WASHINGTON – Lawmakers who told Major League Baseball to institute a stronger penalty system for steroid use or have one created for them gave themselves a pat on the back Tuesday after MLB players and owners announced a tough drug use policy.
"It is gratifying to see Major League Baseball come such a long way from our hearing of March 17th, to have the sports leaders recognize that baseball does need to do more to curb the use of steroids and other drugs, and to have them come together to agree to a new policy," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
"I think it's fair to say as they told us, that if it hadn't been for Congress looking at this issue, seriously concerned about it, there would not have been the impetus for them to come together as they have now," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the committee.
"I think they've come a very, very long way since we held our hearing. They will have a program that will be effective in stopping these drugs and punishing those who do use them," he added.
According to a deal announced by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Association chief Donald Fehr, players who test positive for steroids will face a mandatory 50-game suspension without pay for their first offense. A second offense will result in a 100-game suspension without pay; a third offense will mean a lifetime ban from the game. A player who is banned for life may apply for a reinstatement hearing before an arbitrator after two years. Testing will occur several times a year.
"It's three strikes and you're out. Overall, it's everything we wanted," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said after news broke on the new testing program.
The deal adds testing for amphetamines, with a suspension of 25 games for a second positive drug test and 80 games for a third. Selig and Fehr must get the agreement ratified by their respective groups.
"The agreement reached between Major League Baseball and the Players Association is the type of self-initiated action we were hoping for all along. While the new policy is not what it would be had I authored it, it is a much stronger policy, one with multiple random tests and far tougher penalties for even first-time offenders," Davis said.
Davis is one of several lawmakers who had offered legislation to deal with the growing problem of drug use among players striving to break records and draw huge crowds of fans.
The Clean Sports Act, introduced by Davis and Waxman in May, set minimum penalties of a two-year ban for the first violation and a lifetime ban for the second — the same as Olympic standards.
"I think it stops the rush of moving legislation at this time as regards baseball," Davis said, adding that he is concerned about how the league will deal with new drugs that come on the market and "masking agents" that hide drug use. Both he and Waxman said they are still concerned about drug use in other sports.
The MLB deal came just as the Senate was preparing to vote Tuesday night on legislation that would have imposed stronger penalties than those announced but weaker than the Davis-Waxman plan and other pending bills.
Last week, McCain and Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., revised their Senate proposal, which originally echoed the Davis-Waxman bill, to soften penalties from two years for a first offense to a ban for a half-season, or in baseball, 81 games. A second offense was reduced from a lifetime ban to a single season, or a 162-game ban. A lifetime expulsion would come on a third offense.
That proposal mirrored penalties proposed in the Drug Free Sports Act, a bill introduced in June by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. That bill was passed from its respective authorizing committees and ready for a House floor vote.
"I couldn't be happier with the result, even though the penalties are not as strong as we recommended, they are very close," Bunning, a founding member of the MLB player's union and a Hall of Famer, said of the agreement between Selig and Fehr.
"Eventually, on the third offense, it says to those playing baseball, 'You can't abuse steroids and get away with it,'" Bunning said.
The former Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher added that he was pleased that testing is done independently of the sports league. Bunning said he is also content with the appeals process for players, but is disappointed that if someone who abused steroids is caught, no distinctions would be marked on his record to point out the tainted statistics.
Bunning said the stimulus for action by the baseball players and owners was the Senate's leadership's decision to bypass the bill vetting process and allow a vote to come directly to the Senate floor rather than go through a laborious mark-up in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. He said he had been expecting the Senate to vote unanimously for the bill when it came to the floor on Tuesday.
Bunning said he and McCain are not removing the Integrity in Professional Sports Act from consideration because the rules apply to all the major sports leagues, including baseball, football, basketball and hockey, as well as baseball's minor leagues. However, the legislation was being lifted from Tuesday night's Senate docket though it was not being withdrawn from consideration altogether.
"We'll leave it there and see what the other major league sports do. ... I think the fact that ... their union and Major League Baseball got together on their own is significant. Major league football and their union usually are very good at negotiating their agreements. Now, I don't know how good major league hockey and major league basketball are. We'll see," he said, adding that the penalties in the MLB deal are not much stronger than existing football rules, but are much greater than those imposed on hockey and basketball.
Baseball's current steroid penalties are a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense, and 60 days for a third. The earliest a player could be banned for life is a fifth offense.
Those rules were strengthened only after the March 17 House Government Reform Committee hearing in which former and current players, including Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco testified. Prior to that, players found to have used steroids were not suspended and as recently as 2002, they weren't tested at all unless probable cause brought it on.
At the March 17 hearing, Palmeiro vigorously waved his finger while denying ever having used steroids. In May, he was suspended from the Baltimore Orioles for testing positively for the drug. He has since said he believes he was unwittingly injected with the drug when he was receiving a B-12 shot in April.
A month after the March hearing, in which Selig and Fehr were scolded for what congressmen called a weak penalty system for drug testing, Selig offered the 50-100-lifetime proposal. In September, Fehr countered with 20 games, 75 games and, for a third offense, a penalty set by the commissioner.
At a Sept. 28 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain warned Fehr to act soon because the Senate was getting closer to legislative action.
"We're at the end here, and I don't want to do it, but we need an agreement soon. It's not complicated. It's not complicated. All sports fans understand it," McCain said.
According to the deal, players will be tested during spring training physicals and at least once in the regular season, plus the possibility of random tests. The old agreement called for a minimum of one test from the start of spring training through the end of the regular season.
The Bunning-McCain bill would require players to be tested at least five times a year, three times during the season and twice in the off-season. Tests would be conducted with no advance notice to the athlete.
FOX News' Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.