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.
FISCAL 2000 BUDGET
For-296 / Against-135
The House approved a $391 billion measure (HR 3194) on Thursday that completes House work on the fiscal 2000 budget. The legislation contains a 0.38 percent across-the-board cut advocated by Republicans, along with accounting devices that enable both parties to claim that spending in 2000 will not reduce Social Security reserves.
The legislation funds foreign aid as well as the departments of Interior, State, Justice, Commerce, Education, Labor and Health and Human Services. It provides a $12.8 billion increment for Medicare (below), adds local channels to satellite programming in large TV markets (below) and provides $800 million for farmers hit by Hurricane Floyd.
The bill pays nearly $1 billion in tardy U.S. dues to the United Nations, coupled with a ban on U.S. aid to overseas organizations that promote abortion. It appropriates $1.4 billion for the second phase of President Clinton's program to help schools hire 100,000 teachers to reduce class size--although schools can use up to 25 percent of their grant for teacher training.
It requires oil and gas firms drilling on federal land to pay royalties based on market value. At present, they can base these payments to the Treasury on wellhead prices. The bill continues a dairy cartel that allows farmers in the six New England states to set above-market prices for their milk, to the detriment of competitors in the Midwest. A yes vote supported the fiscal 2000 spending plan.
LOCAL CHANNELS ON SATELLITE TV
For-411 / Against-8
The House approved a bill (HR 1554) on Nov. 9 enabling satellite TV to carry local commercial channels in the nation's 67 largest television markets. The bill was then included in HR 3194 (above).
At present, cable but not satellite TV carries local channels in the nation's largest cities. Under the bill, the 67 urban areas would join rural parts of the country in gaining access to commercial stations via satellite. But many viewers in smaller cities still would lack satellite access to local channels. To accommodate them, House and Senate leaders agreed to debate by next April a package of loan guarantees for companies building satellite networks to deliver local channels to smaller cities. A yes vote supported satellite TV carrying local commercial channels in large markets.
For-388 / Against-25
The House passed a bill (HR 3075) on Nov. 5 increasing Medicare payments to health care providers such as teaching hospitals, nursing homes, managed care plans and outpatient clinics. The bill also provides increased or new funding for a variety of treatments such as physical therapy, home oxygen services and experimental drug therapies. It is designed to restore Medicare cuts made in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act at a cost of about $12 billion over five years. The measure was then included in HR 3194 (above). A yes vote supported the Medicare payment increases.
TO CONFIRM MOSELEY-BRAUN
For-96 / Against-2
The Senate confirmed Carol Moseley-Braun, former Democratic senator from Illinois, as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa on Nov. 10. While supporters said she will ably represent U.S. interests abroad, critics raised questions concerning allegations of misconduct when she was a senator and said she should be disqualified.
Partly at issue were IRS requests that the Justice Department probe allegations that she had used campaign funds for personal expenses. The department declined to act on the requests, however. During confirmation hearings, Moseley-Braun denied any misuse of funds and cited a Federal Election Commission audit showing that no more than $311 may have been used personally by her campaign manager.
A yes vote was to confirm Moseley-Braun's appointment.
FEDERAL RESERVE PROBE OF CREDIT CARD FIRMS
For-82 / Against-16
The Senate adopted a nonbinding amendment on Wednesday urging the Federal Reserve Board to probe the extent to which credit card firms might help cause bankruptcies by aggressively soliciting individuals who can't handle debt. The measure was attached to a bankruptcy reform bill (S 625) that remained in debate. A yes vote urged a Federal Reserve study that could lead to expanded regulation of credit cards.
STRICTER COCAINE POSSESSION SENTENCING
For-50 / Against-49
The Senate approved a Republican amendment on Nov. 10 that increases minimum prison sentences for possession of powdered cocaine, putting the offense on a par with sentences for possession of crack cocaine. The amendment to a bankruptcy reform bill (above) also allowed taxpayers to fund private school tuition, ensuring the measure would be opposed by most Democrats.
Debate centered on how best to equalize mandatory sentences for possession of crack as well as powdered cocaine. At present, possessing five grams of crack guarantees at least five years behind bars. But it takes possession of 500 grams of powered cocaine to trigger an equal sentence. Critics say the disparity tilts drug laws in favor of suburban addicts, discriminating against inner-city users.
Backers of the amendment said it would end discriminatory sentencing and deter drug use, while opponents said it would add inmates to crowded prisons without addressing the causes of drug abuse. A yes vote was to adopt the GOP amendment raising powdered cocaine penalties and authorizing school vouchers.