General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine
Volume 17, Number 1
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Not Ratified
E. E. ANDERSON
On October 13, 1999, the Senate, by a vote of 51-48, failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). With Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) voting "present," the vote was 19 votes short of the 67 needed to ratify the treaty.
President Clinton sent the treaty to the Senate two years ago and has been pushing hard for a vote on it ever since. In July of this year, he was joined by Senate Democratic supporters in pressing for a vote on the pact. Clinton argued that Republicans should allow a vote soon, saying, "To make a matter that has been the subject of national debate for 40 years...and hold it hostage to two matters that are literally not ripe for presentation to the Senate yet would be a grave error, I think."
Subsequently, he made several public calls for lawmakers to ratify the treaty, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) threatened to bring the Senate to a standstill until the treaty was brought to a vote.
Finally, on September 30, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) offered to bring up the CTBT for debate, and Senator John W. Warner (R-VA) agreed to hold hearings on the treaty, commencing October 8. Realizing that he did not have the votes for ratification, and facing an embarrassing foreign policy defeat, President Clinton tried to convince the Senate to delay its vote. Senator Lott agreed to delay the vote if President Clinton would state in writing that he wanted the delay and that the issue would not be raised during the remainder of his term.
On October 11, President Clinton wrote to Lott and Daschle: "I request that you postpone consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the Senate Floor. I believe that proceeding to a vote under these circumstances would severely harm the national security of the United States, damage our relationship with our allies, and undermine our historic leadership over 40 years, through administrations Republican and Democratic, in reducing the nuclear threat."
Clinton did not, however, concede that the treaty would not be revisited during the remainder of his term. This did not satisfy Lott and some of his more vocal supporters in the Senate, who were saying they wanted an "absolute commitment." Under Senate rules, every senator must agree to cancel the vote. Last-minute efforts on the part of Clinton and Daschle failed to stop the vote. Daschle wrote to Lott and pledged that he would not press for a vote on the treaty until after next year's elections, barring any unforeseen international incident. President Clinton also made a last-minute phone call to Lott, asking what could be done to delay the vote. Lott told the president that it was good to hear from him, but the Senate would vote on the treaty.
For the CTBT to go into effect, each of the 44 nations that possess various degrees of nuclear capability must ratify it. To date, 26 have ratified the treaty and 15, including the United States, Russia, and China, have not. Following the CTBT's defeat, an enraged Clinton, suffering the most glaring treaty defeat for a U.S. president since the end of World War I, stated: "Never before has a serious treaty involving nuclear weapons been handled in such a reckless and ultimately partisan way. This was a political deal, and I hope it will get the treatment from the American people it richly deserves." While some Democrats have claimed that the "far right" of the Republican Party killed the treaty, one Republican senator responded: "That means there are 51 'hard righters' in the Senate, and you and I know that's a false statement." Whether the CTBT will become an issue in next year's elections remains to be seen.
Republican Tax Bill Fails
The Republican tax bill HR 2488, the Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999, passed the House on August 5 by a vote of 221-206, and the Senate cleared the bill the same day by a vote of 50-49. Congress recessed and did not reconvene until September 8. The bill was then forwarded to the president for his signature, but on September 23 he returned it without approval. In his veto message the president said, "The magnitude of the tax cuts in HR 2488 and the associated debt service costs would be virtually as great as all of the ongoing surplus the Congressional Budget Office projects for the next 10 years. This would leave virtually none of the on-budget surplus available for addressing the long-term solvency of Medicare...or of Social Security."
He also said that "the bill as a whole would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans by, for example, lowering capital gains rates, repealing the estate and gift tax, increasing maximum IRA and retirement plan contribution limits, and weakening pension anti-discrimination protection for moderate and lower-income workers."
HR 2488 would have reduced each of the five income tax brackets by one percentage point by 2005. It also would have phased out estate, gift, and generation-skipping taxes by 2009. It set forth an increase in contribution limits for IRAs from $2,000 to $5,000 by 2008, reduced capital gains taxes, and eliminated the marriage penalty.
The Democrats contended that the public did not support the legislation, yet a recent poll indicated that voters favored the tax cuts, 68 percent to 31 percent. Significantly, the poll was taken after the contents of the tax package were explained in simple terms to those voters surveyed. In another poll taken by a nonprofit research group, pollsters gave the respondents a roster of news events from the month of July and asked them which events they had followed, and how closely. Only one news event was followed more closely than the progress on tax legislation, and that was the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. More than 57 percent of those polled said they followed the tax cut debate "closely" or "very closely." President Clinton's proposal to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs ranked fourth.
Some commentators contend that the Republicans should relish a fight, saying that it is a way to define themselves as a party. Others say the Republicans have given up on a meaningful tax cut, and that GOP leaders are determined to avoid the kind of clash with the president that usually demolishes them. At this point, the Republicans will not advance any further meaningful tax cut legislation.
