House Approves Funds for Embassies, U.N.

Congressional concern over terrorist threats against U.S. diplomats overwhelmed antiabortion forces yesterday as the House rejected an attempt to include in embassy security legislation a controversial measure that would bar money for U.N. population programs.

The bill to fortify the embassies would quadruple Clinton administration requests for rebuilding and renovating the buildings around the world next year, offering $1.4 billion to start a 10-year, $14 billion program.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) said the 221-198 vote to retain in the bill $25 million for the United Nations Population Fund, known as UNFPA, was a setback in his long struggle to end any support for abortions worldwide. But family planning advocates praised the action as evidence the Republican-controlled House is finally accepting the importance of family planning in saving the lives of mothers and preventing abortions.

Clinton Urges Ratification of Test Ban Treaty

President Clinton called on the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), saying it would be a "tragedy" if it failed to act on the landmark accord to ban all nuclear testing.

The treaty has been blocked by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who insists that Clinton first send the Senate an unrelated treaty on global warming as well as amendments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Normal Trade Ties With China Backed

The Senate sent a strong signal of support for the continuation of normal trade relations with China and Vietnam as it summarily rejected a move by critics to force immediate votes on proposals to block the extension.

By huge margins, the Senate spurned a bid by New Hampshire Sen. Robert C. Smith, a Republican-turned-independent who is running for the White House, to bypass the Finance Committee and schedule Senate votes on overturning President Clinton's decision to continue the two countries' favorable trade status. The vote was 87 to 12 on China and 94 to 5 on Vietnam.

The House plans to vote on the issue before Congress's August recess. While the House vote may be closer, the Senate action appears to ensure that neither country will lose its trading status. The approval of both houses is required to reverse Clinton's order.

Personal Medical Data Vulnerable, GAO Says

Personal medical information about the 39 million elderly and disabled Americans covered by Medicare is not adequately protected from potential misuse, congressional auditors said.

"Although few complaints about Privacy Act violations have been made to date, we believe that the weaknesses we and others have identified potentially compromise the confidentiality of health information on Medicare beneficiaries," said the General Accounting Office in a report released at a hearing of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee.

Promotion of Blacks' Seat-Belt Use Urged

Meharry Medical College has released a report urging the government to do more to promote the use of seat belts among African Americans, who are less likely to use seat belts and more likely to be killed in motor vehicle accidents than others.

The report calls for the enactment of laws that would allow police to stop motorists for not wearing seat belts. Sixteen states and the District have such laws, while other states only cite drivers for not wearing seat belts if they are stopped for other traffic violations.

Swapping of Donor Lists by Public TV Decried

House Republicans and Democrats alike vowed to outlaw what both called the "stupid" practice by public broadcast television stations of swapping donor lists with political groups. Public broadcast officials, revealing how widespread list swaps are, did not disagree.

Data are still being gathered, but of the 75 largest public television stations, at least 53 use list brokers to exchange donor lists with other nonprofit groups, Robert T. Coonrod, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, told a House panel. Twenty-eight have rented lists from political organizations, and fewer than 30 appear to have exchanged lists with political groups.