U.S. Congress

Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (April. 26 - May 2, 2008)

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

Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (April. 7 - 11, 2008)

The big stories on Congress last week were the Senate's passage of a housing crisis bill, House Democrats delaying the U.S.-Columbia Free Trade Agreement and testimony by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

President Bush had thrown down the gauntlet on Monday by submitting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress for approval. Under the Trade Promotion Authority (or "fast track" authority) rules in place, the House had 60 days to give the agreement an up-or-down vote and the Senate had 30 following that. House Democrats, however, were able to parry his move by invoking a part of the Trade Promotion Authority law that affirms "the constitutional right of either House to change the rules (so far as relating to the procedures of that House) at any time, in the same manner, and to the same extent as any other rule of that House," and passed a resolution removing the deadline in this case.

Colombia's Three Amigos Rustle Up Support for Free Trade Deal

An AFL-CIO Ad opposing the free trade dealClumsy maneuvering by Burson-Marsteller CEO Mark Penn -- who met with Colombian officials about the U.S. - Colombia Free Trade Agreement while serving as the chief campaign strategist for trade deal opponent Hillary Clinton -- drew unwanted publicity to the controversial pact.

Colombia's $300,000 a year contract (pdf) with Burson-Marsteller stated the PR firm would "provide ongoing strategic communications counsel to the Ambassador and key Embassy officials"; develop "key messages, talking points and briefing materials"; give "advice and communications counsel to the Ambassador and Embassy staff"; and "co-ordinate media interviews and public events with relevant news media in Washington D.C. on behalf of the Embassy."

Colombia ended the contract after Penn described his meeting as "an error in judgment." But the country isn't hurting for lobbying power in Washington, D.C. -- especially among Democrats.

Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (March 31 - Apr. 4, 2008)

The mortgage crisis bill was the big action in Congress last week, with other movement on the global AIDS program and endangered species designation for polar bears. Two Democratic congressmen also had big days in court, five superdelegates came out for Obama, too and it wouldn't be 2008 without several members announcing retirement from Congress.

Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) unveiled a bipartisan compromise housing bill that gives $6 billion to homebuilders and other businesses suffering from the economic downturn but provides little relief for struggling homeowners. Dodd and Shelby said the bill was just a starting point and Democrats hope to include a provision stridently opposed by most congressional Republicans and the mortgage industry to allow judges to reduce high interest rates and even loan amounts on "underwater" home mortgages of people entering bankruptcy.

(More after the jump...)

Hillary Stands By Her Man, But Colombia Dumps Mark Penn

Mark Penn runs the labor-busting PR giant Burson-Marsteller and is the top strategist and pollster for Hillary Clinton's campaign for president. His mixed loyalties have been a continuing image problem for Clinton, to the degree his conflicts makes the news.

The Wall Street Journal first reported, on April 4, that Penn had "met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. on Monday to discuss a bilateral free-trade agreement, a pact the presidential candidate (Clinton) opposes." Burson-Marsteller "has a contract with the South American nation to promote congressional approval of the trade deal."

The New York Times later noted that Penn apologized for his conflict of loyalty saying "the meeting was an error in judgment." But that was not enough. Saturday, April 5, Colombia fired Penn (and B-M his company) for his embarrassing bumbling. Still, Hillary Clinton is sticking by her man Mark - for now.

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