House GOP Details Patients' Rights Bill

Key House Republicans outlined their patients' bill of rights yesterday, which includes a right to appeal insurers' decisions to an outside expert but does not expand the right to sue.

In a move that Democrats have indicated they will resist, the bill also allows employers to pool together to purchase health care for their workers, so they could try to negotiate lower prices. Bill sponsors hope this will help cover some of the 43 million uninsured Americans.

A similar bill passed the House by six votes last July, while a Democratic alternative lost by only five votes. Since then, Democrats picked up five seats in the House, possibly changing the dynamics of the health care debate. Democrats have said Republican health care proposals do not go far enough to safeguard patients.

Senate Rejects Kerry's Y2K Liability Measure

The Senate, debating legislation that would limit class action lawsuits and restrict punitive damages in the event of Year 2000 computer failures, rejected an alternative offered by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) that he said the White House would accept. The vote was 57 to 41.

Kerry offered his proposal as a substitute for legislation sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and others that has drawn threats of a presidential veto. The administration contends the McCain bill would thwart efforts by consumers to fully recover economic losses caused by Y2K breakdowns.

But McCain, supported by a coalition of business and high-tech companies, said he had made "significant compromises" by accepting changes urged by Wyden and Dodd.

Kerry said his proposal would limit liability claims against companies if they identified and alerted users to potential Y2K problems, but McCain said it would create loopholes allowing lawsuits.

Panel Votes to Cut

Local Police Hiring A bill approved by a Senate panel would cut President Clinton's request for hiring local police officers while offering more help against terrorists, including a new counterterrorism laboratory at the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The legislation, coming soon after revelations of Chinese espionage at federal energy labs, would order the FBI to send at least 60 agents around the country to combat security breakdowns. The measure also would step up federal efforts against Internet crime, including $10 million to expand Securities and Exchange Commission efforts to crack down on fraud involving electronic trading.

The provisions were included in a $35.3 billion measure financing the departments of Commerce, Justice and State for the coming fiscal year. The bill was approved in a voice vote by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing those agencies.

GOP Senator Blasts Democrats' FOIA Tactic

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) sharply criticized the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for filing freedom-of-information requests with federal agencies for correspondence from Burns and nine other Republican senators who are up for reelection next year.

Burns accused the committee of seeking to "corrupt the nonpolitical casework system of Senate offices for political gain" and fired off a letter to President Clinton "demanding that he put an immediate stop to this and any similar action," as he put it in a speech to the Senate.

DSCC spokesman Jim Jordan said the Freedom of Information Act provides "absolute privacy" for individuals other than elected or appointed officials and that the committee was seeking "only that information which goes directly to a senator's official duties and interventions with federal agencies," not information on casework.

"In our view, a senator's contacts with and attempts to lobby federal agencies are a perfectly legitimate subject of scrutiny," he added.

But "to clarify the record," the DSCC plans to contact agencies to stress that it is not seeking information involving private citizens, Jordan said.

House Votes to Order U.S. Troops Out of Haiti

The House voted 227 to 198 last night to pull the permanent force of U.S. troops out of Haiti by the end of the year.

"It's not fair to leave our troops in Haiti in an open-ended deployment," said House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.) during a debate on amendments to the $289 billion defense authorization bill.

Opponents complained that the peacekeeping force in Haiti numbered fewer than 500 troops. "Haiti does not have an army now because they agreed to get rid of it," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.). "Our troops are not in jeopardy."

The House also rejected, as it has done in past years, a proposal to liberalize the ban on abortions at military hospitals overseas. It turned back, 225 to 203, a proposal to allow the procedures if the woman paid for it with her own funds.