Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (Feb. 2 - 8, 2008)

The same fears of recession that are fueling quick Congressional action on an economic stimulus package are also forcing President Bush to submit a budget that trims spending on popular programs. However, despite any belt-tightening, the stimulus package will likely push the budget deficit to $400 billion, the highest since 2004 (though lower in real terms due to inflation) and a figure that will tie lawmakers’ hands heading into the 2008 elections.

The FY 2009 Federal Budget is the first to break the $3 trillion threshold. In it, Bush aims to increase defense spending by five percent, but will propose reductions in Medicaid and some education programs. Others, like the Early Start reading program, would be eliminated entirely.

The Senate will resume its review of the stimulus bill today, including amendments that would extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks and would provide tax rebates for seniors and disabled veterans. Also up for consideration: food stamp extensions, low-income heating assistance, and home investment incentives.

For more on the budget, the FISA debate in the Senate, and committee schedules for the week, check after the break.

Because new “pay as you go,” rules are in effect, lawmakers will probably have to abandon pet programs in 2009, since any new spending would have to be offset by cuts elsewhere. Since the stimulus package is “emergency” spending, it’s exempt from paygo, and lawmakers may try to load it up with their own projects.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, joined by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen, will present the fiscal year Defense Department operating budget to the Senate and House Armed Services committees. The pair will face questions on big-ticket weapons systems and funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Gates has asked for $70 million – enough to funds the wars for several months – but, as before, is seeking an emergency appropriation. Critics in Congress argue the funds should be appropriated through the normal budget process.

The Energy committees in each chamber will hold hearings this week with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, and members will likely grill him on the failed $1.8 billion FutureGen project. Slated to be an emissions-free coal-fired power plant, the project has been abandoned in favor of a push to offer smaller grants for the capture and storage of carbon emissions.

Health and Human Services Secraty Mike Leavitt will appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday to discuss the President’s proposed $200 billion cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

As we mentioned last week, the Senate reached a deal on amendments to the RESTORE Act, the much-debated reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Three amendments are up for discussion, with debate resuming today:

  • A measure sponsored by Sens. Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold that would strip retroactive immunity from the bill.
  • An amendment by Dianne Feinstein and Bill Nelson would require the secret FISA court determine whether the phone companies should be giving immunity.
  • A third amendment, offered by Sens. Arlen Specter and Sheldon Whitehouse, would substitute the government for the telecom companies in about 40 pending civil lawsuits.

Other amendments would make FISA the sole legislation authorizing electronic surveillance, determine the FISA court's role in overseeing intelligence gathering, or whether the bill should expire.

February 5, 2008


February 6, 2008



February 7, 2008



February 8, 2008