What Happened in the 108th Congress, 2nd Session?
With Republicans in control of the White House, Senate, and House, conservatives achieved some tremendous victories in the 108th Congress, Second Session: enacting Laci and Conner's Law, establishing conscience protections for hospitals, increasing funds for abstinence education, preserving the President's authority to deny federal funding to pro-abortion organizations, and more. However, because margins in the Senate were extremely close, dozens of pro-family initiatives died in the Senate without action.
With the conservative gains in the November 2004 elections, there is great hope for more pro-family successes in the next session. The pro-family and limited government Members are becoming well-organized and a force that leadership cannot ignore. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) will be the new chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, which is one of the largest Congressional caucuses. Furthermore, Sens.-elect Tom Coburn, David Vitter, Mel Martinez, Jim DeMint, and John Thune will bring new conservative muscle (and hope) to the Senate. Encourage your conservative Members to join the Values Action Team, the Immigration Reform Caucus, the Senate Steering Committee, and the House Republican Study Committee (RSC). By increasing these caucuses, the conservative voice within Congress grows louder and more effective.
The President has set forth a challenging agenda in the next Congress: Social Security reform, tax reform, and immigration "reform" (a.k.a amnesty). Welfare reform is back again for reauthorization, and many Members are pushing legislation that limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Your calls and e-mails are helpful and vital to winning pro-family votes. Be ready to take action in the 109th Congress.
Unborn Victims of Violence
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as Laci and Conner's Law (H.R. 1997/S. 1019) would punish criminals who hurt or kill an unborn child during the commission of a federal crime against a pregnant woman. During the 107th Congress, the House approved the bill 252 to 172, but the bill was never considered in the Senate. With the deaths of Laci and Conner Peterson, the issue received prime media attention, and the legislation had clear support in several public opinion polls. Laci's family even visited with Members of Congress to urge passage of the bill.
The pro-abortion forces in Congress attempted to gut the bill by offering substitutes that would recognize the pregnant mother as the sole victim. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) offered a one-victim substitute amendment, but it was narrowly defeated 49 to 50 (Senate Roll Call Vote 61). In the House, Rep. Zoe Lofgren's (D-CA) one-victim substitute amendment was also defeated 186 to 229 (House Roll Call Vote 30). On February 26, Laci and Conner's Law passed the House 254 to 163 (House Roll Call Vote 31). The Senate followed on March 25 by passing the bill 61 to 38 (Senate Roll Call Vote 63). Surrounded by Laci's family and other families who have suffered similar tragedies, President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on April 1.
Two years ago, the House passed the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act to clarify existing law to make sure that health care entities, such as hospitals and insurance companies, are not required to perform or refer for abortions. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate. This year, Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) successfully attached the language to the FY 2005 Consolidated Appropriations bill (H.R. 4818). The President signed the bill on Dec. 8, 2004, and pro-lifers added another win to a growing list under this Administration!
Because Congress has been unable to pass a complete human cloning ban, Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) devised another approach to slow down biotech's destructive research. In 2003, the House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Weldon to the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, which prevented the use of federal funds to issue patents on human organisms. This amendment affirmed and granted legislative authority to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) policy, which recognized that "human beings at any stage of development" are not patentable subject matter. The Weldon language was inserted into the FY 2004 Consolidated Appropriations Bill and signed into law in January 2004. Because the provision was included in an annual appropriations bill, it would have expired without readoption. Congress included the embryo patenting prohibition in the FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4818), which was signed into law on Dec. 8, 2004.
Every year pro-abortion Members of Congress try to use our servicewomen as a means to further their extremist agenda. Thus far, they have failed each time, and this year was no different. On May 19, Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) offered an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 4200) to repeal the prohibition on performing abortions in overseas military hospitals. The amendment was defeated 202-221 (House Roll Call Vote 197).
Title X of the Public Health Service Act funds hundreds of clinics, including Planned Parenthood clinics, that distribute contraceptives to teens without their parents' knowledge or consent. Title X funding will increase 2.8 percent to $286 million for FY2005. As some states have already done, action is now needed in Congress to take away federal tax dollars from Planned Parenthood.
