MEDICAL PRIVACY: Labor-HHS Conferees Head Off Proposal
As the Clinton administration puts the final touches on its new medical privacy regulations, conferees on the FY2000 Labor-HHS appropriations bill are angling to block the rules by attaching a provision to the spending bill that would extend Congress' deadline to craft its own legislation to Sept. 30, 2001. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that under the provision, HHS would have to hold off on its medical records privacy regulations for nearly two years, during which time the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would continue to cobble together a compromise measure. Committee members have clashed on several tangential issues. For example, opposing sides on the abortion debate have wrestled with whether minors' medical records should remain private. A spokesperson for James Jeffords (R-VT), chair of the committee, said he "will continue to work toward passing a bipartisan medical privacy bill that will supersede any eventual regulation." For its part, the Clinton administration, which was expected to unveil its medical privacy regulations later this week, is expected to veto the Labor-HHS bill, but "for reasons other than the medical privacy language." Nonetheless, an administration official said, "We will strongly oppose this provision. People won't understand why their right to medical privacy has to be delayed because Congress failed to act." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, vowed to "put up a fight" on the Senate floor. He said, "By blocking the (HHS secretary) from issuing urgently needed regulations to provide the protection patients deserve, the Republican leadership in Congress has shown, once again, that they put big corporate special interests ahead of the interests of patients and ordinary families" (Morrissey, CongressDaily/A.M., 10/26).
Labor-HHS Still Stymied
In the meantime, House GOP leaders are struggling to finalize work on a combined Labor-HHS and District of Columbia spending bill. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that a House- Senate standoff Monday night over the funding of a D.C. needle exchange program cut the meeting short with both sides "clinging to their positions." Senate District of Columbia Appropriations subcommittee Chair Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) brokered a deal to permit the district to operate needle exchanges with private funds, but not federal or city funds. However, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), author of the House-passed language barring any funds from being allocated to the program, disagreed with Hutchison's plan and "served notice that he wants a recorded vote in conference committee on which language to use" (Caruso/Earle/Koffler, CongressDaily/A.M., 10/26). The proposed 1.4% across-the-board discretionary spending cut is still drawing fire from GOP moderates and President Clinton, who said yesterday, "I will not allow Congress to raise its own pay and fund its own pork barrel projects and still make devastating across-the-board cuts in everything from education ... to the FBI" (Babington/Pianin, Washington Post, 10/26). Among other things, Clinton's Office of Management and Budget predicted that the cut would translate into 50,000 fewer women getting family planning advice (Rankin, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/26).