The big action in Congress this week was on bills with big price tags: the $290 billion Farm Bill and a new $300 billion housing crisis bill. It also passed a law banning employers and insurers from using your genes to discriminate against you. And, of course, the race for Democratic superdelegates continues between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with both picking up several endorsements.
The 2007 Farm Bill looks like it might be ready for a final vote as the House and Senate negotiate between themselves and with President Bush to find a bill that hits all the right political constituencies and has the right price tag. The latest version of the bill, which at $290 billion over ten years is $10 billion over the congressional budget rules and $4.5 billion more than President Bush wants, contains most of the usual subsidies and conversation programs of years past but adds several key provisions. Bush is pressing Congress to lower the income limits on farmers who can receive subsidies from the current $1.95 million to $200,000, well short of Congress' currently proposed $500,000. But Bush also supports keeping $5.2 billion in direct subsidy payments to farmers despite record crop prices, so he's not exactly uniformly thrifty. Also included in the current version of the bill is a $5 billion trust fund for farmers hit by disasters including floods, droughts and fires, a key demand of farm state Democrats and Republicans alike.
However, Bush has taken a hard line on the total price tag for the bill, and has raised a veto threat that Democrats say may be designed to bolster Sen. John McCain's anti-spending credentials. While it remains to see who will blink first, the extension that funds the farm programs is running out and some type of vote is imminent in the next week or two.
For more on this week's legislation and an update on Superdelegate endorsements, click through
On the housing and mortgage front, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has proposed a new bill to the raft of legislation that has passed or is pending in both the House and Senate. His new bill, which passed out of committee on Thursday, requires lenders to renegotiate loans with homeowners facing foreclosure to lower both the principle and the interest rate, with the government backing the new loans to the tune of $300 billion. The measure is opposed by President Bush and failed to draw support from key Senate Banking Committee Republican Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.). Congressional Democrats, however, plan to incorporate several of the bills, which include provisions backed by the White House and congressional Republican, into one mammoth housing and mortgage relief package, with the hopes that the balance will dissuade a Bush veto.
On Thursday Congress passed the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, which bars insurers and employers from using your genes against you. President Bush has indicated he will sign the bill, which passed unanimously... with the exception of the quixotic Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.).
In superdelegate news this week, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) picked up endorsements from Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), former DNC head Paul Kirk, Arizona Democratic Party First Vice Chairwoman Charlene Fernandez, Kalyn Free (Okla.), Parris Glendening (Md.), Inez Tenenbaum (S.C.), Brian Colón (N.M.), Jaime Paulino (Guam), Jaime Gonzalez Jr. (Texas), and Herman Farrell (N.Y.), tightening the gap in superdelegates between him and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Clinton was endorsed by Robert Martinez (Texas), Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (Md.), chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party Kathy Sullivan and North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley. See the Superdelegate Transparency Project for the latest updates.
Finally, ending months of speculation, Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) finally announced on April 26 that he would run for a third Senate term.