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China Trade Vote Looms: Still Too Close to Call
With less than a week to go before Congress votes on whether to grant China "Permanent Trade Relations" (PNTR) status, both opponents and proponents are going door-to-door making their arguments to the dwindling group of undecided members.
While the vote is still too close to call in the full House, the House and Senate pro-trade committees approved the legislation granting China PNTR. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the measure 34-4 with one opponent, Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY), absent. The Senate Finance Committee also approved the measure, 19-1. The votes came after negotiators crafted a package of companion bills, one proposed by Reps. Sander Levin (D-MI) and Doug Bereuter (R-NE), intended to sway undecided members who are concerned about the U.S. giving up its current leverage over human and worker rights violations and protecting against import surges. The problem with these companion measures is that they would have no force of law and therefore just serve as a fig leaf for an unacceptable deal.
The lopsided votes in the congressional committees were not forecasts of how the vote will go on the House floor. Both sides agree that the fate of the PNTR vote is in the hands of about 18 undecided members on each side of the aisle. In a last minute attempt to convince these wavering lawmakers to support the deal, President Clinton will address the nation on national television on Sunday evening from the Oval Office at 7 p.m.
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Patients' Rights Conference on Verge of Breakdown
Conferees supporting the Norwood-Dingell Patients' Bill of Rights suggested this week that they may move to break off talks after the Memorial Day recess, unless there is a significant breakthrough in the negotiations. There appears to be a growing sense that the conference negotiations will not yield a decent bill and that alternative strategies for pushing through a final bill must be tried before the session ends.
House Beats Back Budget Process Overhaul
The House voted, 166-250, to defeat a bill (H.R. 853) pushed by the GOP leadership to make significant changes in the ways Congress considers its annual budget resolution. The measure would have changed the budget resolution Congress draws up every year from a non-binding blueprint for spending to a plan with the force of law, requiring the President's signature. Supporters said this would draw the President into the annual budget negotiations sooner and, hopefully, avoid the end-of-the-budget-year train wreck that usually occurs.
Legislative Branch Funding – House and Senate Battle
Promising an all-out war with House appropriators, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved, 27-0, a $2.5 billion FY 2001 legislative branch spending bill that would surpass the House version by $145 million. The measure would increase legislative branch spending by $43 million, or 1.8 percent, over FY 2000, while the $2.4 billion House measure falls $120 million below last year's number. Congressional agencies such as the Architect of the Capitol and the Library of Congress got small increases. AFSCME members who work for the Architect of the Capitol and the Library of Congress would face significant layoffs if the lower House level prevails.
Bankruptcy Reform Problems
House and Senate Republican leaders neared agreement on the bankruptcy overhaul (H.R. 833). The bankruptcy measure would cap the amount of home equity that a debtor could shield from creditors at $100,000, but give states the chance to opt out of the cap. The GOP leaders are hoping to attach the bankruptcy reform bill to another bill before the Memorial Day recess.
Bill Provides for Better Health and Better Working Conditions for Corrections Officers
Rep. Ted Strickland (D-OH) introduced a bill (H.R. 4443) on May 11 that would establish an Office of Correctional Health within the Office of Public Health and Science. Activities of the office would include disease prevention, health promotion, service delivery, research and health professions education. Strickland cited the growing diverse and medically complex prison population and the need to have corrections personnel operate in a safe and healthy work environment.
Collective Bargaining for Physicians Bill Scheduled for Action
The "Quality Health-Care Coalition Act" (H.R. 1304) now has 221 sponsors, more than half of the total number of votes in the House of Representatives. This bill would allow private practice physicians and other independent health care professionals to collectively negotiate contract terms with managed care insurers.
A vote on the House floor is scheduled for next week and passage is expected. Previously, some GOP leaders had threatened to attach killer amendments in order to punish the American Medical Association (AMA) for its support of the Norwood-Dingell bill. However, at this point, it appears that these threats will not be carried out.
President Clinton Outlines Plan to Combat Pay Gap
At a Rose Garden event on May 11 (Equal Pay Day), President Clinton announced the administration's latest round of efforts to combat the wage gap between women and men and the larger gap for women of color. The President proposes $27 million in his FY 2001 budget to combat unfair pay practices, including $10 million for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to conduct public education and the Department of Labor (DOL) to train women for non-traditional jobs. In addition, the President urged Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 74/H.R. 541) to strengthen existing laws and protect employees who share pay information from retaliation.
Several members of Congress were in attendance, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who spoke about AFSCME's pay equity lawsuit against the Architect of the Capitol.
FAA Funding Advances to Next Stage
The House Appropriations Committee approved a $55.2 billion FY 2001 transportation spending bill by voice vote on Tuesday. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would be funded at $12 billion which is $2.5 billion or 25 percent more than FY 2000. The bill will proceed to the House floor next week.