000 more teachers and reducing class sizes. The GOP bill makes teacher hiring optional and gives schools flexibility to spend their grants for any purpose spelled out in the bill. A yes vote was to pass the bill.
Senators refused to give the secretary of energy tight control over nuclear weapons labs. This occurred as the Senate passed an intelligence spending bill (HR 1555) that, in part, created the Agency for Nuclear Stewardship within the Department of Energy. The new agency is charged with correcting security lapses of the sort that allowed China to obtain U.S. nuclear secrets during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. On this vote, senators defeated an amendment giving the energy secretary direct managerial control over the semi-autonomous agency. The vote left intact a plan to give the secretary final but remote authority over the agency. A yes vote was to give the secretary of energy direct control over nuclear labs.
The Senate refused to provide the Justice Department with $25 million in fiscal 2001 for a media campaign to discourage underage drinking. The ads were to be in addition to the department's ongoing anti-drug campaign. The vote occurred as the Senate passed a bill (S 1217) funding Justice and other departments in fiscal 2000. A yes vote was to back the amendment.
The Senate tabled (killed) an amendment giving federal courts more authority to receive suits by juvenile prisoners who are mentally ill. The amendment sought to repeal provisions in the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act that limit the extent to which U.S. judges can attempt to remedy conditions in juvenile detention facilities. It was offered to S 1217 (above). A yes vote was to kill the amendment.