Over the last four years, President Bush has called for more money for abstinence education. Congress has incrementally increased the funding each year. On September 8, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) offered an amendment to the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill (H.R. 5006) to cut abstinence education funding by $4 million and increase funding for the National Center for Health Statistics surveys and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Her amendment failed 112 to 305 (House Roll Call Vote 425).
In addition to the $50 million available for abstinence under the Welfare Title V program, the FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations bill (H.R. 4818) included over $104 million (a 39 percent increase over last year) for abstinence grants under Special Programs of Regional and National Significance (SPRANS). Congress approved the bill on November 20, and the President subsequently signed the bill.
In 1984, President Reagan announced that nongovernmental organizations must agree, as a condition of their receipt of Federal funds from USAID family planning accounts, that they would neither perform nor actively promote abortion in other nations. This policy, known as the Mexico City Policy, was in effect until President Clinton rescinded it on January 22, 1993. Eight years later, President Bush entered the White House and issued a memorandum fully reinstating the policy. In 2003, he expanded the policy to cover all "voluntary population planning" accounts administered by the State Department. Unfortunately, pro-abortion groups are eligible to apply for HIV/AIDS funds. In this session, pro-abortion forces in the Senate attempted to legislatively strip the President of his authority to deny federal funding to international pro-abortion organizations, but their language was removed from the Consolidated Appropriations bill (H.R. 4818) before it reached the President's desk. The Mexico City Policy remains intact.
In 2002, the Bush Administration withheld U.S. contributions to UNFPA, pursuant to the 1985 Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibiting U.S. funds from going to groups that support forced abortion and non-voluntary sterilization. This policy continued in 2003 and 2004, due to UNFPA's continued involvement with the coercive one-child policy. Each year pro-abortion Members attempt to eliminate the President's authority to make this decision. In July, Sen. Jeff Bingman's (D-NM) amendment to make funding available to UNFPA was adopted by unanimous consent in the Senate but was later dropped in the conference committee. For the third year in a row, the President's authority remains intact.
Protecting Traditional Marriage
Marriage was one of the hottest political issues this year, especially due to outrageous court decisions and activist judges. Several strategies were in play to protect marriage from activist judges and uphold it as the union of one man and one woman.
Eagle Forum advocates a multi-faceted strategy to protect marriage. While a constitutional amendment is ultimately necessary to protect marriage from activist judges, it remains a long process requiring high vote totals in Congress and then ratification by 38 states. Removing jurisdiction from federal courts over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provides immediate protection for marriage, as it only requires a majority vote in Congress, while we work for a constitutional amendment.
Following the strategy outlined by Phyllis Schlafly in her new book The Supremacists, the House successfully passed the Marriage Protection Act (H.R. 3313) on July 22 by a vote of 233-194 (House Roll Call 410). Sponsored by Rep. John Hostettler, this bill removes the jurisdiction of federal courts and the Supreme Court on challenges to the full faith and credit clause use in DOMA, which allows states to define marriage and to determine what marriages they will recognize. While the bill was not considered in the Senate this session, Congress is clearly ready to use its constitutional authority to reign in the out of control courts. This bill will be a top priority for Eagle Forum in the next session of Congress.
Congress also voted on a constitutional amendment defining marriage. On July 14, the Senate voted on the Federal Marriage Amendment (S.J. Res 40), sponsored by Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO). The amendment, which defines marriage as one man and one woman and then leaves the questions of civil unions to state legislatures, failed to receive enough votes to invoke cloture and cut off debate (48-50; Senate Roll Call Vote 155). On September 18, the House voted on the constitutional amendment, renamed the Marriage Protection Amendment, but it fell short of the two-thirds majority required and failed 227-186 (House Roll Call 484).
Curbing the Courts
Pledge Protection Act
After a successful vote to protect the Defense of Marriage Act from activist judges, the House continued its reprimand of the federal courts by passing the Pledge Protection Act (H.R. 2028) in a vote of 247 to 173 (House Roll Call 467). Sponsored by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), this bill removes jurisdiction from the federal courts and the Supreme Court on issues regarding the Pledge of Allegiance. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) attempted to offer an amendment to the Pledge Protection Act to allow the Supreme Court to hear cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance, but his amendment was defeated 202 to 217 (House Roll Call Vote 466). Unfortunately, the Senate did not have time to consider the legislation. Eagle Forum will work for the passage of the Pledge Protection Act in both the House and the Senate in the upcoming session.
