Senate Backs Aid
For Ex-Weapon Workers
The Senate approved a plan yesterday to have the government, not federal contractors, compensate Cold War-era nuclear weapons workers who were sickened from exposure to toxic substances while on the job.
The amendment to the Senate defense bill would also transfer the program to the Labor Department. Lawmakers had complained that the Energy Department, in its administration of the $100 million program, has paid out only $140,000 in claims over the past four years.
"It became clear that the program has not been working as intended and this measure will help correct the situation," said Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The Energy Department now helps current and former workers at its weapons plants file claims for lost wages and medical expenses under state compensation programs, but it relies on contractors that operated the plants to pay them. Some of those contractors are no longer in business. Under the Senate plan, the government would pay the claims once it has evidence that a worker's illness was job-related. Payments would be based on compensation laws in states where the claimants worked. Most of the nearly 25,000 claims the Energy Department has received are from people who worked at weapons-making facilities.
The House-passed defense bill would make smaller changes to the program, such as raising fees paid to medical experts who review claims, but would keep it in the Energy Department.
House Likely to Pass
A drive to block a huge federal contract awarded to Accenture LLP for tracking visiting foreigners was all but scuttled by the House, despite arguments that the company should be punished for avoiding some U.S. taxes.
The near-party-line vote of 234 to 197 by the GOP-led chamber meant that language disallowing the contract -- valued at as much as $10 billion over the next decade -- was likely to be removed later this week from a $32 billion bill financing the Department of Homeland Security.
The Accenture contract would benefit a wide array of subcontractors and is strongly supported by the business community and the House Republican leadership. Accenture opponents say the company shrunk its tax bill by moving its headquarters to Bermuda but acknowledge they face an uphill fight and are hoping the Senate would keep the issue alive.
"These companies have an obligation to the United States of America to pay their taxes," said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.). "If you want to feed at the public trough, you have to pay your taxes."
House Panel Approves
More Military Spending
The House Appropriations Committee approved a $416.9 billion defense measure, including $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The panel added $685 million for diplomatic costs in both countries that, like the military money, the Bush administration had said would not be needed until at least January.
Committee members also added $95 million for victims of starvation and fighting in Sudan and Chad; a requirement for a White House report by Oct. 1 on the expected U.S. costs in Iraq and Afghanistan; and language curbing contracts with private companies to manage reconstruction in Iraq.
The committee also approved a $28 billion energy and water measure that cuts President Bush's request for work on a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. It increases spending for water projects in lawmakers' home districts, but eliminates funds that Bush wants for the development of some new nuclear weapons.
-- From News Services