House of Representatives 107th Congress First Session
Reform Clears House
Internet Access Bill OK'd by House Subcommittee
Fetus Harm Bill Passes House
Senate 107th Congress First Session
Bill Debated in Congress
Loophole Closed by Senate Committee
Bill to Reclaim Contaminated and Abandoned
House of Representatives
Pension Reform Clears
The amount of money Americans can save annually
in tax-favored accounts such as IRAs was increased by legislation
overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives on May 2,
2001. This bill (Comprehensive Retirement Security and Pension Reform
Act - H.R. 6) was part of a broad effort to help workers better prepare
The maximum amount workers can contribute annually
to their individual retirement accounts, from $2,000 to $5,000, would
be increased over three years by the bill. Also, the annual contribution
limits to 401(k) would be increased over five years from the current
level of $10,500 to $15,000 along with other employer-sponsored plans.
The measure also would make it easier for Americans
to transfer their pensions with them, while reducing the length of
time from five years to three years in which workers must wait until
they are fully "vested" in employer-sponsored plans. This will accommodate
Americans who frequently switch jobs.
At a time when President Bush and Congress are
contemplating separate proposals to restructure Social Security by
creating new private investment accounts for individuals, this bill
represents a tool to help workers save for retirement said sponsors
of the pension package.
With strong support from the White House and both
sides of the aisle, the bill passed on May 2, 2001, by a 407 to 24
vote. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-in/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=96)
After former President Clinton voiced opposition to a similar measure
last year, it passed in the House but stalled in the Senate.
Representative Rob Portman (Republican - Ohio)
who authored the bill with Representative Benjamin L. Cardyl (Democrat
- Maryland said, "It's something Republicans and Democrats can agree
on. It will help millions of Americans enjoy the promise of retirement."
(Juliet Eilperin, "House Approves Pension Reform.
Bill Would Raise IRA, 401(k) Limits," The Washington Post, May 3,
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High Speed Internet Access
Bill OK'd by House Subcommittee
On April 26, 2001, the House Commerce Telecommunications
subcommittee voted 19-14 to approve a measure (Internet Freedom and
Broadband Deployment Act of 2001 - H.R. 1542) that would allow local
telephone companies to sell high-speed Internet access nationwide
without opening their home markets to competition.
The Committee on Energy and Commerce will meet
in an open make-up session on Wednesday, May 9, 2001, and subsequent
days after if necessary.
Sheffield said, "We're pleased that the subcommittee
approved the bill. We didn't reinvent the wheel here. We're talking
about a bill that was around for two years and was reintroduced."
The measure failed to reach the House floor and
was not brought up in the Senate last year. According to Senator Browback's
(Republican - Kansas) spokesman, a similar bill will be introduced
in the Senate later this year by the senator.
A day after a hearing on the bill, the subcommittee
vote was decried by consumer groups and a prominent cable Internet
An already ailing group of companies that compete
with telephone companies to provide high-speed Internet access over
telephone networks using Digital Subscriber Lines, or DSL technology
could be destroyed by this deregulation say opponents of this bill.
If the measure becomes law, Covad, a leading provider,
would have to quit the residential market.
Gene Kimmelman, of the Consumers Union said, "We're
quite disappointed that rather than addressing consumers' needs for
more local phone competition, and competition to cable monopolies,
Congress has headed down the path to reinforcing the power of the
biggest telephone monopolies."
The bill was "rammed" through the committees,
and lawmakers should have gotten more time to consider its implication
said long distance phone company and cable provider AT&T.
AT&T spokesman Jim McGann said, "It will drive
capital from an industry already under stress, slam shut the Bell
monopoly networks to any hope of competition, and extend their dominance
to the Internet."
Several once-vibrant competitors like Northpoint
and Winstar have already filed for bankruptcy or gone out of business.
Deregulation would cause money to become even more scarce for the
companies according to testimony from a venture capital executive.
To encourage telephone companies to provide service
in rural markets and be able to compete with cable Internet firms,
which hold a commanding share of the broadband Internet market, the
legislation is needed countered Tauzin and his allies.
Representative Tauzin said in a statement, "Broadband
is a nascent market that does not need regulation. What it needs is
the ability to thrive."
