It's back to the future. The year 2000 computer glitch may become a faded memory after January, but that doesn't mean the Senate's special committee on the Y2K problem plans to disband any time soon.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), suggested last week that the panel might shift its focus to examining the risks American business and government computers face from electronic attacks by terrorists and hostile foreign powers. The panel had been established to monitor public and private progress in preventing critical computer systems from crashing or otherwise malfunctioning because they read a two-digit date code "00" as 1900, not 2000.
Studying the Y2K issue, Bennett said in a speech at the National Press Club, made him realize "how significantly damaging it could be to our economy to have all of the computers fail by accident. What hit me was, 'What happens if they fail on purpose? What is our vulnerability to those . . . who would use the dependence that we have on computers as an opportunity to attack us?' "
Bennett said he and committee Vice Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) likely would hold a hearing on the issue soon.
"We've learned that Y2K is not only preparing for the here and now, and for the immediate challenge of January 1st, it has also taught us things about the Information Age in which we have entered, and the whole new world in which we will live for a long time to come," Bennett said.
FIFTEEN MINUTES OF FAME: Even since he started publicly defending President Clinton's decision to grant clemency to members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) has been deluged with media requests. Even so, he was somewhat surprised that members of the Fourth Estate staked out his house on Wednesday morning to get his comment on the FALN members' decision to accept the offer.
"I had nothing to say," Gutierrez said. "They're out."
While he's not exactly complaining, Gutierrez is a little disappointed that his sudden prominence is only linked to one controversial stand.
"You can spend a lifetime fighting for veterans, fighting for the poor, and something like this comes along, and you are ever defined," he observed.
LEARNING FROM THE ENEMY: Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) may be an archconservative, but that doesn't mean he's above accepting tips from the opposition.
At Kingston's request, Clinton ally and MSNBC "Equal Time" co-host Paul Begala addressed the "Theme Team"--the GOP communications team that Kingston leads--on Thursday morning. More than 30 Republican lawmakers showed up to hear words of wisdom from the man who adjusted the microphone on Clinton's tie just before he confessed his affair with Monica Lewinsky to the nation.
Anybody who can put a good spin on impeachment, Kingston said with grudging admiration, "he's got to be a good guy."
FADING AWAY: Prospects for legislation to require background checks for sales at gun shows appear dim at this point.
Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), one of the negotiators on juvenile crime legislation, said last week he sees no chance that the House-Senate conference will wind up including the Senate-approved gun show provision. The House, sharply divided on the gun issue, did not include any gun show provisions in its version of the crime legislation.
An aide to Meehan later said that less controversial provisions, such as a requirement that child safety locks be sold with guns and a ban on importation of large-capacity ammunition clips, are likely to be approved.
THE WEEK AHEAD: The House and Senate are in session this week and both chambers are planning to put in long hours as lawmakers try to compete work on a host of spending bills and other measures.
The House will wade into the tricky question of campaign finance, as well as vote on the country's milk marketing structure. It may also take up the conference agreement on the Defense Department's authorization legislation and one on the Treasury-Postal Service appropriations bill.
The Senate will continue considering the Interior Department appropriations bill and will vote on an Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure.
Staff writers Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Helen Dewar contributed to this report.