Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (April. 7 - 11, 2008)

The big stories on Congress last week were the Senate's passage of a housing crisis bill, House Democrats delaying the U.S.-Columbia Free Trade Agreement and testimony by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

President Bush had thrown down the gauntlet on Monday by submitting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress for approval. Under the Trade Promotion Authority (or "fast track" authority) rules in place, the House had 60 days to give the agreement an up-or-down vote and the Senate had 30 following that. House Democrats, however, were able to parry his move by invoking a part of the Trade Promotion Authority law that affirms "the constitutional right of either House to change the rules (so far as relating to the procedures of that House) at any time, in the same manner, and to the same extent as any other rule of that House," and passed a resolution removing the deadline in this case.

The agreement had become a bit of a political football in the presidential race, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama publicly opposing it (while courting labor unions for their endorsement) and John McCain in support. Clinton was forced to demote her chief election strategist, Mark Penn because he, as head of the as head of PR firm Burson-Marsteller, met with the Colombian ambassador to discuss efforts to pass the agreement. Colombia fired Burson-Marsteller shortly after.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stated that congressional Democrats intended to use the FTA as leverage in upcoming negotiations with the Bush administration over domestic stimulus bills, including the various housing crisis bills working their way through Congress. The Senate had passed its own version of housing legislation on Apr. 10 that contained billions in tax breaks for businesses but substantially less for homeowners facing foreclosure. Bills championed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), however, would add a key Democratic proposal to allow judges to reduce the interest rates and even the loan amount for homeowners in bankruptcy proceedings. Democrats in the House are also expected to add more aid for homeowners and reduce the tax rebates for homebuilders as they consider the Senate bill.

Finally, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before Congress on the Iraq War. Petraeus announced his plan to suspend troop withdrawals in mid-July for 45 days. President Bush then announced on Apr. 10 that he was implementing the plan.