(D. Ian Hopper, "Congress Panel OKs Deregulation
Bill," The Associated Press, April 26, 2001)
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Fetus Harm Bill Passes
On April 26, 2001, the House of Representatives
voted to make it a federal crime to harm a fetus during an assault
on its mother, urging action on behalf of "unborn victims." The measure
was decried by pro-choice advocates as a foot in the door toward legal
recognition of fetuses as people.
The House passed the Unborn Victims of Violence
Act (H.R. 503) by a 252-172 vote, almost identical to the 254-172
margin by which it was passed a year ago after a lengthy and sometimes
testy debate that included pictures of a woman holding a stillborn
baby who died after she was assaulted. (To see how your representative
voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-in/vote.exe?year=2001&
Unlike last year, the measure has the support
of the President. A veto was promised by former President Clinton.
However, since there was little support for it in the Senate, it never
reached the President. Yet to set a hearing on the issue this year
is the Senate Judiciary Committee, now evenly divided between Democrats
President Bush said, "This legislation affirms
our commitment to a culture of life, which welcomes and protects children."
House supporters characterized the bill as an
anti-crime measure, not an abortion issue.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Republican - Texas)
said, "The law must not look upon a violent criminal's unborn victims
with an indifferent eye. Every young life must be acknowledged. And
every young life must be protected from predatory criminals."
A Democratic amendment that failed by a 196-229
vote which would have stiffened penalties for harming a pregnant woman
but not make harming a fetus a separate crime was assailed by the
House Majority Whip. He said, "Life and death should not be subsumed
beneath a semantic fog." (To see how your representative voted, visit
Abortion supporters called the measure a veiled
attempt by conservatives to chip away at abortion rights guaranteed
in the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Representative John
Conyers (Democrat - Michigan) said, "This would be the first time
in the federal legal system that we would begin to recognize a fertilized
egg, a zygote, an embryo or a fetus. That's what the bill is trying
to do. No sneaking around today, fellas."
Representative Lindsey Graham (Republican - South
Carolina), the bill's sponsor said, "Today is about bringing the country
together to put people in jail who deserve to go."
(Janelle Carter, "House Passes Fetus Harm Bill,"
The Associated Press, April 26, 2001)
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Education Bill Debated
Surviving a challenge in the House while the Senate
proposed adding billions of dollars for poor children and those with
disabilities, the President's education package passed through its
As a House committee rejected a bid to kill the
tests for third through eighth grade annual testing in reading and
math, the cornerstone of the President's plan - standardized testing
- cleared its first serious hurdle.
In addition, members of both parties in the Senate
went on record for more money for programs to help poor children and
those with disabilities — about $2.5 billion more a year for ten years
— than the President originally proposed.
An amendment to increase aid for students with
disabilities was sponsored by Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican - Nebraska)
and Tom Harkin (Democrat - Iowa). Although Congress has been providing
only 15 percent toward student disability, federal law already mandates
a 40 percent federal contribution of the existing program.
The federal share would be increased by $2.5 billion
annually over 10 years, reaching the 40 percent level in 2007 by the
amendment, which passed by voice vote.
Currently, the program receives only about 3.6
million of an eligible 10 million children. On May 3, 2001, the Senate
expanded funding that covers education for poor children in a second
vote. The program receives only about 3.6 million of an eligible 10
million children. The program expanded by a 79-21 vote, approving
the measure (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.
Senator James Jeffords (Republican -Vermont) a
longtime advocate of increased funding for the programs that assist
the disabled said, "We owe our children no less."
Although the money will need to be approved by
Congress annually, the total additional cost could be well over $100
billion over ten years said officials.
Supporters of the measure said the victories would
increase support for final passage of the bill, expected in the next
An amendment to eliminate the system of annual
tests, which would measure the progress schools make in increasing
student achievement was offered on May 3, 2001, by Representative
Betty McCollum (Democrat - Minnesota).
In light of a committee vote on May 2, 2001, that
stripped out a private school voucher provision for students left
in failing schools, Republican conservatives have gambled that aspect
of the President's program.
Republican Bob Schaffer (Republican - Colorado)
said, "The only reason conservatives are willing to tolerate testing
is because it is balanced with flexibility and choice. The value of
testing has always been to empower parents. Now parents have been
cut out of the bill."
As recently as May 2, 2001, Bush advisers met
privately with GOP lawmakers. It was made clear that the White House
supports the testing. It was pointed out at the meeting that new polling
data suggests most Americans favor mandatory state testing said sources
speaking on condition of anonymity.
