This Week In Congress

Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (Jan. 15 - 18, 2008)

By Avelino Maestas, Assistant Managing Editor, Congresspedia

Congress is back up to half-strength this week, following the winter recess. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) kept the Senate in a special “pro forma” session in a bid to prevent President Bush from making any recess appointments. That didn’t stop Bush from attempting a pocket veto on the Defense Appropriations Act, which funds the Defense Department and provides money for soldier and sailor enlistment bonuses.

Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (Dec. 14 - 21, 2007)

This week in Congress, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid will face dissent within his caucus this week when the Senate debates policy for conducting intelligence gathering within the U.S. It also appears Congress will finally approve a $515 billion spending package, capping months of continuing resolutions and partisan feuding over the 2008 federal budget. President Bush may also have a comprehensive energy bill to sign by week’s end, if the House can approve the Senate’s weakened version of the CLEAN Energy Act. Medicare and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program will likely see votes as well.

FISA Revamp
The Senate today will take up reform of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that regulated the nation’s intelligence gathering apparatus and its application at home and abroad. Lawmakers will debate the RESTORE Act, a successor of the Protect America Act, which included temporary changes to FISA. The PAA expires in February, necessitating Congressional action for reforms to continue.

Two versions of the RESTORE Act have been pushed in the Senate: one by the Intelligence Committee and another by the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary bill varies from the Intelligence version in several respects: it prohibits the bulk surveillance of foreign telecom traffic that is not directed at a specific person or source. The Judiciary bill also mandates an audit of past National Security Agency activities (which may have been illegal) and requires a court review of activities that are directed against American citizens regardless of whether they are the target of a specific investigation.

However, the most glaring difference is telecom immunity. The Intelligence version grants phone and internet companies retroactive protection from prosecution for their cooperation with the Bush administration in surveilling American citizens. The Judiciary version of the bill does not contain immunity, and the bill approved by the House in October. Bush has threatened to veto any bill that does not include the immunity.

Reid will introduce the Intelligence version today. Sens. Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold have heatedly opposed the bill, and Dodd has threatened a filibuster as well.

Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (Dec. 7 - 14, 2007)

This week: Time is running out to pass the (already overdue) federal budget (including funding for Iraq and Afghanistan), energy and climate legislation, fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax, the Farm Bill and hearings on the erased waterboarding videotapes.

The federal budget and Iraq funding:Lawmakers are quickly running out of time to pass the 2008 federal budget as the last continuing resolution (which continues funding the government at 2007 levels) will expire at the end of the week, and a looming holiday recess is fast approaching.

The House and Senate will take up an omnibus spending package this week that will contain the funding for the remaining 15 cabinet departments and other agencies comprising the federal government (the Defense Department spending bill was approved last month). Democrats – who had already reduced the amount of spending contained in the package over President Bush's budget request from $22 billion to $11 billion – are planning to sweeten the deal further by including funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The last time House Democrats offered an Iraq spending bill, they included language requiring troop reductions, with a full withdrawal complete by December 2008. That bill was defeated in the Senate, where it fell short of the 60 votes required to end debate and move to a vote.

The Democratic plan is now to get the ball rolling in the House, introducing a spending package with $30 billion in funding for Afghanistan, in a move designed to appease anti-war progressives who want to end the Iraq war but one that is ultimately fairly empty, since everyone acknowledges that the Department of Defense will likely shift that money to continue funding Iraq. The Senate will then introduce an amendment including as much as $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.

By cutting the strings to withdrawal from the Iraq funding, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hope to win over enough Republicans to override a presidential veto. However, though details of the spending package haven’t been disclosed, President Bush has already threatened to veto the measure.

Preview: Congress This Week (Nov. 30–Dec. 7, 2007)

It's crunch time for Congress. Coming off of their two-week Thanksgiving recess, lawmakers have a full plate on their table: 11 appropriations bills (the bulk of the federal budget) remain to be approved; energy legislation might have a shot in both chambers; warrantless wiretapping will be on the agenda; and the farm bill waits in the wings.

Even with high-profile, controversial subjects on the agenda in both chambers, funding the federal government will have to take front stage soon. Congress included a continuing resolution tucked in the FY08 Defense Appropriations Bill to generally fund the government at the same levels as last year, but that will expire on Dec. 14, and 11 of the 12 spending bills are still unresolved. The House and Senate approps. committees will be busy consolidating funding for 15 Cabinet departments and numerous smaller agencies, with Democratic leaders likely to push for an omnibus spending package rather than try to pass each individually.

