U.S. Congress

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!)

Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (June 20-27, 2008)

This week the Senate and House finally came to agreement with the White House on a bill funding the Iraq war through 2009 that also contains billions in new domestic spending and the House approved a Medicare pay fix for physicians. Several other issues have been pushed to after the July 4th recess after Senate Republicans threw some sand in the gears: a single senator stopped the housing and mortgage crisis legislation and another group stopped the renewal of the global AIDS package. In both cases the Republicans wanted votes or other participation on bills that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was trying to quickly push through. Still, the Senate did manage to confirm five nominations to the currently inactive Federal Election Commission.

Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (June 6-13, 2008)

The big events this week were the House, after two tries, approving an unemployment benefits extension Thursday, while Senate Republicans filibustered and blocked two bills: a an energy package that cut tax breaks for oil companies while encouraging more renewable energy alternatives and a reversal of scheduled cuts in Medicare services payments to doctors. President Bush also announced another nominee to the Federal Election Commission and three states held congressional primary elections.

After failing to reach a 2/3 majority required for “fast track” passage on Wednesday, House Democrats pushed an extension of unemployment benefits through with a simple majority vote on Thursday. Originally slated for inclusion in an Iraq War supplemental spending bill, the legislation includes an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the 26 already allowed. States with high rates of unemployment would be eligible for an additional 13 weeks.

As far back as January, Democratic leaders in the Senate wanted to expand jobless benefits and were lately looking to the Iraq supplemental funding package as the conduit, despite repeated veto threats from President Bush. Statistics released this week showed that the unemployment rate jumped .5 percent, the largest increase in 20 years, and Democratic leaders cited the worsening situation as the impetus behind the “fast track” option.

Meet the Candidates: The Victors of Tuesday's Congressional Primaries

Seven states held congressional primaries for a total of six Senate and 70 House seats this Tuesday. We've got the results of the congressional primaries in Alabama, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey and South Dakota, thanks to the citizen journalists posting information to the candidate profiles in Congresspedia's Wiki the Vote project.

New Mexico definitely had the most interesting race as two current Republican representatives and one Democratic representative vie for the seat of retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, but this is an especially turbulent election and nearly every seat is being contested, so they're all worth a look.

You can find full listings of all the candidates and profiles at the Wiki the Vote project homepage or through the listings below. We need your help to find out more about these candidates, so if you know something about them please add it to their profile. (You can always contact one of the staff editors for help.)

GMA Is Fueling the Ethanol Backlash

ear of corn on stalkThe Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) "has been leading an 'aggressive' public relations campaign ... in an effort to roll back ethanol mandates that passed in last year's energy bill," reports Anna Palmer.



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