Democrat obstructionism continued this session, bringing the number of filibustered judicial nominations to ten. Every filibustered nominee received a "Qualified" or "Well-Qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, yet Democrats continue to impose a litmus test in areas of abortion and religious beliefs. This unprecedented move to refuse an up or down vote on the President's nominees angered many voters and resulted in an increased majority in the Senate as well as the defeat of the lead obstructionist: Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD).
President Bush used his constitutional authority to recess-appoint two of the filibustered nominees: Judge Charles W. Pickering, Sr. to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and William H. Pryor, Jr. to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Despite a 55-vote Republican majority in the Senate in the next session, dozens of nominees still face the threat of a filibuster because of the 60-vote cloture threshold. A change in Senate rules is needed to overcome the current filibuster threat. The proposal advocated by Phyllis Schlafly in The Supremacists would require only three-fifths of Senators present (as opposed to the entire Senate) to vote to end debate and proceed to a vote on the nomination. Changing this rule must take place at the beginning of the 109th Congress in order to be passed by a majority-only vote rather than a two-thirds requirement. Some Senators are also considering changing the filibuster rule so that filibusters would only apply to legislation, not nominations.
The President's proposed "guest-worker" (a.k.a. amnesty) proposal did not see much action in either Congressional body during this session. The threat of losing conservative base voters was enough to scare off the full frontal assault. Now with the election over, we expect attempts to move the President's proposal. Your calls will be needed. During this session, conservative Representatives attempted to add language to numerous bills to clamp down on illegal immigration but had only very limited success in the Intelligence Reform bill.
As part of an agreement last year on the Medicare Reform bill, House leaders permitted a vote on a bill sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) called the Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendments of 2004 (H.R. 3722). The bill would prohibit Federal reimbursement of hospital-provided emergency and transportation services to illegal aliens unless the hospital provides the Secretary of Homeland Security with information regarding an alien's citizenship, immigration status, financial data, and employer, and would make the employer of certain illegal aliens responsible for such medical costs. On May 18, the bill failed in the House 88 to 331 (House Roll Call Vote 182).
In reaction to several cities creating "safe zones" where illegal aliens are permitted to roam and not run the risk of being reported, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) offered an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill (H.R. 4567) to prohibit the use of funds to provide assistance to any state or local government entity or official that prohibits or restricts the sharing of an individual's citizenship or immigration status with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Unfortunately, the amendment failed 149 to 259 (House Roll Call Vote 270).
Rep. Tancredo made another attempt by offering an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill (H.R. 4754) to provide funding for the Department of Justice to enforce section 642 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, which forbids localities from preventing their police officers from reporting immigration information to the Federal Government. His amendment was again rejected 139 to 278 (House Roll Call Vote 341).
The threat to the Social Security system is not from allowing younger workers to have private accounts but rather from the Bush Administration's plan to load illegal aliens into the Social Security system. President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox have discussed this plan for over a year. The United States has totalization agreements with 20 other countries, which are reasonable and non-controversial, but totalization with Mexico is totally different.
The idea behind totalization with other countries is to assure a pension to those few individuals who work legally in two countries by totalizing their payments into the pension systems of both countries. The Bush totalization plan would pay out billions in Social Security benefits to Mexicans for work they did in the U.S. using fraudulent Social Security numbers, something that Americans would go to jail for doing. It would pay Social Security Disability benefits to Mexicans who worked in the United States as little as 3 years.
On September 9, Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) offered an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill (H.R. 5006) to block payments of benefits under the proposed Social Security totalization agreement that was signed with Mexico. Unfortunately, his amendment was defeated 178 to 225 (House Roll Call Vote 439).
The Mexican Totalization Agreement will shortly be formally presented to Congress. A resolution of disapproval passed by either the House or Senate is necessary to prevent the agreement from taking effect. Contact your Members of Congress and urge them to oppose the totalization agreement with Mexico, which is also sometimes called the "Pay in Full" program initiative.
