Capitol Hill Review

July 10 - August 1, 2001

Table of Contents

U.S. House of Representatives

Iran and Libya Sanctions Extended by House and Senate
Cuba Travel Ban Lifted By House
Foreign Drug Mail Orders Pass House
Faith-Based Plan Passes House
China Trade Status Retained in the House
Flag Amendment Clears House

U.S. Senate

Strict Safety Standards Imposed on Mexican Trucks in U.S. By Senate
Energy Exploration and National Monument Lands Defeated in Senate
In the Senate, A Bill to Delay Gulf Drilling Fails
Bankruptcy Debate Ended by the Senate
Federal Judges Confirmed by Senate

 

U.S. House of Representatives

Iran and Libya Sanctions Extended by House and Senate

A five-year-old extension of sanctions on foreign companies that invest in Iran and Libya was approved by the House of Representatives on July 26, 2001. Both Republicans and Democrats accused the two nations of being deeply involved in world terrorism. The measure was approved on a 409-6 vote (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=276). On July 25, 2001, by a vote of 96-2, a similar measure was approved by the Senate. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00251.html)

The current "Iran and Libya Sanction Act," which originally became law in 1996 will be renewed on August 5, 2001. A House-Senate conference likely will have to resolve the discrepancies since the House and Senate versions differ slightly.

To give it more flexibility in foreign policy, the Bush administration sought to limit the extension to two years, but was unsuccessful.

The President has numerous sanctions he can impose an offending foreign companies under the measure. For example, prohibiting selling to the U.S. government, obtaining more than $10 million annually in U.S. bank loans, or blocking the companies from exporting goods to the United States.

Tougher sanctions on Libya's energy production were carried by both the Senate and House bills targeting foreign companies that invest more than $40 million annually. The same limits were placed on both Liberian and Iranian investments that would now be reduced to a more stringent $20 million for Libya.

(Carolyn Skorneck, "House Votes to Extend Sanctions," The Associated Press, July 26, 2001)

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Cuba Travel Ban Lifted By House

In what sponsors said would be a first step toward ending the communist nation's economic isolation and hastening democratic forms, the House of Representatives voted to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens.

On an amendment by Representative Jeff Flake (Republican - Arizona) to the $32.7 billion fiscal 2002 spending bill for the Treasury Department, Postal Service, White House and other agencies, the House voted in favor by 240-186 on July 25, 2001. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=270)

Also, on the full report of the trade embargo against Cuba, which was eased last year to allow the sale of food and medicine, the House rejected by a vote of 227 to 201. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=271)

Currently, by obtaining a special license from the Treasury Department, which limits access generally to journalists, academics, government officials, and people in humanitarian missions, U.S. citizens can now travel to Cuba.

("House Passes Bill Lifting Ban on Travel to Cuba," From News Service, July 26, 2001)

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Foreign Drug Mail Orders Pass House

The House of Representatives approved legislation that would allow Americans to purchase medicine from abroad by mail on July 11, 2001.

The measure restricts purchasing drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The House-passed legislation is an amendment to a $74 billion spending bill for the FDA and the Agriculture Department. The measure passed 324 to 101.

(To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=217) By a 414-16 vote, the overall bill was approved. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=221)

As a result of price controls, legislatures soundly rejected a measure that would have eased restrictions on the wholesale import of drugs sold more cheaply in other countries. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=216)

A provision that would require the government to guarantee the medicines' safety, a law passed last year that would have allowed importation of U.S.-made drugs, was effectively blocked by the legislation.

The popularity of the bill's passage was due to the hopes that lower drug prices in foreign countries would be passed on to American patients.

(Phillip Brasher, "House OKs Foreign Drug Mail Orders," The Associated Press, July 12, 2001)

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Faith-Based Plan Passes House

By expanding the role of religious groups in delivering social services, the House of Representatives approved President Bush's plan to fundamentally change aid for the needy.

In favor of the Community Solutions Act, 15 Democrats joined all but four Republicans in favor of the faith-based plan by a 233-198 vote on July 19, 2001.

(To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=254)

However, passage in the Senate is much less certain.

House Republican leaders overcame furious last-minute opposition from homosexual-rights groups and allies, who argued the measure would allow religious charities to discriminate against homosexuals in employment, in approving the bill.

