Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (July 13-19, 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.

Under the measure, a new full-time regulator would be appointed to oversee government-sponsored enterprises, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In addition, the Senate legislation would prevent the firms from repackaging certain mortgages and selling them as securities, though House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) wants to remove that provision.

The bill, which is designed to help banks and homeowners impacted by a worsening credit market, has broad support for its major provisions. It would reform the Federal Housing Administration's mortgage insurance program, and provide $300 billion in insurance to allow some homeowners on the brink of foreclosure to refinance their mortgages. Still, differences remain: when the House takes up the measure this week, some "blue dog" Democratic representatives will likely try to find funding offsets - spending cuts or tax raises - for the $3.9 billion the bill grants to local communities to purchase, refurbish and sell foreclosed homes.

On the energy front, it is a return to partisan politics this week, as each chamber considers measures designed to reduce prices. Republicans in the Senate are introducing a bill that would allow states to decide whether drilling offshore should be permitted 50 miles from their coasts. Their Democratic colleagues want instead to encourage development in areas that are already open for drilling. The Democrats' legislation would require the Bureau of Land Management to offer production leases every year — twice as often as happens now — in Alaska's 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve. Democrats in the House are proposing a ban on exporting oil produced in Alaska.

Meanwhile, both chambers are considering legislation, such as the Energy Markets Emergency Act of 2008, to reign in speculation in the oil market.

Georgia will hold its congressional primary tomorrow, the first since Utah voters went to the polls almost a month ago. Between now and September 20, twenty-two states will hold nominating contests for congressional seats. Congresspedia's citizen-journalists are on the case, fact-checking information on races and updating biographies and policy positions for hundreds of candidates. This is all part of our Wiki the Vote project, and we need your help too: if you know something about the candidates in your state, please add that information to their profile. You can always contact one of the staff editors for help.

Finally, here are this week's committee schedules:

July 15, 2008



July 16, 2008



  • Committee on Science and Technology to consider the following bills: H.R. 3957, Water Use Efficiency and Conservation Research Act; H.R. 2339, Produced Water Utilization Act of 2007; and H.R. 6323, To establish a research, development, demonstration, and commercial application program to promote research of appropriate technologies for heavy duty plug-in hybrid vehicles, and for other purposes.
  • Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit hearing on Improving Roadway Safety: Assessing the Effectiveness of the NHTSA's Highway Traffic Safety Programs, 10 a.m., 2167 Rayburn.
  • Committee on Natural Resources to mark up the following bills: H.R. 160, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act; H.R. 4828, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Boundary Expansion Act of 2007; H.R. 5751, Walnut Canyon Study Act of 2008; H.R. 5853, Minute Man National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act; H.R. 6176, To authorize the expansion of the Fort Davis National Historic Site in Fort Davis, Texas, and for other purposes; H.R. 6177, Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River Extension Act of 2008; H.R. 2933, Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2007; H.R. 3299, To provide for a boundary adjustment and land conveyances involving Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado, to correct the effects of an erroneous land survey that resulted in approximately 7 acres of the Crystal Lakes Subdivision, Ninth Filing, encroaching on National Forest System land; H.R. 3336, Camp Hale Historic District Study Act; H.R. 3849, Box Elder Utah D879Land Conveyance Act; H.R. 3437, Jackson Gulch Rehabilitation Act of 2007; H.R. 2535, Tule River Tribe Water Development Act; H.R. 5293, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation Water Rights Settlement Act; and H.R. 5350, To authorize the Secretary of Commerce to sell or exchange certain National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration property located in Norfolk, Virginia, and for other purposes, 11 a.m., 1324 Longworth.

  • Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Domestic Policy hearing on Examining Contractor Performance and Government Management of Retroactive Pay for Retired Veterans with Disabilities, 11:30 a.m., 2154 Rayburn.
  • Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing on the Reauthorization of the U.S. Parole Commission, 4 p.m., 2237 Rayburn.

July 17, 2008