Rep. Ernest Istook, the chairman of the Transportation and Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee, inserted language into his base appropriations bill to deny federal funding to the Secretary of the Treasury to publish, implement, administer, or enforce regulations that permit financial institutions to accept the matricula consular identification card as a form of identification. When the Transportation/Treasury bill (H.R. 5025) reached the floor, Rep. Michael Oxley (R-OH) offered an amendment to strike this section from the bill. The amendment passed 222 to 177 (House Roll Call Vote 452). Unfortunately, some cities and banks are accepting the matricula consular as a legitimate ID when in fact it is issued by Mexican consulates and has not ID validity.
In July, the 9/11 Commission issued a formal report to Congress on the intelligence failures that occurred and led to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The report included dozens of legislative recommendations, and Congress felt compelled to immediately implement some of these "reforms." Not all the reforms were new ideas, however, but were merely recycled ideas that had been previously rejected, such as creating national standards for driver's licenses.
During House consideration, Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner headed the effort to ensure that not only were intelligence rules reformed but immigration reforms (key to terrorism prevention) were included. The Senate-passed bill was generally silent on virtually all the 9/11 Commission's immigration recommendations. A battle ensued between the bodies. The conference committee finally reached agreement, and despite objections from Sensenbrenner and many other conservatives, the conferees stripped out many of the House's immigration reforms.
The only immigration provisions to survive conference and be included in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (known as the Intel bill, S. 2845) were: 1) an increase in full-time border patrol agents, 2) an increase in the number of Immigration and Customs enforcement agents, 3) increase detention beds for potentially criminal aliens, 4) an evaluation of the failures in the asylum system, 5) increased penalties for alien smuggling, and several other minor changes.
The Sensenbrenner immigration safeguards that the Senate and the Bush Administration deleted from the Intel bill before passage were: 1) making it virtually impossible for states to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens, 2) raising the burden of proof for those seeking political asylum, 3) expanding the use of expedited removals to make it easier to deport illegal aliens, and 4) prohibiting federal officials from accepting the phony ID called matricula consular cards issued by Mexico to illegal aliens.
One controversial provision included in the final Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (S. 2845) that impacts law-abiding Americans is the establishment of standards for driver's licenses. The House bill provided very limited language specifically citing what would be required and also establishing limitations and protections. It also would have ensured that the matricula consular identifications used by Mexican aliens would not be accepted. The House version even included language that would have denied driver's licenses to illegal aliens. The Senate version of the bill, which was largely adopted, left many questions unanswered and rather relied on the Secretary of Transportation to promulgate regulations to develop the driver's license standards.
The danger of this standardization concept is that a de facto national identification card and system could result. Use of unique identifiers, such as driver's license numbers or biometrics, creates an ability to tag and track the activities of law-abiding citizens. Even though barring driver's licenses to illegal aliens as well as de-recognizing the matricula consular would have truly done more to prevent terrorism, these immigration reforms were omitted from the final conference report.
Seventy-five members of the House (House Roll Call Vote 544), including sixty-seven Republicans, voted against the Intel bill, in support of Rep. Sensenbrenner and in opposition to the giant new bureaucracy the bill will set up.
The House of Representatives took a series of votes early in the year to build on the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003, which brought relief to every tax-paying household.
On April 28, the House voted to make permanent the marriage tax penalty relief (H.R. 4181), as previously passed in 2001 and 2003, which increased the standard deduction and expanded the 15-percent individual income tax rate bracket for married taxpayers. The measure passed 323 to 95 (House Roll Call Vote 138).
On May 5, the House voted to extend middle class relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax (H.R. 4227), which had been available for tax years 2003 and 2004. The bill also indexed the AMT relief for inflation, which would have helped thousands of middle class families who are beginning to face this tax. The bill passed 333 to 89 (House Roll Call Vote 144).
On May 13, the House voted to permanently extend the 10-percent individual income tax rate bracket created by the 2001 tax cut bill. The bill (H.R. 4275) passed 344 to 76 (House Roll Call Vote 170). Then on May 20, the House voted 271 to 139 (House Roll Call Vote 209) to make permanent the $1,000 per child tax credit.
