This Week In Congress

Posted by Conor Kenny on November 17, 2008

By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas

Congress is finally returning to work this week, after members took time off to focus on their re-election campaigns (some unsuccessful — see the lame duck list). Incoming freshman will be playing a role as well, when the respective parties in each chamber caucus and vote for leadership positions. There will, however, be legislative action, at least in the Senate, where Democratic leaders are pushing for an extension of unemployment benefits and a possible $25 billion bailout for domestic automakers. While the House is waiting until the Senate makes a decision on the two bills, some of its members will be grilling Treasury officials over the $700 billion financial industry bailout.

Stimulus and automaker bailout
With wider majorities for the Democrats coming in the 111th Congress (profile), Republicans there and in the White House are trying to fight off whatever legislation they can during this final “lameduck” session of the 110th. Many Democrats have already balked at attempting another massive stimulus package this session and measures to extend unemployment benefits have failed several votes this year. Democratic leaders have decided this time to try for the benefits extension again and carve a $25 billion aid package for the American auto industry out of the previous $700 billion package.

The first hurdle for the auto-industry bailout will be overcoming a potential Republican filibuster in the Senate on Wednesday. Democrats, who currently hold a slim majority, will need to find some Republicans willing to play ball, especially since President-Elect Barack Obama resigned his Senate seat on Sunday, giving them one less vote.

Several prominent Republicans have already voiced opposition to the automaker bailout, including Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, who said the failing businesses should not be propped up. Sen Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not yet weighed in on the plan, but did criticize Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for not disclosing the costs of the plan early enough for members to consider it thoroughly.

Posted by Conor Kenny on September 30, 2008

By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas

Monday was supposed to be the day the House approved a $700 billion rescue/bailout plan for the U.S. financial services sector. With Congress set to adjourn after approving the rescue and a few other bills, the week was shaping up to be a quick one.

However, with the House’s defeat of the bailout measure Monday, the legislative calendar has been thrown into upheaval. Rather than vote on tax package, it appears the House will reconvene Thursday in order to give the rescue bill another try.

Confusion seems to be running the day. Democratic leaders in the Senate, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have signaled they still want to work towards a vote on the measure. There is no agreement, however, as to what changes should or could be made to the bill, or whether the House or Senate should take up the revised legislation first.

Posted by Conor Kenny on September 22, 2008

New details have emerged about the Bush Administration’s plan to inject an estimated $700 billion into the country’s financial sector, which would be used to buy risky and possibly bad debt. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has released a counter-proposal, which includes a number of restrictions not included in the original plan. Lawmakers from both parties have pledged to take action by the end of the week while also tackling a continuing resolution to keep the government operating past the end of the fiscal year next week.

Over the weekend, a draft of the Administration’s plan was leaked and members of the public (and some lawmakers) had their first opportunity to review the proposal. The legislation would give Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson broad authority to use federal funds to purchase assets that have no defined value, including loans that are unlikely to be repaid and securities backed by those loans. The government would purchase these assets from banks and other institutions through an auction or some other mechanism.

The plan precludes the courts, Congress or other federal agencies from reviewing the program and, while Paulson hopes to recover most of the funds by selling off the assets once the markets stabilize, there is no guarantee that the taxpayer money will be recovered.

Sen. Dodd’s proposal (leaked to the press Sunday night) introduces several measures that would substantially change the recovery program. Dodd’s bill creates an oversight board that would include congressionally-appointed officials. It also authorizes bankruptcy judges to modify existing mortgage loan terms for Americans facing foreclosure, and limit executive compensation for firms that take taxpayer cash.

Posted by Conor Kenny on September 15, 2008

By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas

Heavy criticism from Republican House members and high gas prices appear to have made an impact on Democratic leaders in the House, as they are now preparing to debate legislation this week to allow some offshore drilling. In addition, the bipartisan group of senators pushing its own compromise legislation has grown to include 20 members. Also on the Hill's agenda this week is discussion of a second stimulus package amid growing concern about the deterioration of the country’s private financial system.

House Democrats on Tuesday are expected to begin debate on energy legislation that would allow some coastal states to determine whether drilling should be allowed off their shores. The bill would end a congressional moratorium – in place for more than 25 years – preventing drilling within 200 miles offshore. President Bush rescinded an executive moratorium earlier this summer.

The legislation proposed by the House Democratic leadership does not go as far as plans put forward by Republican lawmakers, as it would only authorize some states to approve drilling projects 50 miles out (drilling would be allowed off all coastal areas 100 miles out). It also differs significantly from legislation being prepared in the Senate.

More on this week's legislation and committee schedules after the break.

Posted by Conor Kenny on July 22, 2008

With three weeks left before the August recess, both parties are scrambling to pass something - anything - addressing the two issues at the fore of everyone's minds and evening newscasts: the housing/mortgage crisis and high gas prices. The former seems to be a broad-based, serious effort that may help the situation, but the latter has devolved into the usual kabuki political theater.

The major housing/mortgage crisis relief bill may receive final votes in both the House and Senate this week. The Bush administration asked Congress last week to include help for government-sponsored mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the form of a higher credit limit with the U.S. Treasury and the possibility of a government buy-up of their stock. In exchange, congressional Democrats reiterated their support for a $4 billion program to provide funding to local governments to buy up, refurbish and sell foreclosed homes, which President Bush had previously threatened to veto the bill over. Now it's a question of who blinks first.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are also each trying to pass their own legislation to address high gas prices. Democrats have decided to target oil speculators through bills like the Energy Markets Emergency Act of 2008 while also trying to freeze out efforts by Republicans to open the Outer Continental Shelf and Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Neither approach is likely to have much effect on gas prices in either the long or short run, however, so at this point both parties are just trying to avoid the wrath of voters and head into the August recess having passed something (or at least have a good story about the obstructionism of the other side).

