WASHINGTON // Four months ago, Sen. John McCain chided Major League Baseball Players Association chief Donald Fehr for being slow to take a position on a new steroids policy proposed by the baseball commissioner.
"Mr. Fehr, who's a friend of mine, said he would take it to the players," McCain told reporters May 24. "We haven't heard a word since then. I can help him with a phone card to contact the various ballplayers," the Arizona Republican joked.
As he convenes a hearing today on steroids in four professional sports, McCain has now heard Fehr's response. And McCain still isn't satisfied.
During today's Senate Commerce Committee hearing, McCain is expected to detail why he believes that Fehr's proposal - released in a letter Monday to commissioner Bud Selig - doesn't go far enough to deter the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
McCain's office yesterday provided a hint about his dissatisfaction. His press aides said the senator was concerned because Fehr's proposal does not contain a lifetime ban for a third steroid violation.
The lifetime ban - nicknamed "three strikes and you're out" - was a critical part of Selig's proposal in April. Saying the game's integrity is at stake, Selig proposed a suspension of 50 games for a first violation, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third offense.
Fehr's proposal, by contrast, says that a three-time violator should be given "appropriate" discipline by the commissioner subject to an arbiter's review.
Fehr's plan also calls for a 20-game suspension for a first violation and a 75-game suspension for a second infraction. Both punishments could be modified by an arbitrator. Fehr's plan also proposes that players be subject to random testing for amphetamines as well as steroids.
It's not just McCain who has concerns about Fehr's proposal. The House Government Reform Committee, which has also been investigating steroid use in sports, offered a mixed reaction yesterday.
The panel's chairman, Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis, sees it as "a step in the right direction and an example of the kind of self-initiated reform he's looking for from the leagues," David Marin, a committee spokesman for Davis, said in an e-mail reply yesterday.
However, Marin added, "The jury is very much out on whether it'll be enough to satisfy members of Congress."
Some committee members have said Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro's case - he was suspended for 10 days in August - has highlighted the need for steroids policy reform.
McCain convenes the hearing as the Senate and House consider a half-dozen bills aimed at forcing big league baseball, football, basketball and hockey players to submit to federally mandated rules for steroid testing and punishments.
The bill endorsed by McCain and Davis would place Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL under the disciplinary schedule faced by Olympians who use performance-boosting drugs: a two-year suspension for a first violation and a lifetime ban for a second.
It would require the leagues to adopt the expansive list of prohibited drugs - including amphetamines and stimulants.
Several players and former players are expected to appear today. They include Antonio Davis of the Chicago Bulls, who is the president of the National Basketball Players Association and former major league pitcher Jim Bunning, who is now a Republican Kentucky senator.
McCain has often said he hoped legislation wouldn't be necessary. But he suggested in a prepared statement yesterday that he wanted the leagues to know Congress is serious.
"I trust that the hearing will at the very least motivate the leagues to continue strengthening their drug-testing policies," McCain said.