Instead of taking individual votes on all these bills, House and Senate leaders met over several months before reaching an agreement on the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 (H.R. 1308). The bill included a hodgepodge of extensions including: the child tax credit, marriage penalty relief, expanded 10 percent bracket, increased exemptions from the alternative minimum tax, tax deductions for teachers purchasing classroom materials, and more. The bill passed the House 339 to 65 (House Roll Call Vote 472) on September 23, and then Senate followed on that same day passing the bill 92 to 3 (Senate Roll Call Vote 188). The President signed the tax cuts into law on October 4.
These pro-family tax cuts are still scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2010. Failure to make them permanent will mean higher taxes in a few short years, such as through a smaller child tax credit, higher tax rates, return of the full marriage tax penalty, and return of the death tax. The President is pushing for tax reform in the next session, but no decision has been made about whether the tax code will be replaced by a flat-tax or a national sales tax. The President has said that the home mortgage deduction and the charitable deduction would remain intact, but all other provisions are on the table for discussion. Regardless of the "reform," Congress needs to act to make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent until the new system is in place.
On April 29, the Senate approved 93 to 3 (Senate Roll Call Vote 77) the Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act (S. 150), which extends the moratorium on Internet access taxes and multiple and discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce. While Sen. George Allen (R-VA) pushed for a permanent moratorium on Internet taxes, several Senators objected, and a compromise was drafted just prior to Congress concluding for the year. A four-year extension (until Nov. 1, 2007) was finally approved. On Nov. 19, the House approved the bill by voice vote. The President signed the bill into law on Dec. 3.
In 1996, Congress dramatically changed the welfare system by emphasizing work and marriage. These successful reforms are credited with cutting the welfare rolls in half, doubling employment among single mothers, and reducing child poverty to historic lows. Congress was supposed to reauthorize the expiring program in 2002 but failed to complete a bill.
In February 2003, the House passed legislation, known as the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2003 (H.R. 4), which builds on the 1996 reforms by increasing the required work hours, setting aside $300 million specifically for marriage promotion, and preserving the abstinence education program with its seven-point definition. The House has tried for two years to reauthorize it, but gridlock in the Senate has kept the bill from moving to the President's desk. Liberal Senators continue to hold up the measure primarily because they want to reduce work requirements and increase childcare funding. Congress voted to extend the current program through March 2005. Look for this issue to be debated again early in the 109th Congress.
Update on Health Savings Accounts
Health savings accounts will fundamentally reform the entire health care system. HSAs will bring freedom: tax-free accounts, rollover year-to-year, empowering individuals (instead of HMOs) to make health choices, and allowing contributions by employers and employees. Through HSAs, individuals will make their basic health care decisions and have catastrophic insurance for major health problems, which means lower premiums. This entire concept undermines the Kennedy and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) concept of nationalized, socialized medicine.
Thousands of employees have signed up for HSAs since the legislation took effect on January 1, 2004. Yet, the liberals in Congress are still trying to shut them down. On September 14, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) offered an amendment to the Transportation and Treasury Appropriations bill (H.R. 5025) to prevent the use of federal funds to carry out, enter into, or renew any contract under chapter 89 of title 5, United States Code, which provides for health savings accounts and health reimbursement accounts. His amendment failed 181 to 223 (House Roll Call Vote 456). Don't forget to ask your employer about HSAs!
Continuity of Congress
In order to protect the continuity of Congress and our freedom to elect members of the House of Representatives, the House passed the Continuity in Representation Act of 2004 (H.R. 2844) by a vote of 306-97 (House Roll Call Vote 130). This bill, sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), requires states to hold special elections within 45 days after the Speaker of the House of Representatives announces the vacancy. The Senate did not consider this bill for a vote.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a constitutional amendment (S. J. Res. 23) that would authorize Congress to enact laws to provide for Congressional succession, in the event of the death or incapacity of one-fourth of either body, just as Article II of the Constitution authorizes Congress to enact laws to provide for Presidential succession. S.J. Res. 23 was approved by the Constitution Subcommittee and referred to the full Senate Judiciary Committee for action.