The House will also likely take up the global aids funding bill passed by the Senate last week and consider a $1 billion, 10-year plan to systematically inspect and repair the nation's bridges and tunnels.

Complete schedules of the week's committee hearings are beyond the jump.

Hearings Schedules:

Posted by Conor Kenny on July 14, 2008

Congress this week may send a housing relief package to President Bush for his signature. The other major action in the House and Senate will be on energy-related measures, as both Republicans and Democrats propose fixes for high energy prices. There is also a primary election in Georgia this week, as we prepare for the fall election season.

Federal officials announced early this morning that the government would take steps to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-founded companies that finance about half of the home loans issued in the United States. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the companies would be allowed to borrow money from the Federal Reserve, and the government might invest directly in the privately-held firms if their situation worsens. The steps are unprecedented, but officials have said the companies’ failure would cause further damage to America’s housing market and the overall economy.

Increased oversight of the firms is a central idea in the housing package approved by the Senate last week.

Posted by Conor Kenny on July 07, 2008

Coming up this week in the Senate are Harry Reid's latest attempts to pass the main bill containing Congress' response to the housing and mortgage crisis and a rollback of a cut in doctors' payments for Medicare services. A vote on the FISA (warrantless wiretapping) bill is also possible. The House won't be doing much.

Details and this week's committee schedules after the jump.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will take up the main bill containing Congress' response to the housing and mortgage crisis. The central provision of the package is a massive program to offer a federal guarantee to banks on mortgages if the lender agrees to reduce the outstanding principal on the mortgage to 85% of the current value of the house and reduce high, variable interest rates to a lower fixed rate. A version of the bill has passed the House but just before Congress adjourned for the 4th of July recess, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) derailed a final vote by demanding a vote on an amendment of his containing renewable energy tax changes. Once the bill passes the Senate, however, it still faces a veto threat for President Bush, who has objected to the price of a $4 billion grant program contained in the bill for local governments to buy, fix up and sell abandoned homes.

Reid is also likely to bring up for a second vote the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which reverses a 10.6% cut in payments to doctors for Medicare services that went into effect on July 1. Supporters of the bill say the cuts will cause more doctors to stop participating in Medicare while detractors cite the cost of the bill or say more comprehensive changes to Medicare need to be made. The bill has passed the House with a veto-proof margin and was only stopped in the Senate by a single vote vote before Congress broke for recess. (See how your senators and representative voted here.)

Finally, the controversial bill to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may also be brought up for a vote. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has caused a ruckus among many of his supporters by indicating that he will vote for a final bill even if it contains a provision to give retroactive immunity from lawsuits (and possibly criminal prosecutions) to the major telecom companies that broke federal privacy laws by turning over phone records without court authorization when cooperating with President Bush's warrantless surveillance program. He had previously stated that if the bill contained the provision he would support a filibuster, which is exactly what Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have announced they will do.

While the Senate plays catch-up on bills passed by the House, the lower chamber is largely concerned with more mudane business this week; the one exception being a bill to require the White House to preserve emails.

This week's committee hearings:

(The House is not in session on Monday and hasn't posted their schedules yet - I'll try to update the post when they do.)

Posted by Conor Kenny on June 30, 2008

Both the House and Senate are out of session this week for the 4th of July recess. Many members of Congress aren't just kicking their feet up - this is prime campaigning season and the number of districts considered competitive keeps growing. To see who's running for Congress in your state, see Congresspedia's Wiki The Vote project. (And make sure to add to the profiles of the candidates you know something about!)

Posted by Conor Kenny on June 23, 2008

By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas

The Senate this week is expected to take up a new reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which passed through the House of Representatives late last week. The Senate might also consider a spending bill for the Iraq War, legislation that has gone back and forth between the two chambers with mixed provisions. House members are expected to attempt a Medicare physician payment patch, and they will also take up a $61.5 billion fix to the Alternative Minimum Tax. Also, we have congressional primaries in Utah tomorrow.

As we explained in our review post, the new FISA bill includes some additional judicial oversight on the nation’s electronic surveillance programs while giving tacit immunity to telephone companies that helped the administration spy on Americans without a warrant.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated he will strip the immunity provision from the legislation when his chamber debates the bill this week. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has also said he would work to strip the immunity provisions, while presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has not released a statement on the bill.

Posted by Conor Kenny on June 16, 2008

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate this week will be keeping all options on the table while trying to complete legislation prior to the July 4 summer recess. Extended unemployment benefits are still awaiting approval, and a tax measure torpedoed by Senate Republicans last week will once again be on the agenda. In addition, confirmation hearings may proceed for five nominees to the Federal Election Commission, while the House may try to make another push for a new energy package.

The senate should take up an unemployment insurance benefit extension approved by the House last week. The Senate has already approved one such extension, as part of the Iraq War supplemental spending bill. President Bush has threatened to veto the war money if it contains domestic spending. However, the benefits might not survive in the Senate if they’re not attached to the war supplemental.

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