Friday, October 19, 2007

Legislative Week in Review IV

Yesterday, the House of Representatives attempted to override President Bush's veto of the SCHIP expansion, but still fell a little short of the required 2/3rds majority. This, despite the fact that 81% of Americans supported the bill, including most Republicans. Speaker Pelosi says she will offer a new bill in two weeks; aides said Democrats will make cosmetic changes, "making it clearer that the bill does not allow illegal immigrants to be covered and capping the income eligibility level," in order to pick up the requisite number of Republican votes. The Senate already has enough votes.

Also this week in the House, legislation to continue a ban on Internet taxes, a resolution condemning the State Department for its refusal to divulge public details on Iraqi corruption, and a media shield bill to protect the confidentiality of reporters' sources in most federal court cases all passed overwhelmingly but have yet to be considered in the Senate. Meanwhile, a proposed resolution that would recognize the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during WWI as genocide looks less and less likely to make it to a floor vote with key Democrats opposed over souring relations with modern-day Turkey, despite promises by Speaker Pelosi. This makes one wonder what the point was of picking a fight with the White House that didn't wasn't necessary - just to lose it.

The House is also considering legislation to impose tighter sanctions on Burma's military junta,

In committee news, Rep. Henry Waxman is still looking into how the Bush administration misinformed about pre-war intelligence. Charging that a top Yahoo! Inc. official provided incorrect information regarding a Chinese human rights case to Congress, the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday called on the company’s leadership to appear before the panel.

Over in the Senate, the Intelligence Committee approved immunity for telecom companies involved in illegal NSA spying as part of the new FISA update, 13-2. Only Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold and Ron Wyden voted against it. However, Sen. Chris Dodd has put a "hold" on the bill and is threatening to filibuster it should Majority Leader Reid decide to bring it to the floor anyway. The House was about to consider its version of the wiretap bill this week (which does not include the immunity provisions, which is why the White House and Republicans are opposed) but it was pulled from the floor after Republicans offered a "poison pill" amendment.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee held confirmation hearings for AG pick Michael Mukasey. White he started off disavowing torture and vowed not to bow to White House pressure, the nominee later demurred about what constitutes torture and stated he opposed restoring habeas rights to Gitmo detainees. However, it is likely he'll be confirmed. A committee vote could happen as early as next Thursday with a full floor vote by the end of the month, though chairman Leahy says this could be delayed if they do not receive written statements by Mukasey in a timely fashion.

Sen. Obama has asked that the head of the Justice Department's voting rights division be fired for saying voter ID laws hurt the elderly but aren't a problem for minorities because they often die before old age. Bush's family planning nominee is also facing considerable opposition (for her anti-contraception views), as is his pick to head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. And Majority Leader Reid signaled today the Senate may take up the controversial nomination of Leslie Southwick to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit soon, seeking a vote to limit debate on the nomination Tuesday. If that succeeds, the Senate would vote on whether to confirm him. Southwick's record has evidence of racial prejudice.

The Senate Banking Committee approved measures dealing with Sudan divestment, flood insurance, and a 7-year extension of the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act which the White House has said it will not veto despite opposition. The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on a bill that would make cell phone companies give their customers a break on early termination fees by prorating the penalties so the cost declines with time. And Sen. Schumer has threatened legislative action unless U.S. credit bureaus stop charging fees for freezing a consumer's credit history report to prevent identity theft.

Harry Reid is also hoping to finally get into conference negotiations for energy legislation with the House, if Republicans will allow it. The two houses passed completely separate bills, but Reid and Speaker Pelosi have laid out general guidelines. The White House has threatened a veto.

Lastly, the Senate rejected cuts to community anti-crime grants and NASA spending and overwhelmingly passed the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act which the White House has threatened to veto, like so many budget bills.

UPDATE: You can show your support for Sen. Dodd's hold here.

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