Thursday, August 02, 2007

Legislative Update VI

The Senate passed its version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program re-authorization, 68-31. The bill now needs to be reconciled with the House version, which is more expansive and makes changes to certain Medicare Programs too. Both face a veto threat from the White House, but if the conference report reflects the Senate's take it could possibly pass with a veto-proof margin, as it did in the Senate version tonight.

The House voted, 367-57, to approve the conference report for the America Competes Act that appropriates $33.6 billion over the next three years for science, technology, engineering and mathematics research and education programs across four federal agencies. The Senate is expected to endorse it as well before Congress leaves for its August recess. Last week, the House passed, 281 to 142, to increase money for NASA and Aeronautics.

The House also passed legislation to permit the importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from places such as Canada, Australia and Europe and require the FDA improve food safety procedures as part of a $91 billion spending measure funding farm subsidies and nutrition programs. That bill, passed by a 237-18 vote, is the final domestic spending bill to pass the House and faces a veto from President Bush. The Senate has yet to vote on it.

On Wednesday, the House voted, 381-40, for the water projects conference report filled with Army Corps of Engineers projects such as restoring wetlands in coastal Louisiana, improving hurricane protection in New Orleans and adding new drinking water and wastewater treatment plants. The Senate will likely also approve the negotiated version with a veto-proof majority that can override the threat from President Bush.

Senator John Kerry is proposing a bill that would ban the import and sale in the United States of illegally harvested timber and carry fines of up to 10,000 dollars in order to get at illegal logging rampant in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Similar legislation is expected to be brought up in the US House of Representatives. Email your Senators and reps in support.

The House Judiciary Committee also approved legislation that would create a federal shield law for journalists. Specifically, it would "prevent reporters from being compelled to provide testimony or produce documents, unless a court finds that one of several exceptions apply," according to CQPolitics.

Over in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Leahy is considering asking the Justice Department's inspector general to examine "whether Gonzales' answers to questions from lawmakers amount to misconduct," according to the AP. That committee also unanimously advanced a bill like one that already passed the House that would tighten requirements for states to pass mental health information to the federal government for background checks for prospective gun buyers.

The Senate Budget Committee approved the nomination of former GOP Rep. Jim Nussle to run the White House budget office by a 22-1 vote. But Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said he would hold up the nomination. Sanders' threat of a filibuster is enough to delay final action in the Senate until September at the earliest, also according to the AP.

Lastly, Craig Crawford reports that Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska unveiled legislation that would rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure "just hours before the Minneapolis bridge collapsed yesterday." Their bill proposes a national bank charged with prioritizing projects and developing creative ways to finance them.

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