For details on the Senate and House calenders, including committee schedules, click through below the fold.

Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (Nov. 23–30, 2007)

Following a breakdown in negotiations over presidential appointees, the spectacle that is the pro forma session of Congress, as described in the Washington Post, continues this week:

Two days before Thanksgiving the Senate had a 22-second session, a fleeting moment in the life of an occasionally droning body but plenty of time for majority Democrats to keep President Bush from making "recess" appointments.

Senators have been taking turns standing sentry duty this week — just to prevent Bush from circumventing the confirmation process by immediately installing people in federal posts while the chamber is in recess. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who carried out that less than glamorous task Tuesday, is a relative newcomer, a low-ranking freshman and a senator who lives just minutes from the Capitol; he wielded his gavel before an empty chamber Tuesday, devoid of senators and even the young pages who serve as messengers.

"I'd much rather be doing this than allow the president to skirt the confirmation process in the Senate," Webb said in a statement. "This is an exercise in protecting the Constitution and our constitutional process."

The pro forma session takes advantage of Constitutional rules requiring the consent of one chamber if the other will adjourn for more than three days. If the Senate were to adjourn, the president could name people to several positions within the executive branch, as well as naming judges to the federal bench. The appointees could then serve through the remainder of Bush's term in office.

So, what to expect when Congress resumes its normal schedule on Dec. 3?

Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (Nov. 10–16, 2007)

Bills, bills bills: The big order of business for Congress this week is to continue passing the federal budget for the 2008 fiscal year (which started on Oct. 30), including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The big farm bill and legislation aimed at the mortgage crisis are also on the front burner.

Last week Congress sent the first two 2008 appropriation bills, on domestic and defense spending, to President Bush (twelve must eventually be passed). Congressional Democratic leaders abandoned plans several weeks ago to attach $50 billion in "bridge" funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (about 1/4 of the $196 billion Bush requested for 2008) to the Defense appropriation bill. They now plan to offer the same $50 billion in the Senate this week with language being tied to the money that would require the draw-down of combat forces within 2 weeks of passage, with a complete withdrawal complete by Dec. 15, 2008. If Republicans block that bill, Democratic leaders have vowed to make Bush pay for the wars out of the regular budget until they are allowed to pass such language.

On the domestic side, the $151 billion budget for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services was vetoed, so Democrats will be working their Republican colleagues this week looking for enough votes to override. The House will be the battleground, since the roll-call there was several votes shy of a veto-proof majority.

The $51 billion Transportation-HUD spending bill faces a similar fate: Bush has promised to veto it as well. Debate is expected to continue this week on the nine other remaining measures.

Partisan differences over amendments offered on the 2007 farm bill will likely keep the measure off the Senate calendar again this week. Work on a new energy bill might relieve some of the pressure on the farm bill, since Sen. Energy Committee ranking member Pete Domenici wants to include alternate fuels language in whichever bill moves forward.

Finally, with the stock market still feeling the effects of the housing credit crisis, lawmakers are working on a bill to place new regulations on lenders. The Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007 would require lenders to prove borrowers could repay adjustable-rate mortgages, and increase the oversight responsibility of federal banking regulators.

Have something to say about these bills? Each Congresspedia profile on members of Congress has phone numbers to their DC and Washington offices. Find your senator or representative and speak out.

Click through the jump to a full listing of this week's committee schedules.

Preview: Congress This Week (October 29-November 2, 2007)

Looming debates over the 2008 Budget will take center stage this week, as Democrats prepare a $700 billion spending bill package for most of the discretionary budget. The package, containing such priorities as Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor and HHS, could be hard for President Bush to veto. Several remaining budget bills might be placed in a second package, while others will see individual fights between Congress and the White House.

In other business, the Senate will once again vote on the $35 billion SCHIP expansion. The House passed a revised version of the bill last week, amid Republican complaints that the vote was poorly timed while wildfires raged in California. House lawmakers will turn their attention to an overhaul of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which assists workers whose jobs move oversees.

Here are the committee hearings scheduled for this week in Congress:

Hearings Schedules:


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