However, the bill simply preserves current civil rights law that allows churches and synagogues to hire people who share their religious principles said Republicans.

By promising to work in a House-Senate conference committee to ensure that churches observe local and state civil rights laws, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Republican-Illinois) blunted some opposition from Democrats and liberal Republicans, which had delayed the vote for a day.

The opportunities for religious organizations to compete for government grants to provide services such as food banks, drug treatment and counseling would be expanded by the measure. Also, to encourage charitable giving, it would create about $13 billion in new tax deductions.

(Dave Boyer, "House approves faith-based plan," The Washington Times, July 20, 2001)

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China Trade Status Retained in the House

Rejecting a measure offered by members angered by China's human rights record and its detention of a U.S. Navy crew earlier this year, the House of Representatives on July 19, 2001, defeated an effort to suspend normal trade relations with China.

As part of the annual review in which Congress determines whether China is entitled to normal trade relations with the United States, the resolution was offered. With last year's vote extending normal trade status to China on a permanent basis, such reviews were supposed to end. However, that permanent status, has been delayed pending China's entry into the World Trade Organization which will probably take place in the second half of this year.

In the meantime, Congress approved President Bush's request to extend China's normal trade status for another year.

Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California) and Sherrod Brown (Democrat-Ohio) offered the resolution to end normal trade relations which failed on a 259-169 vote. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=255)

(John Lancaster, "House Retains China Trade Status," The Washington Post, July 20, 2001)

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Flag Amendment Clears House

A constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from desecration was endorsed for the fourth time in six years by the House of Representatives on July 17, 2001.

However, the legislation faces likely defeat in the Senate once again in its effort to amend the Constitution for only the 18th time since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

For the one-sentence article stating that "The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States," the House voted 298-125. (To see how your representative voted, visit http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2001&rollnumber=232)

The amendment would overturn Supreme Court rulings in 1989 and 1990 that flag-burning and other acts of desecration were protected under First Amendment free speech rights if it also wins a two-thirds majority in the Senate and is approved by three-fourths of state legislatures.

(Jim Abrams, "House Passes Flag Amendment," The Associated Press, July 17, 2001)

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U.S. Senate

Strict Safety Standards Imposed on Mexican Trucks in U.S. By Senate

To support efforts to impose strict safety standards on Mexican trucks seeking access to American roads, the Senate defied threats from the White House and the Mexican government and voted overwhelmingly for the new standards on July 27, 2001.

A Republican-led effort to use parliamentary tactics to kill the measure, which would subject Mexican truck companies to a variety of inspecting and insurance requirements before their vehicles could enter the United States, was stopped by the 65 to 30 procedural vote. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00253.html).

Around-the-clock inspections of Mexican trucks at the border would be required and Mexican trucking companies would have to get insurance from an insurer licensed to operate in the United States according to the Senate's proposed plan which is much more intensive on Mexican trucks than on those generously required of Canadian trucks crossing the border.

Interestingly, a recent study by the inspector-general of the Department of Transportation found that one in seven Canadian trucks failed basic safety inspections, compared with one in four American trucks and two in five Mexican trucks.

(Philip Shenan, "Senate Backs Strict Safety Tests for Mexican Trucks in U.S.," The New York Times, July 27, 2001)

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Energy Exploration and National Monument Lands Defeated in Senate

In a direct rebuff to President Bush's call for increased U.S. energy production, the Senate voted on July 11, 2001, to block new coal mining and oil and gas drilling on national monument lands in the West.

The House, in June, approved similar restrictions and the Senate did the same by a 57-42 vote, with 10 Republicans joining most Senate Democrats. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00229.html)

(Peter Behr, "Senate Protects Parkland Coal, Oil," The Washington Post, July 12, 2001)

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In the Senate, A Bill to Delay Gulf Drilling Fails

Scoring the first significant victory for President Bush's energy plan, a measure to delay new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was defeated in the Senate.

Eighteen Democrats crossed party lines on July 12, to defeat the amendment from Senator Bill Nelson (Democrat-Florida) by a 67-33 vote. To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00231.html)

After the House of Representatives first moved to block drilling in June, President Bush agreed to reduce the drilling area acreage by 25 percent. The reduction, which prohibits drilling within 100 miles of Florida's tourist dependent beaches, was applauded by Florida Governor Jeb Bush and several House Republicans.