Also, an amendment sponsored by Senator Jefford,
which would provide federal money for the tests, allowing schools
to skip them if the government does not allocate the money was approved
by a vote of 93 to 7 on May 3, 2001. (To see how your senators voted,
For private tutoring or transportation to another
public school, students in schools that failed to improve significantly
would be able to use federal funds.
Straight A's, a plan that would give localities
far more control, has been removed from the legislation.
Although the President's effort toward bipartisanship
led him to place education as a priority, he is learning that fostering
a new tone of cooperation has consequences as the plan moves through
the House and Senate. The new developing education plan no longer
looks like his original bill.
Many important provisions that the President "promoted
on the campaign trail" have been picked apart by lawmakers from both
parties in negotiations with the White House.
Despite these compromises, the President has been
urged to stand strong by former education secretary Bill Bennett.
Bennett said at a news conference, "The proposals
he sent up to the Hill are good proposals. But right now they are
in the process of being eviscerated."
He added, "I would plead with the President to
fight for these proposals. I know he wants to get a bill signed. But
it's critical to get a good bill signed."
President Bush as a candidate promised to identify
and fix the worst of the nation's schools. He said he would give some
parents the power in the form of vouchers to switch their children
to other schools, including private ones if they failed to do so.
Unfortunately, that voucher program has been all
but obliterated. In addition, diluted measures to consolidate programs
have given states more control over how to spend federal money.
To increase spending sharply, amendments are to
be offered in the Senate. Compared to the funding the President sought
for the Department of Education, the House bill already provides more
money and Senate Democrats seek billions more.
The President signaled he was willing to compromise
hoping for an early victory.
Senator Kennedy on May 3, 2001 said, "Just a few
years ago, Democrats and Republicans were light years apart on the
issue of education. President Bush has made education one of his top
priorities. Education is our priority, too, and we're willing to meet
However, the President has come more than halfway
For example, consolidating the hundreds of existing
federal education programs was one goal. However, the House Committee
approved amendments sponsored by Republicans to restore two programs
the President sought to consolidate to create a new one on May 3,
(Greg Toppo, "Education Bill Passes Key Test,"
The Associated Press, May 5, 2001; Lizette Alvarez, "On Way to Passage,
Bush's Education Plan Gets a Makeover," The New York Times, May 4,
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Gambling Loophole Closed
by Senate Committee
After its supporters narrowly defeated an amendment
that would have gutted the legislation, a bill to ban betting on amateur
sports cleared a key senate committee on May 3, 2001.
A legal loophole that allows such betting in Nevada
even though the practice is banned in the rest of the nation would
be closed by the measure posed by the senate commerce committee on
a voice vote. It would remove a major corrupting influence on college
sports programs and student athletes according to supporters of the
legislation, that include the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
However, an uphill battle still awaits the legislation.
Similar measures last year passed in House and Senate committees with
solid margins only to die when leaders in both chambers kept them
from coming to the floor.
On May 3, this year's bill to ban betting came
close to a similar fate as last year's bill when Senator John Ensign
(Republican - Nevada) offered an amendment that would have kept the
loophole open for amateur sports betting in Nevada. The panel split
10-10 on the vote until Senator John McCain (Republican - Arizona)
exercised his prerogative as committee chairman to break the tie causing
the amendment to fail.
Although confident the legislation enjoys broad
support, supporters of the Senate bill and its House companion say
they have received no assurance that House and Senate leaders this
year will permit it to come to a floor vote. However, even if it means
offering the measure as a floor amendment to unrelated legislation,
Senator McCain and his principal co-sponsor on the bill Senator Sam
Brownback (Republican - Kansas) are committed to "forcing the issue,"
said Mark Buse, staff director for the Commerce Committee.
Buse said in an interview, "It was never brought
to the floor before, under its own will, through the normal process
because there is opposition to it privately. But the reality is that
Senators McCain and Brownback are not going to just wait for the regular
process but will do whatever maximizes their ability to proceed."
Betting on Olympic, college and high school sports
— which has occurred legally in Nevada since 1992 — would be outlawed
by the Amateur Sports Integrity Act. The Nevada loophole helps legitimize
illegal gambling on amateur sports and, in doing so, has contributed
to scandals involving student athletes and gambling say ban supporters.
If the NCAA is serious about guarding the integrity
of amateur sports, it should focus on illegal sports betting rather
than the legal variety, which accounts for legislating one percent
of all sports betting contend measure opponents.
