Friday, 14 June 96 Washington, DC
1. BUDGET: NARROW VICTORY IN THE HOUSE FORESHADOWS BIG TROUBLE.
The Republicans' six-year balanced budget plan was approved by both Houses this week, but no one seemed very happy. It passed by just five votes in the House, where conservative freshmen were furious that the Senate had insisted on an extra $4B for domestic programs. The $4B didn't do much to satisfy Democrats anyway: Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) declared the budget "dead" and even the author of the Senate plan, Pete Domenici (R-NM), conceded, "If I were king I wouldn't write this budget."
2. TRAIN WRECK '97: COULD WE FACE MORE CONTINUING RESOLUTIONS?
Surely the most curious feature of the budget plan is Section 307, entitled "Government Shutdown Prevention Allowance." It holds in reserve $1.337B in nondefense outlays that will only be available in case of a continuing resolution, of which, you may recall, 13 were passed before FY 96 appropriations were finished. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Ranking Democrat on Senate Appropriations, thinks Sec. 307 ensures at least one CR for FY 97. How else, he asks, can appropriators get the $1.3B? Is it meant to sweeten a CR? Meanwhile, with only 29 legislative days remaining before the October 1 deadline, very little business is being conducted in the Senate, and Bob Dole's final days were piddled away on such doomed legislation as the Balanced Budget Amendment and the Defend America Act (a.k.a. the "Defund America Act").
3. NATIONAL MEDAL OF SCIENCE: C. KUMAR PATEL WINS 1996 AWARD.
The 1995 President of the American Physical Society was one of eight recipients of the 1996 Medal. Vice Chancellor for Research at UCLA, Patel was honored for the invention of the CO2 laser.
4. INTERNET: FEDERAL COURT BLOCKS THE COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT.
It will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court, but meanwhile, WHAT'S NEW can continue to talk dirty without fear of censorship. The First Amendment protection accorded to on-line communication is, for now, on the same level as the printed word.
5. SECRECY: REASON FOR LIFTING SECURITY CLEARANCE IS A SECRET!
After he published papers cleared By Argonne National Lab and based entirely on public information, DOE security officials lifted Alex DeVolpi's clearance (WN 19 Apr 96). They won't tell him why because he doesn't have a clearance. But he thinks he knows. In a letter to Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary, DeVolpi points out that officials have censored or classified half of everything he's written on plutonium demilitarization. DeVolpi suspects it's a coverup going all the way back to the results of a 1962 test supposedly involving reactor grade plutonium. His fellow gadfly, Hugh DeWitt at Livermore, who was charged with a security infraction for quoting open congressional debates, has had his infraction suspended by Secretary O'Leary pending review.