News Briefs, part 2
Campaign Reforms Delayed
The Washington Post
New rules governing campaign finance advocated by President Clinton and promised by Democratic congressional leaders have no chance of becoming law this year because House Democrats cannot agree on a plan.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, acknowledged that the lack of consensus means final action on campaign finance legislation cannot occur until next year, when House members and a third of senators are up for reelection.
Advocates of campaign finance changes, who once hoped to capture the anti-incumbent and anti-politics-as-usual momentum from the 1992 elections, said the delay until at least next year could make it harder to win approval of reforms to make congressional elections more competitive.
The Senate passed its version of the campaign finance bill, which has minimal public funding, in June, but a House Democratic task force has not reached a consensus on how to fund partial public financing of congressional campaigns.
Secret World Trade Center Bombing Tapes Put FBI on Defensive
Los Angeles Times
Secret tapes suggesting the FBI may have missed an opportunity to prevent the World Trade Center bombing have put federal law enforcement officials on the defensive and threatened to complicate the job of prosecuting the bombing suspects, officials acknowledged Thursday.
The tapes, made by government informant Emad A. Salem, reflect conversations in which Salem complained to his FBI handlers that the agency failed to act on his tips that a terrorist explosion was being planned at Manhattan's 110-story trade center towers.
The blast last February killed six persons, injured more than 1,000 others and sent thousands more fleeing the office complex down darkened, smoke-filled stairways. The explosion, which blew a five-story-deep crater in the underground parking garage, has been termed "the most destructive terrorist act in U.S. history" by federal prosecutors.
Taken as a whole, the tapes pose "an absolute nightmare for prosecutors," said Richard Ben-Veniste, a Washington attorney and former associate Watergate prosecutor. Officials, while declining to elaborate on the record, acknowledge the development poses a problem.
Ben-Veniste and others say the tapes show a distrustful relationship between the government and an informant whose veracity it must support when the cases come to trial. Otherwise, his value as a witness -- perhaps the government's most important one -- will be badly damaged.
Senate Approves Jobless Benefits Extension
The Washington Post
The Senate Thursday approved a $1.1 billion bill extending emergency unemployment benefits to an estimated 1 million people after attaching an amendment that would lock in President Clinton's proposal for reducing the federal workforce by 252,000 positions.
The measure, which would provide seven or 13 weeks of additional compensation to unemployed workers who have exhausted their 26 weeks, was approved by a vote of 76 to 20. Fifty-two Democrats and 24 Republicans joined to pass the bill following three days of sometimes contentious debate.
The Senate Democratic leadership overcame a Republican challenge to the bill's financing mechanism, which critics complained would temporarily boost the federal deficit in contravention of congressional budget rules. However, final enactment of the legislation will be put off until conferees agree whether to keep or jettison two amendments approved by the Senate.
One, offered by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, would hold the administration to its pledge to shrink the federal bureaucracy by 252,000 jobs. The amendment was approved by a vote of 82 to 14.
The other, introduced by Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., Wednesday night, would prevent unemployed persons whose previous year's taxable income exceeded $120,000 from qualifying for emergency unemployment benefits.
Clintons Out Selling Health Plan; Others Debate Its Details
Bill and Hillary Clinton hit the road to sell their health-care plan Thursday while administration officials stayed behind to defend some of its fresher and potentially more troublesome details -- among them, that about 40 percent of Americans who currently have health insurance will have to pay higher premiums.
At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan said that, based on that projection, 100 million Americans would end up paying more; Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, while not contesting that figure, responded that most of the 40 percent would pay around $100 a year more in premiums, and that only a few would pay more than $500 a year.
In recent weeks, administration officials have acknowledged that some people would have to pay more, but their estimates of the number have been somewhat lower. Predictably, there were plenty of questions and lots of groans from lawmakers Thursday about the new numbers, as there were about a host of other issues raised by the Clinton plan -- the subsidies to needy businesses and individuals, the cost of the plan, the bureaucracy it creates.
Security was the theme the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton took on the road Thursday -- and the reception they got was a lot more enthusiastic. Speaking to 1,100 medical students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the president said "100 percent" of Americans will benefit. Holding up a 136-page book that explains the plan, he urged they read it so they won't be swayed by opponents' attacks.