The drilling area on the Gulf of Mexico called Lease 181 was adjusted from 5.9 million acres to 1.5 million and contains 1.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas enough to serve 1 million families for 15 years.

Also, as a result of the new federal government cutoff of water to protect two endangered fish species, the Senate approved the President's request for $20 million in disaster aid for California and Oregon farmers facing bankruptcy.

(To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00230.html)

However, refusing to return water to the parched farmland, liberal Republicans sided with Democrats in a 52-48 vote. To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00232.html)

(Audrey Hudson, "Bill to delay Gulf drilling fails in Senate, The Washington Times, July 13, 2001)

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Bankruptcy Debate Ended by the Senate

On July 17, 2001, the Senate voted to end the debate on a measure passed overwhelmingly in March making it tougher for people to erase credit card and other debt in bankruptcy court.

President Bush, while supporting a sweeping overhaul of the bankruptcy laws, was opposed to one provision in the bill which capped the amount of home equity that debtors can keep out of the reach of creditors in court proceedings at $125,000. The provision was designed to close a loophole in the so-called homestead exemption that allows wealthy debtors to shield their assets in luxury homes.

To terminate debate on the legislation, the vote was 88-10 in the Democratic-controlled Senate. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00234.html). In the coming days, the measure and an alternative House-passed version, which does not contain the $125,000 national homestead cap, could be submitted to House and Senate negotiators.

Stricter laws are required to stop abuse of the bankruptcy system by people who can afford to repay their debts argue supporters of the legislation, which has been promoted by banks and credit card companies for nearly four years.

For determining whether people filing for bankruptcy should be forced to repay their debts under a court-approved reorganization plan rather than having them dissolved, a new standard is applied by the legislation. A reorganization plan generally would be required if a debtor is found to have sufficient income to repay at least 25 percent of the debt over five years.

Recently, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts reported bankruptcy filings by consumers and businesses increased 17.5 percent in the first three months of this year. Highest ever for a first quarter and up from 312,335 a year earlier, filings reached 366,841 in the January-March period.

Filings are expected to reach a record this year say the American Bankruptcy Institute, an independent group of bankruptcy judges, attorneys and experts.

In a strong economy, personal bankruptcies reached a record 1.4 million in 1998. Up more than 300 percent since 1980. However, in 1999 they declined to about 1.3 million and in 2000 to 1.2 million.

(Marcy Gordon, "Senate Votes to End Bankruptcy Debate," The Associated Press, July 17, 2001)

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Federal Judges Confirmed by Senate

On July 20, 2001, Roger Gregory was given a permanent seat on the U.S. Appeals Court and Sam Haddon and Richard Cebull were made new U.S. District Court judges in Montana as the Democratic-controlled Senate approved its first federal judges of the year.

Gregory was confirmed by a vote of 93-1 with Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, (Republican-Mississippi) voting against his confirmation. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00244.html). Cebull and Haddon were approved by a 93-0 vote and a 98-0 vote, respectively. (To see how your senators voted, visit http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00246.html and http://www.senate.gov/legislative/vote1071/vote_00245.html)

Gregory, among the first nominees presented by the President, will serve in the 4th circuit, which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. Compared to other federal jurisdictions, this court has more minorities.

The American Bar Association approved all three nominees. Unanimously, a "qualified" rating was given Gregory by the ABA's nomination review committee and unanimous "well qualified" ratings were given Cebull and Haddon.

Montana's two senators were hoping to get Haddon and Cebull (nominated for U.S. District Court) through the Senate quickly since Chief Judge Don Molloy, currently serving in Missoula, is the one full-time federal judge for three different slots.

Twenty-five of the President's nominees have yet to receive hearings by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. But, there are still 107 vacancies in the federal court system with the confirmations.

One of the 40 "judicial emergency" seats in the nation, which are seats that have been open for a long time was filled by Gregory's nomination which has been open since 1990.

(Jesse J. Holland, "Senate Approves Federal Judges," The Associated Press, July 20, 2001)

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