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Senate Debates LHHSE Spending Bill

The Senate will continue its consideration of the FY2002 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill (S. 1536) next week. The House passed its version of the bill (H.R. 3061) on October 11 (see The Source, 10/12/01, p. 1). For funding levels, please see The Source, 10/12/01, p. 1.

During the Senate’s consideration this week, Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) offered an amendment pertaining to mental health parity. Under the amendment, insurers that currently offer mental health benefits would be prohibited from treating mental health benefits differently than medical or surgical benefits. The provision would apply to companies with 50 or more employees that provide health care coverage and would not be implemented until 2003 in order to skirt FY2002 budget caps. The amendment was based on legislation (S. 543) sponsored by the Senators and approved by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on August 1 (see The Source, 8/3/01, p. 4). The amendment was approved by voice vote on October 30.

Sen. Wellstone urged Senators to “please consider this legislation civil rights in ending discrimination.” He added, “Colleagues, please consider this legislation as a way of finally providing the care to men, women, and children who, if they are provided with the care, can go on and lead good, productive lives.”

“Sadly, those suffering from a mental illness do not enjoy those same benefits of treatment and medical advances because all too often insurance discriminates against illnesses of the brain,” argued Sen. Domenici. “I would submit the cost of parity is negligible, especially, when contrasted with the cost impact upon society,” he said, adding that the Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the bill would raise insurance premiums by 0.9 percent.

On November 1, an amendment by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) that would redistribute $1.65 billion in Title I funds was approved, 81-19. Under the amendment, $1 billion would be allocated to grants for disadvantaged students, and $650 million would be allocated for an education finance incentive grant.

The same day, the Senate also approved, by unanimous consent, the following amendments without debate:

  • an amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to audit all federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention programs and to report to Congress concerning programs that offer sexually explicit workshops using federal funds;
  • an amendment by Sens. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and John Rockefeller (D-WV) that would increase the appropriation for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program by $70 million; and
  • an amendment by Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) that would express the sense of the Senate that the Department of Health and Human Services conduct research on post-abortion depression and psychosis.

The Senate defeated, 46-54, an amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) that would have shifted $925 million allocated for school construction to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The Senate was able to sidestep several controversial amendments when Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) struck an agreement to consider legislation pertaining to stem cell research in February or March 2002. As part of that agreement, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) agreed to drop language from the bill that would have permitted the use of federal funds, at the discretion of the President, for research on “embryos that have been created in excess of clinical need and will be discarded” for stem cell research. Sen. Specter offered an amendment to strike the provision, which was approved by unanimous consent.

The language would have given the President the option of broadening the guidelines under which federal funding may be made available for stem cell research. The House bill does not include similar language, and the President threatened to veto the bill over the inclusion of the provision.

As a result of the agreement, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) did not offer several amendments, one of which would have prohibited human cloning and another which would have prohibited research on embryos for stem cell research.

Like the House bill, the Senate measure would retain prohibitions on the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs, the creation of human embryos for research purposes, and abortion coverage for women on Medicare or Medicaid, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

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