WASHINGTON -- A Senate effort to protect Blue Cross and Blue Shield from new lobbying restrictions has stalled final action on landmark legislation requiring thousands of lobbyists to report who pays them to lobby on what issues.
Although both houses of Congress have passed the lobbying bill, it has not been sent to President Clinton, who has praised the bill and said he would sign it.
The core of the problem is an amendment that Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, proposed when the bill was considered in the Senate. The amendment bars any nonprofit group that lobbies from receiving "any federal funds constituting an award, grant, contract, loan or any other form."
Mr. Simpson's amendment was aimed at the American Association of Retired Persons, which, he said, had improperly mixed its nonprofit status with its businesses, its federal aid and its lobbying activities.
Wherever it was aimed, the amendment squarely hit the Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations, which have contracts to process Medicare claims and to provide health insurance to federal employees.
Known as the Blues, they handle $116 billion out of a total of $140 billion in Medicare payments. They also insure 3.5 million federal workers -- 44 percent of the federal work force. The organizations protested to Mr. Simpson, who said he would fix the problem for them.
The Senate expected the House to amend the Senate's lobbying bill, perhaps to exempt the two organizations. But fearing delaying or crippling amendments, House advocates passed the Senate bill intact.
The House did pass a routine resolution directing the clerks who clean up the bill for a presidential signature to correct a few erroneous cross-references in the bill both houses passed. The bill was then returned to the Senate, where instead of the automatic passage expected, it has languished since Nov. 29.
"Now you see why we didn't want to send the bill back to the Senate," said Rep. Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican who is a leading sponsor of the bill in the House.
"Since the bill has an effective date of Jan. 1, 1996, the sooner we get it to the president, the better," Mr. Shays said.
Rep. Charles T. Canady, the Florida Republican who managed the bill, agreed, saying, "It's very important that we get it to the TTC president as soon as possible."
Senators have talked of amending the resolution to leave Blue Cross free to lobby. An aide to Mr. Simpson said yesterday that Mr. Canady and Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and a leading backer of the lobbying bill, had agreed to such changes.
He said neither Mr. Simpson nor anyone else wanted to prevent the lobbying bill, which passed the Senate 98-0, from becoming law.
But Mr. Canady denied he had made that agreement. And Mr. Shays said the bill should be sent to the president promptly, with or without help for Blue Cross.