U.S. Congress

Public Bailout for Private Jets

The heads of the Big Three U.S. automakers (General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford), and the president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) went to Capitol Hill to ask for a $25 billion bailout loan. But they didn't give enough thought to how they got there. Each man flew separately, on private corporate jets, to ask for help from U.S. taxpayers.

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Leadership Changes in the 111th Congress

By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas

With Democrats expanding their majorities in the House and Senate during the 2008 congressional elections, members of both parties sought to redefine the leadership structure within their respective caucuses. Some of the shuffling was predictable, while political calculation entered into consideration into other leadership campaigns. In addition, freshman members of the House and Senate were forced to take sides in their first actions in Congress, even though they have not yet taken office.

Much of the publicity centered around the future of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in the Democratic caucus, and over Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) bid to replace Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Republicans had their own drama, however, with a challenge to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and a shift in the Senate leadership.

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.

GM Employees Asked to Drive Bailout Lobbying

"General Motors, teetering on the brink of insolvency, has taken the extraordinary step of calling on employees and dealers to personally urge lawmakers to approve another loan package that might keep the beleaguered automaker from going under," reports Wired.com. GM North America president Troy Clarke emailed 29,000 employees, "Your elected officials must hear from all of us now on why this support is critical. ...

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Wiki the Vote - Undecided House and Senate Races

By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas

More than a week has passed since Election Day, but there are still five House and three Senate races in play, and the balance of power in Washington hinges on their outcomes. The closest races are currently in Alaska and Minnesota, where two sitting senators are defending their seats against strong challenges. Notably, two of the incumbents in undecided races are under federal investigation (Don Young and William Jefferson) and one (Ted Stevens) is awaiting sentencing on felony corruption charges.

Outstanding Senate races:

In Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens is trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by less than 1,000 votes, a reversal of fortune since Stevens' early lead before the state began counting about 74,000 absentee and questionable ballots. Only half the ballots have been counted, however, so it's still anyone's race.

That Stevens is even still in the race is a testament to his standing in the Last Frontier. He’s the longest-serving Republican in the Senate and has represented Alaska in Congress since 1968. He’s also a convicted (though not yet sentenced) felon – a federal jury handed down a guilty verdict on seven counts of lying on personal finance disclosure forms just days before the election.

Should Stevens pull out the victory, he could plausibly serve for several more years as his appeal winds through the courts. The Senate could expel him from the body with a 2/3 majority vote, which is not unlikely considering that several of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle have publicly called for his resignation, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It would then fall to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to appoint a temporary replacement until a special election, mandated by state law to occur within 90 days, could be held to fill the remainder of the term.

Industry Tries to Sell Congress on Drugs

A $13.2 million ad campaign thanks 28 members of Congress, 25 of whom are Democrats, "for supporting a children's health-care bill vetoed twice by President George W. Bush in 2007." The ads are by America's Agenda: Health Care for Kids, a new non-profit group whose sole funder is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

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