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Capitol Hill Review

July 2-6, 2001

Table of Contents:

U.S. House of Representatives 107th Congress First Session

The House of Representatives Blocks President Bush's Energy Plan

U.S. Senate

The Senate's Version of the Patient's Bill of Rights
Education Bill Passes Senate

U.S. House of Representatives

The House of Representatives Blocks President Bush's Energy Plan

The House dealt solid blows to the Bush administration's energy strategy by blocking new drilling for oil, gas or coal in national monuments and in an area just off the Florida coast.

Also by a 216-194 vote, the House stopped the administration from rolling back a Clinton-era rule allowing the government to deny an environmental company mining permits. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=182).

The measures were part of a $18.9 billion interior appropriations that passed the House on June 21, 2001. Their passaage was a defeat for the Bush administration, which had counted on strong support for its energy strategy in the Republican-controlled House although the amendments still face uncertain futures in the Senate.

Representative Nick Rahall, (Democrat - West Virginia) sponsored the amendment that would effectively place a moratorium on all new driling in the nation's monuments. As they were defined on the last day of Clinton's Presidency, the measures cut off all federal dollars for leasing and related activities in the nation's monuments.

The measure passed 242-173 with 47 Republicans joining Democrats in support. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=180).

The federal government was also kept from finalizing a lease with energy companies seeking to drill in a portion of the Gulf of Mexico until April 1, 2002 by an amendment approved by the House by a 247-164 vote. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=181). The tract, estimated to contain between 2.9 trillion and 7.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is less than 17 miles from Pensacola, Florida.

In addition, the Bush administration is blocked from using federal dollars to suspend or change new rules on the mining industry that became effective on former President Clinton's last day in office by a third environmental measure tacked onto the spending bill.

Mining companies are required to post bonds to pay the full cost of environmental cleanup by the so-called 3809 rules that are named for their section in the Federal Register Mines that disturbed less than five acres annually. Before the Clinton regulation, they could pledge their own assets without posting clean-up bonds.

(Jennifer A Dlouhy and Charles Pope, "House Slams Bush Energy Plan. Amendments aim to block drilling in monuments, reverse mining-permit policy," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 22, 2001)

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U.S. Senate

The Senate's Version of the Patient's Bill of Rights

On June 29, 2001, after years of political clashes, Democrats pushed through a Patient's Bill of Rights with a triumphal sound.

The following are the key elements of the Senate-passed Patient's Bill of Rights Bill:

Patient's Rights...

Access to emergency care and medical specialists, including gynecologists and pediatricians, along with required medicines and care during clinical trials is guaranteed to all Americans with private or public health insurance.

Federal Courts...

Over benefits (including disputes about contracts), co-payments, and other non-medical judgments, most patients can sue in federal courts.

State Courts...

Patients can sue insurers in state courts over coverage denials if based on medical judgment.

Class Action Lawsuits...

To employees of one company and one health care plan, class action lawsuits are restricted. Also, in a suit, employees of different companies cannot join together.

Damages Limits...

Unless a state's law imposes them, there are no limits for wages and other economic losses, including pain and suffering or punitive damage in state courts. There are also no limits for wages, pain and suffering and other losses. In federal courts, there is a $5 million limit on punitive damages.

Independent Review of Plan Decisions...

Prior to suing, patients are required to exhaust outside appeals. During the appeals process, lawsuits would be allowed in special circumstances.

Employers...

Unless they directly help make a decision against a patient, most employers are shielded from lawsuits. The only companies exposed to legal liability are those that offer self-insured and self-administered insurance plans. And if they found an outside entity to assume the risk, even they could protect themselves.

(To see how your senator voted, visit http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:s.01052:).

("Patient's Rights Glance," The Associated Press, June 30, 2001)

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Education Bill Passes Senate

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill overhauling the federal role in schools on June 24, 2001 after wading through more than 100 amendments.

To work out the final provisions, leading senators are now preparing to work with their House counterparts. By August, President Bush could have the finished bill.

In the architecture of the bi-partisan bills revising Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which passed both houses with large majorities), there is remarkable similarity. However, plenty of work remains, from deciding how much flexibility the new version of the law will allow and who gets that flexibility to negotiating spending - authorization levels and defining what constitutes a failing school.

The process has faced some close calls since the Senate took up the bill the first week of May. Despite the broad Senate support, the bill was approved 91-8 on June 14, 2001. (To see how your senator voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00192.html) Several leading Republicans were threatening to hold up the bill prior to it reaching the Senate floor because of an amendment that would have trimmed some spending flexibility. A bipartisan deal negotiated in its broad outlines would be undermined by the narrowly defeated proposal.

One of the amendments that would have caused Democrats the most heartache was a proposed pilot voucher program which Democrats had an easy time stopping. In voting the measure down, 11 Republicans joined all but three Democrats.

The ESEA, the main federal law for precollegiate education, which includes Title I and a host of other programs would be reauthorized by the bill approved on June 14, 2001.

The expansion of testing requirements, new educational options for students in failing schools, and a new reading initiative were many of the core elements of the President's education agenda reflected in both the Senate and House bills.

