U.S. Congress

Congresspedia Review: This Week in Congress (May 3 - 9, 2008)

It was a busy last week in Congress, as major deals were reached on the Farm Bill and Congress' response to the mortgage crisis. The stalled nominations process for the Federal Elections Commission received a new twist with big ramifications for the 2008 presidential election, the Senate Ethics Committee cleared Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) got into trouble with the law, Barack Obama picked up 24 superdelegates, Hillary Clinton picked up 7, and North Carolina and Indiana had their congressional primaries.

On Thursday the House passed a new, catch-all housing bill that combines several bills already passed by the House and Senate by a 265-153 vote. The House bill's most remarkable feature is a program championed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the powerful head of the House Financial Services Committee. Under the program, the government would offer banks a deal: taxpayer-backed insurance on the mortgages of homeowners likely to default in exchange for making the terms significantly easier for the homeowners to make. While this would cost banks substantial amounts of money versus what they would receive if the mortgages were all paid off, it would also reduce the number of homeowners who default on their mortgages, keeping them in their homes and theoretically saving the banks money in the long run.

Homeowners who are behind in their payments and whose home values have fallen below the amount of their mortgage (thus creating an incentive for them to walk away from the loan) would be eligible for the program. The FHA would offer to insure their mortgages if the bank lowered the amount of the loan to no more than 90 percent of the current market value of the home (thus giving the homeowner positive equity in the home) and reducing the monthly payments. If the value of the insured homes rise and the homeowners sell or refinance at a profit, a portion of that profit goes back to the FHA. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 500,000 homeowners would qualify for the program.

For more on the week's legislation and other developments, click through.

Meet the Candidates: The Victors of the Indiana and North Carolina Congressional Primaries

While the presidential race is getting all the attention, voters in Indiana and North Carolina also selected their parties' nominees for their 22 House of Representatives seats and one Senate slot on Tuesday. Each seat's incumbent is running for reelection, but this is a turbulent election year, and the three high-school teachers, three attorneys, several small business owners and elected officials, and one TV weatherman challenging them could give them a run for their money. The Democrats are defending twelve House seats to the Republicans ten, plus Elizabeth Dole's seat in the Senate.

Each candidate and incumbent has a profile within Congresspedia's Wiki the Vote project, which you can find at the Indiana and North Carolina portals, or through the full listing of the primary victors below. We need your help to find out more about these candidates, so remember that these profiles are editable by anyone and jump right in. You can always contact one of the staff editors for help.

Pill Shills and Marketing Ills

Prescription pills"Prozac Nation: Revisited," a show that aired on U.S. National Public Radio member stations, "featured four prestigious medical experts discussing the controversial link between antidepressants and suicide. ... All four said that worries ...


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...)


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