The following is a report of how some major bills fared recently in Congress and how Southern Maryland's representative, Steny H. Hoyer (D-5th District), and Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes voted.
The House on Aug. 5 approved the conference report on a 10-year, $792 billion tax cut (HR 2488). More than a third of the relief--$283 billion--would be achieved by phased-in 1 percent reductions in each of the five personal income tax rates, which range from 15 percent to 39.6 percent. The bill is to be financed by non-Social Security budget surpluses projected to reach $1 trillion by 2009. But most lawmakers agreed that reserves of that magnitude will accumulate only under certain conditions, such as the economy remaining strong and Congress making significant cuts over 10 years in popular domestic programs. If non-Social Security surpluses fall short of the $792 billion mark, the tax cuts likely would eat into Social Security surpluses, which are projected at $2 billion over the next ten years.
The bill eases the "marriage penalty" by gradually doubling the standard deduction for couples filing joint returns. It reduces the top capital gains rate for individuals from 20 percent to 18 percent; phases gift and inheritance taxes out of existence; allows those paying more than half of their health insurance premiums to deduct 100 percent of the cost of that insurance; increases contribution and income-eligibility limits for Individual Retirement Accounts, and raises from $500 to $2,000 the annual contribution limit to Education Savings Accounts.
For businesses, the bill extends the research and development tax credit for five years and the welfare-to-work credit for 30 months, and provides targeted tax breaks for industries such as nuclear power, high-technology, insurance, restaurants, timber, oil and gas, and railroads. For distressed areas, it provides up to $20 billion in tax breaks to spur job creation and environmental cleanup in 20 urban and rural "renewal communities."
A yes vote was to approve the tax cuts.
The House on Aug. 3 voted to increase the fiscal 2000 budget for the Legal Services Corp. (LSC) from a committee-approved figure of $141 million to $250 million. The increase was taken from a variety of criminal justice programs. The LSC provides the poor with access to the courts. Its appropriation this year is $300 million. The vote occurred as the House passed a bill (HR 2670) providing nearly $36 billion in 2000 for the departments of State, Justice, and Commerce. A yes vote was to increase legal services funding.
The Senate on Aug. 5 gave final congressional approval to a Republican bill (HR 2488) that cuts taxes for individuals and businesses by $792 billion between 2000-2009. It includes a phase-out of inheritance and gift taxes, an extension of a research and development tax credit important to Silicon Valley, and a 1 percent reduction in each of the five marginal income tax rates for individuals. The package also benefits married couples who file joint returns using the standard deduction; contributors to Individual Retirement Accounts and Education Savings Accounts; individuals including the self-employed who pay at least half of their medical insurance premiums; investors who pay capital gains taxes, and contributors to 401(k) retirement accounts.
To pay for itself, the bill stakes a claim on nearly 80 percent of the $1 trillion budget surplus that is projected to accumulate outside of Social Security over the next ten years. But if the actual surplus turns out to be less than the cost of the bill, Social Security surpluses likely would be tapped to cover the shortfall.
A yes vote was to approve the tax cuts.
Senators on Aug. 5 confirmed Richard Holbrooke as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. A veteran diplomat, Holbrooke played a prominent role in U.S. efforts that helped end war in Bosnia in 1995. Senate opposition to his U.N. nomination was based, in part, on disagreement with his and the administration's Balkans policy. A yes vote was to confirm Holbrooke.
The Senate on Aug. 5 voted to extend the life of the National Endowment for the Arts. The vote tabled (killed) a bid to close the NEA by eliminating its fiscal 2000 budget of $99 million. This occurred during debate on a 2000 appropriations bill (HR 2466) that was later passed. The NEA provides grants to artists within guidelines that discourage sexually explicit projects. A yes vote was to preserve the NEA.