$289 Billion Defense Bill Passed by House

The House yesterday approved a military pay raise in legislation that also provides more money for defense readiness and, in response to the controversy over alleged Chinese spying, reorganizes the Energy Department's nuclear weapons programs.

The $289 billion defense bill was cleared 375 to 45, despite concerns raised by a number of Democrats about the degree of autonomy given the new, largely independent nuclear weapons agency within the Energy Department. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said the move would endanger health, safety and environmental oversight of the program.

Panel Boosts Funding

A Senate subcommittee voted to boost spending for NASA and veterans' health care above House-passed levels as Republicans began meeting--and even exceeding--some of President Clinton's spending demands.

Across the Capitol, the House cleared the way for boosting salaries for members of Congress, the next president and federal workers. That occurred as the House voted 292 to 126 to approve a final $28 billion measure financing the Treasury Department and smaller agencies.

By voice vote, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved a $90.9 billion measure financing space, veterans, housing and environmental programs for fiscal 2000, which begins Oct. 1. The bill is about the same as Clinton requested and $1 billion more than the House approved last week.

Democratic Donor Case

A New Jersey businessman agreed to plead guilty to funneling $12,000 in illegal campaign contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign and $20,000 to the Senate campaign of Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) during the 1996 election cycle.

Lawrence Penna, 55, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for one felony count of conspiring to circumvent the federal limits by using his employees as donors and then reimbursing them. Penna was the president of the now-defunct Investors Associates Inc., a securities firm based in Hackensack.

Penna is the 19th person charged by the Campaign Financing Task Force established by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate allegations of abuses involving the 1996 elections.

Clemency Subpoenas

The Senate Judiciary Committee will issue subpoenas demanding documents and testimony from administration witnesses in the Puerto Rico clemency case, Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said.

The House Government Reform Committee has already issued subpoenas for the clemency documents but has received no response. The House committee also has subpoenaed officials at the White House, Justice Department, FBI and Bureau of Prisons to testify.

With a House hearing scheduled for Tuesday, committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) sent an angry challenge to Attorney General Janet Reno to produce documents and witnesses. "There have been numerous allegations that the pardons were, in the first place, given for political reasons," Burton wrote. "I ask in all sincerity that you do not contribute to the politicization of this issue by permitting your staff to frustrate the legitimate requests of my committee."

White House counsel's office spokesman Jim Kennedy said the subpoenas were being evaluated.

Blacks on the Bench

Getting more blacks on federal appeals courts will be a top priority of the Congressional Black Caucus in the year 2000, especially on the court that hears cases where the highest concentration of African Americans live, the group's chairman said.

No black person has ever served on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, said Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).