Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (November 14-21, 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.

Financial services industry bailout
The House Financial Services Committee will host Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairwoman Sheila Bair Tuesday to discuss the $700 billion bailout package approved by lawmakers in September. At issue is the management of the bailout plan, since Paulson has reversed course from buying toxic assets and is now investing directly in firms.

Caucus leadership races
Both chambers have intrigue-laden leadership fights as members prepare for the 111th Congress. In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has challenged Detroit-area Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) for the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which climate change legislation must pass through. On the Republican side, Rep. Dan Lungren, (R-Calif.) is trying to oust John Boehner (Ohio) from the Minority Leader slot, though his chances are not good.

The Senate Democratic caucus will be selecting its leadership as well, and the big question is whether Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) will be allowed to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. Lieberman has threatened to bolt from the caucus if he is stripped of his gavel, but many Democrats are upset with the support he lent to Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid, including criticisms of Barack Obama.

We don’t have committee schedules for the week gathered yet, but we’ll post them here as soon as we find them.