Senator Ensign said, "If there is a fixing at
the game going on, the legal sports books are going to get burned.
It is in their own self-interest to make sure the game's integrity
(John Lancaster, "Panel Acts to Close Gambling
Loophole. Ban Targets Betting on Amateur Sports," The Washington Post,
May 4, 2001)
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Energy Compromise Saught
In the energy debate on April 26, 2001, with proposals
to reduce demand and increase supply, two senators tried to stake
out middle ground.
Wanting to open up federal land in the Rocky Mountains
and the Gulf of Mexico for drilling while increasing fuel efficiency
standards for sports utility vehicles are Senators Charles Schumer
(Democrat - New York) and Susan Collins (Republican - Maine).
If supply does not increase and demand continues
to rise, already high energy costs could nearly triple by 2010 indicated
data the senators released. (To view this report, visit http://www.senate.gov/~collins/
Senator Schumer said, "We're on the precipice
of an energy crisis."
On Capitol Hill, energy issues have moved to center
stage as a result of skyrocketing power prices and rolling blackouts
on the West Coast. To overt severe price spikes this summer, the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission on April 25, 2001, ordered limited price
caps during California electricity emergencies.
The issue is being examined by President Bush's
White House task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.
The senators want to construct a new national
gas pipeline from Alaska and use new superconducting technology to
increase electricity transmission capacity on existing power lines
to address the supply side. They would not allow the opening up of
the national monuments or parklands like the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge but would expand incentives for drilling on federal lands.
The plan would increase incentives to invest in
greater fuel efficient technologies and restore money to the Department
of Energy's renewable energy programs to address the demand side.
For light trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles, fuel efficiency
standards would be increased.
(Shannon McCaffrey, "Senators Seek Energy Compromise,"
The Associated Press, April 26, 2001)
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Bill to Reclaim Contaminated
and Abandoned Industrial Sites
Strengthening efforts to reclaim thousands of
contaminated and abandoned industrial sites known as brownfields,
the Senate voted on Wednesday, April 25, 2001, to overwhelming approve
the first major environmental measure of the Bush administration.
To shield developers who purchased abandoned factory
sites and inner-city junkyards from Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) lawsuits and Superfund penalties for pollution caused by previous
owners, the bill would increase annual spending for the cleanup program
from $92 million to $200 million.
Particularly in midwestern and eastern Rust Belt
states, the proposal would accelerate the development of blighted
industrial areas say Congressional and administration advocates.
Senator Lincoln D. Chafee (Republican - Rhode
Island) a former mayor who co-sponsored the bill with Senator Harry
Reid (Democrat - Nevada) said, "With this legislation today, we have
the opportunity to protect the environment, strengthen local economies
and revitalize our communities. Communities whose fortunes sank along
with the decline of mills and factories will once again have residents
and well-paying jobs."
The bill to amend the comprehensive Environmental
Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 was approved 99 to
0 with Senator Tim Hutchinson (Republican - Arkansas) absent. This
summer the House is expected to pass the measure.
Throughout the nation posing a safety and health
problem and serving as a drag on local tax rolls are an estimated
450,000 contaminated or abandoned industrial or commercial sites.
Ensnared in a larger controversy over how to reform
the federal Superfund program, which requires polluters to pay for
the clean-up of contaminated sites, have been previous efforts to
pass brownfield's legislation. The program, which business groups
consider onerous regulation and some environmentalists see as ineffective,
has long been debated by lawmakers on how it can be improved. Despite
this effort, broad reform has been stymied for years.
By providing additional liability safeguards for
purchasers and developers of abandoned sites, Chafee and other supporters
of the brownfields bill gained support.
To clean up abandoned gasoline stations and petroleum
sites that do not qualify under the Superfund program, Senator James
M Inhofe (Republican - Oklahoma) won a guarantee of an additional
$50 million annually.
In light of strong differences in a Senate divided
50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, Environment and Public Works
Committee Chairman Robert C. Smith (Republican - New Hampshire) signaled
that Congress likely would abandon other efforts to revamp the Superfund
program. He said, "I always thought we needed Comprehensive Superfund
reform, but it's probably not going to happen and maybe it shouldn't
happen. Maybe we should move forward in a piecemeal fashion."
(Eric Piamin, "Senate Passes Environmental Cleanup
Bill Measure Targets Brownfields, Aims to Boost Redevelopment in Blighted
Areas," The Washington Post, April 26, 2001)
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