Friday, November 02, 2007

Legislative Week in Review VI

President Bush at last nominated a VA secretary and is considering a recess appointment for his controversial surgeon general nominee. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Dr. James B. Peake is likely to face tough questions during his confirmation hearings (likely weeks away) about how he would lead a troubled Department of Veterans Affairs. If confirmed, Peake would become the first general and first medical doctor to head the VA. President Bush on Wednesday also nominated Edward Schafer, a former two-term Republican governor from North Dakota, to head the Agriculture Department in an attempt to influence the upcoming farm bill. AG nominee Michael Mukasey's confirmation is less in doubt now that Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein have announced they will vote him out of committee on Tuesday, November 6th.

Bush vetoed the water projects bill but he will be easily overridden next week. The first big budget battle also looms. House and Senate negotiators on Thursday agreed to tack a $65 billion bill funding the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction onto a $151 billion bill for the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education departments. When the conference report moves to the Senate floor — which could happen as early as next week — Republicans plan to raise a point of order to strike the language on Veterans Affairs and military construction. President Bush is threatening to veto the combined spending package. Democrats in Congress have also refused to provide money for his European missile shield program.

The Senate voted 64-30 in favor of the SCHIP bill again. This time it did not achieve a veto-proof margin as some supporters weren't there and others (such as our own Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison) switched their position. House and Senate negotiators will now try to come up with another version that can win enough support to override a Bush veto.

The House of Representatives unanimously voted to extend the Internet tax moratorium another 7 years (matching the Senate version) and passed, 244-166, a bill that would put new environmental controls on hard-rock mining, set up a cleanup fund for abandoned mines and permanently ban cheap sales of public lands for mining. Additionally, the House passed by a voice vote legislation that orders a government study into the technology needed to overcome the circumstances of miners being trapped far underground without the ability to communicate with would-be rescuers. And, defying a White House veto threat, the House on Wednesday passed a multibillion-dollar expansion of a program to help retrain workers who have lost their jobs because of foreign competition, 264-157.

The Ways and Means Committee voted 22-13 in favor of a bill that would provide temporary relief from the alternative minimum tax and pay for it in part by raising taxes on private equity fund manager. Majority Leader Reid has said the Senate will not wave "pay-go" rules for the AMT fix, but it is not clear that Rangel's proposal will fly there. The House Ways and Means Committee also voted 39-0 for a free trade pact with Peru.

The Senate's Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection approved a climate change bill by a 4-3 vote. The measure would limit greenhouse gas emissions thought to contribute to global warming. It may see a floor vote by year's end.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
voted 17-4 to send to a floor vote the Reagan-era "Law of the Sea" treaty supported by President Bush. With Senate ratification, the United States would join 155 nations that are party to a convention that sets rules and settles disputes over navigation, fishing and economic development of the open seas and establishes environmental standards. Treaty supporters, after making little headway for years, have gained momentum recently with concerns that the melting of the global ice cap will trigger a rush of claims by Arctic countries, including Russia, to previously iced-in resources.

House and Senate panels voted Tuesday to eliminate a five-year expiration date for registered phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.
Oh, and it looks increasingly unlikely the "No Child Left Beind Law" will be brought up for re-authorization by the end of the year.

In corruption news, an oil services contractor testified Monday that he was blackmailed by an employee over renovations at Sen. Ted Stevens' home. Sen. David Vitter has agreed to pay a $25,000 fine for violating federal election laws during his campaign for the Senate in 2004. And Rep. Henry Waxman, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Wednesday demanded that the White House turn over hundreds of pages of material about Jack Abramoff.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are weighing the possibility of adding a “millionaire’s amendment” to presidential campaign finance reform measures. As it applies to Senate races, the amendment states that if a candidate exceeds the statutory threshold by 10 times, then the cap on the amount of money other candidates can accept from a single donor can be raised. Unfortunately, the Senate appears deadlocked over legislation that would require members to file their campaign finance forms electronically. Oh well.

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