Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (Dec. 6 - 12, 2008)

By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas

The weekend brought news of an upset down south, where indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) on Saturday was upset in his re-election big by Anh “Joseph” Cao (R). Also, congressional leaders negotiated a compromise with the White House to tap about $15 billion for an emergency loan to U.S. automakers, and legislation authorizing the funds could come this week.

The Senate is in session today, and it appears as though Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is again trying to advance legislation ending Sen. Tom Coburn reign as the bottleneck of the Senate. The so-called Coburn Omnibus legislation would advance a package of bills being held by Coburn because they do not meet his criteria for passage. We blogged about the hold in July, when the Coburn Omnibus was last heading to the floor.

Some are speculating that the debate on the Coburn Omnibus is just a placeholder discussion while leadership in both parties tries to determine the vote breakdown of any possible automaker bailout. The Senate will likely wait until the House takes up the automaker bailout package tomorrow.

The deal reached on the automaker bailout is founded in part on tension between Congressional Democrats, the White House, and President Elect Barack Obama. Obama would have preferred to see any bailout come from the $700 billion measure already approved by Congress. Democrats in the House and Senate, meanwhile, appeared willing to wait for an Obama administration, so they could pass a more ambitious measure. President Bush, however, wanted the funds to come from an existing $25 billion pool to help automakers produce more efficient vehicles.

With time short and pressure mounting, Congressional Democrats acquiesced and negotiated a deal to supply $15 billion from the efficiency fund, with strings attached. Legislators will probably demand the industry focus on retooling for energy efficiency, and they’ll require some restructuring as well. Congress may also appoint an individual in an oversight role.

In elections news, a few unexpected developments occurred over the weekend. At the top of that list is the defeat of Rep. William Jefferson (D) in Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district. Jefferson, who was indicted on federal bribery charges, was expected nonetheless to win in his heavily-Democratic district. His loss to Joseph Cao came as a surprise. Cao is the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress.

In the state’s 4th CD, as with so many other races this cycle, the winner remains unknown today. Paul Carmouche (D) is trailing John Fleming Jr. (R) by 356 votes. The margin is too close to call with absentee and provisional ballots uncounted. That tally should occur tomorrow, and the state may certify results on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, Mary Jo Kilroy was declared the winner in the 15th district. The Democrat defeated Republican Steve Stivers following a lengthy count of provisional ballots. Kilroy came from behind, swinging a 594-vote deficit to Stivers on November 5 to a 2,300-vote lead this weekend. It was enough to avoid an automatic recount.

As it stands, Democrats in the House will have a majority of at least 78 seats. We’re still awaiting the results of the outstanding Senate race in Minnesota, but you can stay tuned to this space (and check out our 2008 election coverage for more information on all of the races.


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