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. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes voted.
The House on Tuesday passed a bill (HR 417) to ban "soft money" from federal elections and begin regulating the so-called "issue ads" that outside groups air during the closing weeks of congressional and presidential campaigns. The bill was written by Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D- Mass. At present, there are no limits or regulations on the funds that labor and business groups and wealthy individuals channel through political parties to specific campaigns. Nor are there curbs or disclosure requirements on the way special interests finance broadcast ads in hopes of bringing victory or defeat to specific candidates. The bill subjects both of these practices to the "hard money" spending limits and reporting requirements that apply when contributions go directly to a candidate. It would limit what is spent during campaigns and illuminate the source of contributions. A yes vote was to pass the Shays-Meehan bill.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPEAL
The House on Tuesday refused to repeal limits on what individuals and political action committees may contribute to federal candidates. The proposal by John Doolittle, R-Calif., would have required candidates to file daily finance reports with the Federal Election Commission during the final 90 days of campaigns, for immediate posting on the Internet. It also sought to repeal taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns. A yes vote was to deregulate campaign finances and require speedy Internet disclosure of contributions.
The House on Wednesday defeated a motion aimed at giving the secretary of energy more control over a new agency being created to tighten security at U.S. nuclear labs. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a response to findings that China obtained U.S. atomic secrets during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. At issue on this vote was language in the 2000 defense budget (S 1059) that helps set up the agency within the Department of Energy. The motion sought to bolster the energy secretary's power over the NNSA in areas such as environmental protection, worker safety and public accountability. A yes vote was to bolster the energy secretary's authority over the new agency.
SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES
The Senate on Wednesday rejected an amendment on the issue of whether to require better fuel economy of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), minivans and light trucks. The nonbinding amendment called on the Department of Transportation to study the possibility of requiring those vehicles to produce more miles per gallon of gas. Under U.S. fuel standards, they now produce about 20.7 mpg, compared with 27.5 mpg for passenger cars. The vote occurred during debate on a transportation bill (HR 2084). A yes vote advocated a fuel-efficiency study of SUVs, minivans and light trucks.
The Senate on Monday failed to advance a measure that would block new rules for computing royalties on oil pumped on federal land. Foes of the Interior Department rules are seeking to block them for the fourth straight year. Companies pay 12.5 percent royalties on the fair market value of oil extracted from the outer continental shelf. At issue was whether the oil should be valued at the wellhead, as oil companies prefer, or later in the marketing chain, as the government advocates. The new rules would significantly increase royalties, which are split between the U.S. Treasury and the state where the drilling occurs. A yes vote was to move toward blocking new oil pricing rules.
The Senate on Tuesday approved a measure (SJ Res 33) rebuking President Clinton for having offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists imprisoned for crimes committed as members of the Armed Forces for National Liberation. Known as FALN, the terrorist organization admits to about 130 bombings in the 1970s and 1980s in seeking independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth. None of those offered pardons was convicted of crimes shown to have caused death or injury. Their crimes were felonies such as weapons possession, robbery and sedition. A yes vote was to rebuke the president.