Campaign Finance Reform
In a bid to force debate on the McCain/Feingold campaign finance bill (S 26), Senator John McCain (R-AZ) threatened to delay Senate business. Senate Majority Leader Lott agreed in late July to bring the matter to the floor no later than October 12, 1999. S 26 had two main features: banning unlimited, unregulated "soft money" donations by corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals to political parties; and regulation of campaign issue advertising by outside groups that indirectly promotes election or defeat of specific candidates. To pick up Republican support, McCain and Feingold dropped the latter provision on issue advertising from their revised bill (S 1593), introduced on September 16.
During debate on October 14, Republican foes of the measure challenged McCain to back up his allegations that special-interest campaign contributions are corrupting politics. They asked him to name names, if he knew of such corruption, which he did not do. The following day the Democratic leadership tried to force a vote on S 1593, as well as on HR 417, passed by the House on September 14. HR 417 closely mirrors the old S 26. This move infuriated McCain, who sent a letter to President Clinton urging him to keep Democratic senators from trying to substitute HR 417 for the narrower S 1593.
Finally, on October 19, the Senate by a vote of 53-47 (60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster) killed the campaign finance reform bill. Senator Lott said, "it's dead for the year." While Democrats are blaming the Republicans, Republicans argue that the Democrats created this procedural vote by insisting on amendments that would have banned issue advertising campaign ads within 60 days of an election.
An extensive front-page article in the October 17 Washington Post offered some revealing information about both Republican and Democratic fund-raising activities. The Democrats, while leading the campaign in Congress to eliminate "soft money" contributions, have been the most aggressive in increasing this type of fund-raising. With Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) as the new chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), picked by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO), contributions have ballooned. The Federal Election Committee reports that the DCCC raised $17 million in the first six months of 1999, $9 million of which was "soft money" contributions. This $9 million marked a 373 percent increase over the "soft money" received by Democrats in the first six months of 1997. This compares with a 77 percent increase by the Republicans for the same periods.
Representative Kennedy has created a "Team 2000 Club" for donors who contribute more than $100,000. Membership in this club has many benefits, including a weekend at the Kennedy family compound. Not to be outdone, Representative Thomas M. Davis III (R-VA), the National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman, created his own counterpart, called the "Business Leadership Trust," for contributors of $100,000 or more.
Ironically, the new McCain/Feingold bill (S 1593) dropped the banning of issue advertising, supposedly to gain Republican support for their bill; yet it was President Clinton who, in the 1996 election, discovered this as a way to spend "soft money." His campaign people determined that this money could be used to pay for expensive television advertising, provided it did not expressly advocate his election. Soon, congressional party committees were using this same tactic, as long as the television ad did not directly indicate that it supported or opposed a given candidate.
BUDGET BILLS FACE NEW DEADLINE
When fiscal year 1999 ended on September 30, President Clinton had signed only four of the 13 fiscal year 2000 appropriation bills. As a result, on September 28 Congress sent Clinton H JR 68-P.L. 106-62, to provide for an extra three weeks (until October 21) to complete action on the remaining nine bills. Since then, the Foreign Operations bill, the Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development bill, the Energy and Water Development bill, and the Transportation bill have been submitted to the president.
Clinton signed the Transportation bill and the Energy and Water Development bill and is expected to sign the Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development bill. He vetoed the Foreign Operations bill and the District of Columbia budget bills. An interim spending bill was passed to consider the remaining spending bills, and the White House has indicated its agreement in order to keep the federal offices open.
On November 10, the Republicans agreed to wrap up the five remaining annual spending bills into a single massive bill in order to meet the self-imposed deadline of completing the budget by November 17.
What is the general negotiating climate on Capitol Hill at this time? One budgeteer describes it as "nobody trusts anybody." Republicans recall 1995, when the government was shut down, and they were blamed for it. They were shell-shocked when they were held responsible by the people, because the Democrats very cleverly used the shutdown stick to great effect. Passage of an automatic continuing resolution that would go into effect if any funding lapsed remains anathema to the White House and appropriators; and many say that Congress is again heading toward having to pass a huge omnibus spending bill.
The Republicans have made their own stand by promising not to spend a penny of the Social Security Trust Fund in 2000. However, a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis indicates that the spending bills already signed would require a dip of about $20 billion into Social Security funds. Some Republican leaders say the analysis is faulty, but their own internal estimates show they are $9 billion into the trust fund. An analysis by the Senate Budget Committee also indicates that to finance the spending bills already approved would require using $4.8 billion of the Social Security surplus. Consequently, it is readily apparent to both parties that in order to complete the more troublesome bills, Congress will of necessity have to borrow from the trust fund.
A proposed Republican plan to stretch out earned income tax credit (EITC) payments to the poor by providing monthly payments rather than a lump sum would have moved $9 billion of EITC payments into fiscal 2001. Criticism from the White House, some Senate Republicans, and Governor George W. Bush apparently scuttled that plan.
E. E. Anderson, a retired general in the U.S. Marine Corps, is a member of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.