Your Tax Dollars at Work
National Endowment for the Arts
Despite Republican control of Congress for the last decade, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts continues to rise. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) offered an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 4568) to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts by $10 million and increase funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities by $3.5 million. The amendment passed 241-185 (House Roll Call Vote 248). This is the fifth consecutive annual increase in funding for the NEA.
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) offered an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 4568) to reduce funding for the National Endowment for the Arts by $60 million and increase funding for the U.S. Forest Service by $23 million for law enforcement services. The amendment failed 112-313 (House Roll Call Vote 249).
The NIH continues to guzzle tax dollars as Congress allocated over $28 billion in FY2005. After Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) attempted last year to defund several questionable projects operating out of the NIH, congressional staffers followed up this session to find many other unnecessary projects functioning with taxpayer dollars. For example, the NIH's Institute of Mental Health approved $72,973 for a study of dorm-room wall decorations and webpages, entitled "Expressions of Identity in Virtual and Physical Spaces." It also approved $916,733 for a study of "What Makes a Meaningful Day?" Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) offered an amendment to the Labor/HHS appropriations bill (H.R. 5006) defunding these two studies. The amendment passed by a voice vote.
New Civics Education
Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) sought for over a year to get Congress to pass a new civics education program. Their legislation called for teacher academies to teach teachers how to teach key elements of history, such as events, ideas, people, and documents. The Senate version even included "separation of church and state" as a key idea. The American History and Civics Education Act of 2003 (H.R. 1078/S. 504) was successfully bottled up in the House after Eagles raised objections. In fact, Eagles contacted the co-sponsors in opposition explaining the program's redundancies and potential for liberal history revisions, and eleven co-sponsors removed themselves from the bill. Eagle Forum also objected to the fact that this new federal money will flow through the same hands that gave the infamous National History Standards in 1994, which were so anti-American that the Senate denounced them by a vote of 99 to 1.
Wicker and Alexander did not give up. The bill was reintroduced as the American History and Civics Education Act of 2004 (H.R. 5360). The sponsors removed references to the specific categories, but nothing in the bill limits the use of that categorical list. Furthermore, they ignored the fact that there are already several other federally funded civics programs. Congress approved the bill by voice vote in November, and it became law on December 21.
After two years of debate, Congress took action in November to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (H.R. 1350).
The good news is that the Senate language that would have funded grants to screen children "at risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties" was struck from the final bill. There are plenty of other federally funded efforts to conduct mental health screening of children, but at least it was kept out of IDEA.
The House language stating that academic screening does not constitute a special education evaluation survived in the final bill. Perhaps now the epidemic of reading problems that constitute 90% of special education referrals will be dealt with by teaching systematic phonics before children are mislabeled with a specific learning disability and unnecessarily placed in the special education system.
IDEA now also protects parents and special education students against coercion by the schools to place children on some of the psychiatric medications, specifically those medications on the Controlled Substances list, such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine. These are the potent and dangerous stimulant drugs used with frightening frequency to treat children labeled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This anti-coercion amendment, authored by Congressman Max Burns (R-GA), also survived the conference committee. Its passage is an important precedent and a very good step in the right direction.
Some groups, however, believe this amendment to IDEA also covers antidepressant medications that have been the subject of FDA and congressional hearings, but we do not believe this language is that inclusive. The amendment also does not cover the anti-psychotic medications used to treat the growing epidemic of children labeled bipolar.
In an effort to stop the President's initiative that calls for universal mental health screening, Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) offered an amendment to Labor-HHS Appropriations bill (H.R. 5006) to prohibit the use of funds in the bill to create or implement any new or universal mental health screening program. The amendment failed 95 to 315 (House Roll Call Vote 438).
The FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations bill (H.R. 4818) included $20 million of the requested $44 million in grants to fund the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (NFC) recommendations. Those recommendations include universal mental health screening and treatment. Rep. Paul then appealed to leadership to require parental consent for screening before these programs were funded. House leadership, including Speaker Hastert, Majority Leader DeLay, and Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Regula accepted the Paul language. Sadly, the parental consent language was dropped in the Senate. This issue will be back again in the 109th Congress, but a lot of educating of Members will be necessary.