News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
Senate Passes Juvenile-Justice Bill
The Senate easily passed a broad-based juvenile-justice bill by a vote of 73-25 last Thursday, but only after Democratic lawmakers succeeded in squeaking though a series of gun-control measures that Republican leaders had spurned earlier in the week.
With Vice President Al Gore casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate approved, 51-50, an amendment sponsored by Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., that would require criminal-background checks for anyone buying firearms at a gun show and for those retrieving weapons from pawn shops. The amendment reversed an earlier, Republican-sponsored amendment that was criticized as having too many loopholes.
In the fervor following the deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado last month, senators also approved an unprecedented requirement that all new handguns be sold with child-safety devices.
House leaders said they would take up their juvenile-crime bill next month.
Spending Plan Cuts School-Related Category
The federal budget category that includes education would be cut substantially under a spending plan passed last week by the House Appropriations Committee.
By a 31-23 vote on May 19, the committee approved a plan that sets out fiscal 2000 funding levels for 13 appropriations categories. The House measure would allow $78.1 billion in budget authority for the spending category that includes education, health, job training, and other related programs. That is roughly $10.7 billion--or 12 percent--below the $88.8 billion the Congressional Budget Office has estimated is needed to keep programs running at current levels.
Joel Packer, the president of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition that lobbies for federal aid to education, called the allocation "horrifically bad." He said it would likely increase pressure on Congress and the president to lift spending caps tied to keeping deficit spending in check.
Senate appropriators had not voted on their spending plans last week.
--Erik W. Robelen
Committee Approves Tax-Free-Accounts Bill
A bill approved last week by the Senate Finance Committee would allow families to contribute up to $2,000 annually to tax-free savings accounts they could draw on to pay public or private school costs.
The plan, similar to one Republicans pushed last year, has prompted a renewed veto threat from the Clinton administration. President Clinton vetoed the 1998 version of the legislation.
The bill would raise the limit on annual contributions to education savings accounts from $500 to $2,000 and expand the accounts' uses, now limited to higher education costs, so that tax-free withdrawals could be made for K-12 public and private school costs. The Finance Committee approved the bill by a vote of 12-8.
--Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 18, Issue 37, Page 21