Friday, October 05, 2007

Legislative Week in Review II

Top Democrats in Congress are demanding documents, planning hearings and are even considering perjury investigations in the wake of revelations about the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation policies.

The House of Representatives passed several bills this week, including ones that make private contractors in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution in U.S. courts and strengethen the inspectors general by giving them greater budgetary independence and establish a panel to review allegations of misconduct. The White threatened to veto the second bill, but both passed with veto-proof margins. The Senate has yet to consider either.

The House also passed a measure that would withhold security assistance to Ethiopia and restrict travel by its leaders unless the African country meets democratic benchmarks and one that compensates families of the victims of the 1998 bombing of our embassy in Kenya. The Senate will now need to approve both. Meanwhile, 20 percent of the Republican caucus voted “present” on a resolution recognizing the commencement of Islamic holiday of Ramadan.

Lawmakers called for a "mortgage czar" to help cope with the U.S. housing slump as the House overwhelmingly approved legislation providing tax relief to homeowners facing a foreclosure.

The Senate passed both the 2008 defense authorization and appropriations bills. Money for the Iraq and Aghanistan wars won't be considered until early next year in another supplemental. Another effort by Sen. Russ Feingold to redeploy troops from Iraq and prohibit funding after a certain date failed (this stuff doesn't even get media attention anymore, sadly). The House passed both already and they are facing vetoes from President Bush.

The Senate also scrapped its bid to obtain the archive of daily intelligence briefings given to the president on Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion and a requirement that the director of national intelligence conduct an assessment of the effects of global climate change on national security in an intelligence authorization bill approved unanimously. In positive news, the Senate unanimously voted to ban the import and use of asbestos, which is still used in some industries despite its link to cancer.

The respective chairmen of the Judiary Committees of both chambers asked the acting Attorney General to look into "phone jamming" cases as Mukasey's confirmation hearings were given a green light (they may happen as soon as October 17th) despite not receiving demanded documents from the White House. The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved legislation to establish a federal shield law for journalists, but it faces obstacles to Senate passage.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation this week that would require the Bush administration to send a report on its Iraq redeployment plans to Congress and continuously update the information. The bill is the companion to a measure that sailed through the House earlier this week in the House with broad support.

Lastly, Sen. Hillary Clinton has decided to co-sponsor legislation from Sen. Jim Webb that prohibits any funds from being used to attack Iran without new and explicit Congressional approval as Sen. Barack Obama "derailed a plan blessed by Senate leaders to vote on controversial Federal Election Commission White House nominee Hans von Spakovsky, a move giving Democrats time to breathe in the ongoing Senate stalemate on FEC nominees. " You can read about the von Spakovsky controversy over at TPM.

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