This Week

Issue: "Donna Rice Hughes," April 19, 1997

Not with taxpayer money

Anticipating a ruling at the Supreme Court that would be to doctor-assisted suicide what Roe vs. Wade was to abortion, the House of Representatives April 10 voted overwhelmingly to bar the use of federal funds to carry out such so-called mercy killings. A White House spokesman said the president will not oppose the legislation. Of the 16 who voted against the measure (398 voted in favor), most argued that Congress instead should commit taxpayer dollars for mental-health treatment. "It does nothing to address the real problems in our society that cause people to seek suicide or assisted death," said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). What the bill does address are the intentions of officials in at least one state, Oregon, which legalized assisted suicide last year, who have said they will use Medicaid money to fund euthanasia. Rep. Ralph Hall (D-Texas) said a bad court ruling could "open up the Treasury to every Dr. Kevorkian all across this country."

Three strikes you're out

Why isn't once enough? Angry senators April 8 grilled FBI Director Louis Freeh about government guidelines that say online child pornography distributors or recipients can commit the crime twice without being pursued by federal agents. In an interview with The Washington Post, deputy FBI director William J. Esposito said officials drew up the guidelines in order to make the distinction between distributors and those who are merely "curious." Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who chaired the committee hearing, said before the hearing he does not understand why FBI agents "should wait around. Pornography that involves one child is just as harmful as pornography that involves three." Mr. Freeh said the law is sufficiently strict as to "support a conviction" on one violation, but said the agency needed more money to find and prosecute pedophiles on the Internet. The FBI's "Innocent Images" operation began in 1994. As of March 5, agents have made 91 arrests and helped win 83 felony convictions. But the investigation has identified 3,978 individuals who have engaged or attempted to engage in child pornography or child pornography solicitation crimes online. Mr. Freeh said that only 455 of those cases "are actively being worked as criminal investigations."

Washington in brief

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Senator uncovers more snoops at IRS. For the second year in a row, the congressional General Accounting Office revealed more than 1,000 cases in which Internal Revenue Service employees may have taken an unauthorized and illegal peek at taxpayers' records. The GAO report spans fiscal 1994 and 1995. The previous report covered 1993 and turned up more than 1,300 IRS employees accused of using computer files to browse tax data. IRS officials promised "zero tolerance" for snoops after the first report. "I don't know what kind of new math they're using, but that doesn't sound like zero tolerance to me," said Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), who released portions of the new GAO report April 8. So far, according to the IRS, 23 employees have lost their jobs, 349 have faced some form of disciplinary action, and 472 others have received counseling. Such snooping is unlawful but carries no criminal penalties. Sen. Glenn and others are proposing laws to enact criminal penalties. Social Security Administration, fearing snoops, shuts down website--for now. Some senators complained April 9 that a government website that provides taxpayers easy access to their personal records may not be secure. Social Security officials pulled the plug and promised to study the security issues over the next two months before reopening the site. Immigration official suspended pending corruption probe. The State Department provided no details, but acknowledged April 7 that a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service employee is the target of a "very serious" inquiry. Hong Kong radio named the official as James DeBates, who is on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of a joint investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption. The radio said the two agencies want to look into charges of possible corruption and abuse of authority. President Clinton reviews welfare-to-government-work efforts. In the first meeting of 1997 of the full Cabinet, the president April 10 said that over the next four years, the government should place 10,000 welfare recipients in federal jobs--including jobs at the White House. "We have all got to take responsibility to see that the jobs are there so that people can leave welfare and become permanent members of the workforce," Mr. Clinton said. Officials at the meeting reviewed numerical, agency-by-agency hiring goals and timetables.

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