U.S. Congress

Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (July 20-26, 2008)

With three weeks left before the August recess, both parties are scrambling to pass something - anything - addressing the two issues at the fore of everyone's minds and evening newscasts: the housing/mortgage crisis and high gas prices. The former seems to be a broad-based, serious effort that may help the situation, but the latter has devolved into the usual kabuki political theater.

The major housing/mortgage crisis relief bill may receive final votes in both the House and Senate this week. The Bush administration asked Congress last week to include help for government-sponsored mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the form of a higher credit limit with the U.S. Treasury and the possibility of a government buy-up of their stock. In exchange, congressional Democrats reiterated their support for a $4 billion program to provide funding to local governments to buy up, refurbish and sell foreclosed homes, which President Bush had previously threatened to veto the bill over. Now it's a question of who blinks first.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are also each trying to pass their own legislation to address high gas prices. Democrats have decided to target oil speculators through bills like the Energy Markets Emergency Act of 2008 while also trying to freeze out efforts by Republicans to open the Outer Continental Shelf and Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Neither approach is likely to have much effect on gas prices in either the long or short run, however, so at this point both parties are just trying to avoid the wrath of voters and head into the August recess having passed something (or at least have a good story about the obstructionism of the other side).

The House will also likely take up the global aids funding bill passed by the Senate last week and consider a $1 billion, 10-year plan to systematically inspect and repair the nation's bridges and tunnels.

Complete schedules of the week's committee hearings are beyond the jump.

Hearings Schedules:

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.

A Deal So Good It Could be Illegal

Former Congressman Curt Weldon's employer Defense Solutions got a good deal in Iraq. So good, that "the deal, for decades-old, equipment, included terms so lopsided, they likely would have been illegal under U.S. law." Defense Solutions got a contract with the Iraqi government in 2005 to refurbish obsolete Soviet-era Hungarian tanks. While U.S. law would dictate that the company's fee be tied to performance, Defense Solutions' contract not only ensures payment, it also gives them a percentage of the total cost.

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Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (July 6-12, 2008)

The biggest news this week in Congress was the passage and signing of the FISA bill, which expanded the president's surveillance powers (to more closely fit the Bush administration's existing practices) and granted retroactive legal immunity to telecom companies for breaking federal privacy laws when allowing the administration to illegally tap domestic phone lines without a warrant. The Senate also passed a housing legislation package on Friday and Congress gave final passage to a bill preventing a cut in payments to doctors in the Medicare program (at the expense of federally subsidized corporate Medicare programs).

Stauber Interviews Sirota: The War, Dems, MoveOn and The Uprising

Sheldon Rampton and I could see it coming soon after the Democrats took control of the Congress in 2007. In March, 2007 we pointed out that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with the support of MoveOn, was advancing legislation that would fund the war in Iraq while giving Democrats PR cover, allowing them to posture against it while the bloody, brutal occupation of Iraq continues. We were attacked at the time by Democratic partisans, but unfortunately our analysis has proven correct and today the war in Iraq is as much of an interminable quagmire as it was when the Democrats took control of the House and Senate in January 2007.
Sirota The Uprising

Democratic political activist, columnist and author David Sirota has also strongly condemned this failure of the Democrats and "The Players," DC's professional partisan insiders such as MoveOn. On May 24, 2007 he wrote: "Today America watched a Democratic Party kick them square in the teeth - all in order to continue the most unpopular war in a generation at the request of the most unpopular president in a generation at a time polls show a larger percentage of the public thinks America is going in the wrong direction than ever recorded in polling history. ... That will make May 24, 2007 a dark day generations to come will look back on - a day when Democrats in Washington not only continued a war they promised to end, but happily went on record declaring that they believe in their hearts that government's role is to ignore the will of the American people."

This month, more than a year later, the Democratic controlled Congress once again gave the Bush Administration funding to continue the Iraq war well into 2009. David Sirota now has a new book out: The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. In it he expands on his criticism of the Democratic Party and its partisan, professional antiwar activists in the leadership of MoveOn.

Sirota writes in his new book (page 82), "The absence of a full-throated antiwar uprising is tragic at a time when the country appears more skeptical of knee-jerk militarism than ever before. ...

Coming this week in Congress: Housing, Medicare cuts and FISA (July 6-12, 2008)

Coming up this week in the Senate are Harry Reid's latest attempts to pass the main bill containing Congress' response to the housing and mortgage crisis and a rollback of a cut in doctors' payments for Medicare services. A vote on the FISA (warrantless wiretapping) bill is also possible. The House won't be doing much.

Details and this week's committee schedules after the jump.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will take up the main bill containing Congress' response to the housing and mortgage crisis. The central provision of the package is a massive program to offer a federal guarantee to banks on mortgages if the lender agrees to reduce the outstanding principal on the mortgage to 85% of the current value of the house and reduce high, variable interest rates to a lower fixed rate. A version of the bill has passed the House but just before Congress adjourned for the 4th of July recess, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) derailed a final vote by demanding a vote on an amendment of his containing renewable energy tax changes. Once the bill passes the Senate, however, it still faces a veto threat for President Bush, who has objected to the price of a $4 billion grant program contained in the bill for local governments to buy, fix up and sell abandoned homes.

Reid is also likely to bring up for a second vote the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which reverses a 10.6% cut in payments to doctors for Medicare services that went into effect on July 1. Supporters of the bill say the cuts will cause more doctors to stop participating in Medicare while detractors cite the cost of the bill or say more comprehensive changes to Medicare need to be made. The bill has passed the House with a veto-proof margin and was only stopped in the Senate by a single vote vote before Congress broke for recess. (See how your senators and representative voted here.)

Finally, the controversial bill to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may also be brought up for a vote. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has caused a ruckus among many of his supporters by indicating that he will vote for a final bill even if it contains a provision to give retroactive immunity from lawsuits (and possibly criminal prosecutions) to the major telecom companies that broke federal privacy laws by turning over phone records without court authorization when cooperating with President Bush's warrantless surveillance program. He had previously stated that if the bill contained the provision he would support a filibuster, which is exactly what Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have announced they will do.

While the Senate plays catch-up on bills passed by the House, the lower chamber is largely concerned with more mudane business this week; the one exception being a bill to require the White House to preserve emails.

This week's committee hearings:

(The House is not in session on Monday and hasn't posted their schedules yet - I'll try to update the post when they do.)

Meet the Nuclear Power Lobby

The following article appeared in the June 2008 issue of The Progressive magazine.

nuclear power plantThe nuclear power industry is seeing its fortunes rise. "Seventeen entities developing license applications for up to thirty-one new [nuclear] reactors did not just happen," boasted Frank "Skip" Bowman. "It has been carefully planned."

Bowman heads the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the main lobbying group for the industry. His remarks (PDF), at a February gathering of more than 100 Wall Street analysts, were part of a presentation on "reasoned expectations for new nuclear plant construction."

Bowman knew it was important to impress his audience of wary potential investors. "We are where we are today because this industry started many years ago on a systematic program to identify what went wrong the last time," he said, "and develop ways to eliminate or manage those risks."

Congresspedia Preview: This Week in Congress (June 29-July 5, 2008)

Both the House and Senate are out of session this week for the 4th of July recess. Many members of Congress aren't just kicking their feet up - this is prime campaigning season and the number of districts considered competitive keeps growing. To see who's running for Congress in your state, see Congresspedia's Wiki The Vote project. (And make sure to add to the profiles of the candidates you know something about!)

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