Some of the President's plans did not survive through compromise. For example, Democrats successfully resisted the President's proposal to allow publicity funded tuition vouchers for students in persistently failing schools. They also do not go as far in the direction of vouchers as the President initially proposed although the bills contain some flexibility and program consolidation.

For new ideas to long-standing initiatives that had been consolidated or removed in the original bill, the Senate kept busy adding programs during the weeks of debate. Amendments authorized funding for programs like physical education, prevention of suicide and alcohol abuse and school libraries.

The bill's authorization level is a related change that has raised some eyebrows. During the Senate debate, it climbed substantially. In fiscal 2002 the President proposed spending 19.1 billion, an increase of about $670 billion on ESEA programs. Thirty-three billion would be authorized by the Senate bill.

Senator Bill Frist, (Republican - Tennessee) said, "It is frightening how much money has been added in terms of authorizations as we go forth. I say this as someone who believes we need to significantly invest increasing amounts in education."

For ESEA programs next year, the House bill would authorize about $23 billion.

The White House must be prepared to increase education spending dramatically to meet the new demands imposed in the legislation according to Democrats. An amendment to launch a pilot voucher initiative for poor children in several cities and states was offered by Senator Judd Gregg, (Republican - New Hampshire) but failed by a 58-41 vote. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00179.html).

Even more finely tailored to help low-income students only in the District of Columbia, Senator John McCain (Republican - Arizona) was planning to offer his own voucher amendment. However, Senator McCain announced that he would not offer it after two of the pro-voucher groups he had worked with on the amendment asked him to withdraw it. Shortly after, the Gregg amendment was also rejected.

Senator McCain said, "They said they were afraid they were going to lose, and that they wanted to wait...and build support for it."

In response to whether the debate might resurface during the appropriations process, the Senator said, "Maybe, but I'm not optimistic, to tell you the truth, because I think this was the best time to have the debate and the vote."

Senator Christopher Dodd, (Democrat - Connecticut) offered another amendment that garnered substantial controversy. In a pilot version of the Straight A's initiative it would have limited the flexibility of the program.

In exchange for negotiating five-year performance agreements with the Education Department, up to seven states and 25 districts could consolidate funding from several major programs into a block grant under a Straight As compromise in the Senate. From the list of programs, Senator Dodd's amendment would have removed the federal after school program. However, according to Republicans, great harm would be done to a bipartisan deal worked out in advance of floor action by Dodd's proposal said Republicans.

In a frustrated tone, Senator Frist said shortly after the vote, "If that had won today, it would have put the whole bill in jeopardy. Republicans had already compromised on Straight A's by agreeing to make it a pilot program rather than open it for all 50 states to apply."

Another tough issue for the House and the Senate to negotiate will be Straight A's. A slightly different approach allowing 100 school districts but no states to apply was taken by the House.

How schools define "adequate yearly progress" is another thorny issue. Under each version of the ESEA, persistently failing schools face a series of consequences like replacing the school staff, allowing parents to direct a portion of a school's federal aid to pay for private tutoring or paying students' transportation costs to attend another public school.

The definition of adequate yearly progress was a central issue, and there were clear distinctive between the Senate and House approaches said Daniel Weiss, a spokesman for Representative George Miller of California, the House Education and the Workforce Committee's ranking Democrat.

He argued that tough language to help close the achievement gap between students of differnt racial and socioeconomic backgrounds has been one of Mr. Miller's top priorities, "The House bill is better on accountability. Almost more than anything else, it's the reason that George Miller and President Bush got together," to work on the education bill.

The House language is too stringent, and would make too many schools into "failing" schools said the White House and leading senators. An alternative was negotiated, but it has been attacked as being too complex and not demanding enough by critics.

However, the most expensive distinction between the two bills, a guaranteed $2.5 billion-a-year increase for special education, the Senate will carry to the conference table. Especially since the Democrats will take the lead for the Senate negotiating team, facing off against members from the Republican-controlled House, it is almost certain to be a tough issue.

A bipartisan amendment was approved that would shift funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the budget, locking in increases for years to come and dramatically increasing spending. Over the next 10 years it would allow up to $181 billion in extra spending.

Senator Paul Wellstone (Democrat - Minnesota) views the special education provision as one of the best but said he has mixed feelings about the legislation. He said, "There's good and bad. I mean I think that the fundamental good part is the IDEA."

Overall, Sandy Kress, the President's chief advisor, said he was pleased with the Senate bill, calling it a "very good step" that incorporates most of the President's education agenda." He said in reference to the bill's steady expansion, "It's virtually all there, but there's so much more. The grade would not be high on the issue of consolidation. In consolidating programs, he said the House did a better job. And when House and Senate members meet in a conference committee, he predicted that negotiating that terrain would be among the primary tasks.

Mr. Kress said, "We've far more money. The question for the [House-Senate] conference will be, do we want to get to the mandatory issue, and do we want to get to truly extraordinary levels of increase ahead of the reform that needs to take place?"

(Erik W. Robelen, "Education Bill Ready to Face Final Hurdles," Education Week, June 20, 2001)

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