Saturday, June 30, 2007

Six Months In...

As June comes to a close, the first session of the 110th Congress is halfway complete. So what have they accomplished?

We all know that Democrats passed a war funding bill with a timetable for troop withdrawal out of Iraq, but that it was vetoed and couldn't be overriden. In the end, Democrats just got a long-awaited increase in the federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour and spending on Gulf Coast recovery and disaster relief for farmers (Democrats have also moved to increase funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, but it is unclear whether President Bush will veto this or not). And Congress overwhelmingly repealed a provision in the Patriot Act that allowed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to replace U.S. attorneys with Senate confirmation and Bush had no choice but to sign it into law.

But what is the status of the other major bills Democrats have been looking to pass? I will go through them issue by issue:

ENERGY - The Senate recently passed a bill demanding higher automobile fuel economy and more use of ethanol, which now moves to the House side. Earlier in the year, the House passed a bill repealing oil & gas tax breaks to fund alternative energy sources but a similar measure was blocked in the Senate. However, the margin of defeat was slim and its possible the measure can be returned to and passed (though Bush would certainly veto it).

IMMIGRATION - Of course, the Senate bill died last week for the second time and probably isn't coming back. Democratic leaders in the House had wanted the Senate to lead on this issue, so it's unclear whether they will move on their own. Earlier in the year, Reps. Flake and Gutierrez introduced a massive immigration overhaul that had some positive backing from reform supporters.

ETHICS & LOBBYING REFORM - Though this was the first bill the Senate passed, the House didn't until more recently, and now Republican Sen. Jim Demint is putting a hold on it from going to conference.

9/11 RECOMMENDATIONS - This passed both the House and Senate, but Republican Sen. Tom Coburn is also keeping it from going to conference. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he may call off the Senate's Auguest recess until both this and lobbying/ethics reform bill are allowed to go to conference negotiations. Democrats may have to drop a provision allowing collective bargaining rights for airport screeners in order to get it through and not be vetoed by President Bush.

STEM CELL RESEARCH - Passed by the House and Senate, but vetoed for a second time by President Bush. There were not enough votes for an override.

EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT - Passed by the House, but Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the bill.


SECURITY REVIEWS OF FOREIGN INVESTMENTS - The House and Senate both passed an overhaul of the way the federal government assesses national security threats posed by foreign investments in the wake of the Dubai Ports World controversy. It now goes to conference, but will almost certainly make it and become law.

STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATES CUT - The House overwhelmingly passed this, but the Senate has yet to consider it.

HATE CRIMES LAW - The House passed the Matthew Shepard Act which expands current federal hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate hasn't voted on it yet.

D.C. VOTING RIGHTS - The House voted to give the District of Columbia a Representative with voting privileges, and the Senate will consider it soon. It's not yet clear whether it will be blocked or not, but the White House has issued a veto threat in any case.

2008 DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION - Both the House and the Senate will consider it in July, attempting to attach various amendments in regards to Iraq (including another timetable, repealing the 2002 war authorization, and troop readiness conditions), closing Gitmo and restoring habeus corpus rights to its detainees.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT RE-AUTHORIZATION - The bill, bassed in 2001, expires later this year. It will likely be re-authorized by Congress, but both liberals and conservatives are expected to push for changes in the law, much to the chagrin of President Bush.

Basically, that's where we're at. The House has passed tons of bills, but Republican obstruction in the Senate and Bush's veto pen have kept most of them from becoming law. But the fight for them is certainly not over.

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