Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lots of stuff going on today in Congress...

The House Judiciary Committee voted 22-17 in favor of contempt of Congress citations today against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and President Bush's former legal counselor, Harriet Miers. According to the AP, "a senior Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the House itself likely would take up the citations after Congress' August recess." Meanwhile, the Senate suggested to Albert Gonzales a special prosecutor in the U.S. Attorneys fiasco or the possibility of "inherent contempt" trials may be on the horizon.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, a veto-proof 399-24, to bar permanent US military bases in Iraq. The legislation is intended to make clear the U.S. doesn't have its sights on an open-ended involvement in the Middle East and that the administration can't keep a decades-long troop presence in Iraq, ala South Korea. Rep. John Murtha will push for a new redeployment proposal next week and in September when the House is expected to consider new war spending and Gen. Petraeus delivers his progress report. Unlike previous bills, this one would require troop withdrawals begin in 60 days after enactment, but doesn't have a deadline for completion. The hope is this can get enough Republican support to strike a sticking agreement on a drawn down of forces. In addition to the anti-war measure, Murtha said he also wants to propose next week amendments that would require troops to meet certain standards before being deployed and cut in half the $225 million budget for the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve legislation that "seeks to end inconsistencies in disability pay by providing for a special review of cases in which service members received low ratings of their level of disability. The aim is to determine if they were shortchanged. The bill also would boost severance pay and provide $50 million for improved diagnosis of veterans with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. The House was considering similar measures." This was originally to be included in the 2008 defense authorization bill, but separated out for a vote after that bill was scrapped for the time being.

The AP also reports the Senate health committee is expected to approve today a proposal, identical to a House bill, to put tobacco under Food and Drug Administration regulation and give the FDA the same authority over cigarettes and other tobacco products that the regulatory agency now has over drugs, food, medical devices and other consumer products (they also approved an amendment to add graphic warnings to cigarette packs). "Specifically, it would let the FDA regulate the levels of tar, nicotine and other harmful components of tobacco products. Cigarette smoke alone contains some 4,000 chemicals, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer. It also would restrict advertising." The bill has bipartisan support but is opposed by the Bush administration.

According to, House and Senate conferees reached a tentative deal today over an "immunity" provision in legislation to enact several security recommendations of the 9/11 commission. This likely will clear the way for passage of the bill before the August recess.

Also, House Democrats will likely add an amendment to the new farm bill before the measure reaches the House floor on Thursday that would help cover $4 billion in additional funding for nutrition programs by closing a loophole that allows foreign-owned companies to minimize U.S. taxes through a practice known as “earnings stripping,” which shifts income to a country with lower tax rates. Of course, the White House has issued a veto threat.

UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen will introduce a bill soon allowing states to use their purchasing power to require drug companies to provide discounts on medications for low-wage workers. Under the proposal, states could negotiate the same breaks they get for people on Medicaid, the state-federal health-care program for the poor.

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