Thursday, October 25, 2007

Legislative Week in Review V

The House of Representatives held another vote on a slightly reworked version of the S-CHIP bill today. The vote was 265-142, which is short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn another promised presidential veto. However, it is that override vote that counts. Many weren't there to vote today and some will switch their votes, as they did last time.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, outlined a $1 trillion plan Thursday to eliminate the alternative minimum tax and ease the tax burdens of most people by asking the rich and some companies to pay more. However, GOP Senators are threatening to block eliminating the ATM tax unless Bush's tax cuts are extended. Isn't that something! Republicans are going to block a tax cut which benefits most people in favor of ones that benefit a few. But it just confirms what we've been saying all along.

Four backers of a resolution to formally name the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a genocide said on Thursday they have asked Speaker Pelosi not to bring it to a vote in the House, at least until later this year. And bid to censure California Congressman Pete Stark over recent comments about troops and such failed, but he apologized anyway. Apparently, these types of things are all the rage. They are much more important that, you know, actually doing something about the war.

Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, laid into Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week for grossly mismanaging diplomatic efforts in Iraq and concealing information from Congress. He also accused Blackwater of serious tax evasion; Sen. John Kerry is pushing for a further probe.

By a vote of 27-21, the House Education and Labor Committee advanced to the full House legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals. The original ENDA bill included protection for transgendered workers as well, but it became clear it would not pass with that included. There will be an attempt on the House floor to reinsert the language, but the bill already faces a veto threat and can't afford to lose any votes if there's going to be any hope for an override.

Also in the House: A bill that seeks to reduce vet suicides and would require mental health training for VA staff, screen suicide risk factors for veterans who receive VA care, and refer at-risk veterans for counseling and treatment and designate a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility, passed 417-0. It also supports outreach and education for veterans and their families, peer support counseling and research into suicide prevention. Another bill passed by voice vote on Tuesday would regulate the production, sale and purchase of explosive chemicals like those used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank plans to introduce legislation Monday that would significantly tighten regulation of the mortgage industry in an effort to prevent another crisis in the subprime lending markets. Legislation that would boost sanctions against Syria was pulled from consideration Tuesday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee after its chairman and ranking Republican could not agree on whether to add language promoting dialogue with that country. And several key medical groups have announced their support for legislation introduced in the Senate that would require pharmaceutical companies to report any gifts given to physicians.

Over in the Senate, Democrats on Tuesday reversed President Bush's cuts to education, health research and grants to local communities as they gird for Bush's first-ever veto of a regular appropriations bill. It was approved by a 75-19 vote and goes to conference with the House version which was not approved by a veto-proof margin.

Armed Services Chairman Sen. Carl Levin has called on the upcoming $196 billion Iraq supplemental, to be considered early next year, to be split into a six-month installment plan where the Senate would have to consider the rest of the money next summer. A similar plan was considered last time in the House (and was threatened with a veto), with the thinking being that it gives Congress two opportunities to try and get a change in course for the war instead of one. Levin wand Sen. Jack Reed are also looking to add a nine-month goal to complete the withdrawal from Iraq. "Adding the language in the Appropriations Committee would turn tables on Republicans by forcing them to reach the 60 votes needed on the floor to strip out the language," according to The Hill.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Leaky and others say they may note vote for AG nominee Michael Mukasey unless he states firmly that he considers the practice of waterboarding to be torture. Leahy has refused to set a date for a vote on Mukasey's nomination until he clarifies his answer to Sen. Whitehouse's question on the subject.

The Post also reports that Leahy and Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican, also angrily accused the White House of allowing the Senate Intelligence Committee to review documents on its warran-tless surveillance program in return for agreeing that telecommunications companies should get immunity from lawsuits.

Controversial nominee to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Texas) Leslie Southwick was confirmed, apparently in order to avoid GOP filibusters of future nominees by a Democratic president, despite the fact that will probably happen anyway. The infamous "Gang of 14," who allowed previous Bush nominees to be confirmed to avoid the "nuclear option" under GOP control, met again to come up with this ingenious plan.

The DREAM Act, which would have allowed illegal immigrants who plan to attend college or join the military, and who came to the United States with their families before they turned 16, to move toward legality, failed to reach the required 60 votes. Funnily enough, crazy nutcase and Republican presidential candidates Rep. Tom Tancredo called for a federal immigration raid at a rally by Sen. Dick Durbin in support of the act. Meanwhile, 16 Dems signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi in support of passing H-1B visa and green card reform this year.

The Senate on Thursday night approved a seven-year extension of a moratorium on state and local taxes on Internet access. The House earlier approved a four-year extension, so it now goes to conference.

In corruption news, a federal grand jury investigating California GOP Rep. John Doolittle's ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff has subpoenaed the House's chief administrative officer, Daniel P. Beard, who is responsible for maintaining lawmakers' old e-mails and other records. Also, Greg Lankler, a staff assistant on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, is fighting a subpoena in a federal investigation of California GOP Rep. Jerry Lewis' ties to Jack Abramoff. Lastly, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has spent nearly $23,000 in campaign funds to pay a Washington lawyer who represents him before the Senate Ethics Committee, a new campaign finance report shows. Sounds like he's been a "naughty, nasty boy" to me.

UPDATE: Two Senators on Friday called for a congressional hearing to investigate reports that phone and cable companies are unfairly stifling communications over the Internet and on cell phones.

And, in a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Sen. Leahy requests all legal opinions that the DoJ has written relating to torture.

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