Thursday, November 08, 2007

Legislative Week in Review VII

Speaker Pelosi has announced the House of Representatives will vote next week on four-month, $50 billion Iraq war “bridge fund” that would require withdrawal to begin immediately on passage, with a goal of completing the withdrawal by December 2008, leaving behind only a smaller force with a scaled-back mission to provide security for US troops and diplomats, combat Al Qaeda, and deliver "limited support for the Iraqi security forces." The legislation would also incorporate language from bills by Sen. Jim Webb and Rep. Ellen Tauscher that would grant additional training and rest time for troops between deployments. On the issue of torture, it would set in law the rules in the Army Field Manual, which do not allow torture. The $50 billion, about quarter of President Bush's total supplemental war funding request, could be used only toward the withdrawal and other goals laid out in the legislation. If approved by the House, the Senate also might take up the measure next week.

In a private caucus meeting on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told rank-and-file Democrats the bill was their best shot at challenging Bush on the war. And if Bush rejected it, she said, she did not intend on sending him another war spending bill for the rest of the year. Majority Leader Harry Reid also said he did not want to approve a spending measure for Iraq unless it forced a change in Bush's policies.

The House and Senate handed President Bush his first veto override over the water projects bill. They also agreed on a budget for the Pentagon that does not include money for either war, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Both the House and Senate approved more money for education, job training and health care in the latest appropriations bill this week, but it will be vetoed by President Bush and does not have sustaining margins. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin says Democrats will
attempt to piece together most of the remaining annual appropriations bills into one “omnibus” package they hope can pass by the end of the year.

President Bush did sign the Joshua Omvig suicide prevention bill into law. The law requires mental health training for Veterans Affairs staff; a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility; and mental-health screening and treatment for veterans who receive VA care. It also supports outreach and education for veterans and their families, peer support counseling and research into suicide prevention.

The House approved a trade agreement with Peru that 116 Democrats voted against. By a vote of 235-184, the House voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect millions of Americans by outlawing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. There are not enough votes to overcome a promise veto though. The House also passed 258-155 a bill that creates the National Homeowners Insurance Stabilization Program under which the Treasury secretary can extend loans to states impacted by severe natural disasters. Lastly, the
the House voted 216-193 vote to $80 billion alternative minimum tax patch (all Republicans voted against this tax relief plan for the middle class). The White House is threatening a veto for those two bills as well.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich sought a privileged motion to bring up articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney, but it was ultimately sent to the House Judiciary Commitee after much wrangling.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee approved a bill Wednesday to make more National Guard and reserve troops eligible for G.I. Bill benefits by easing the requirements to receive them. Meanhwhile, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers made a last-ditch proposal Monday to the White House for access to documents and testimony related to the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year. And the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials approved by voice vote a bill that would limit the levels of perchlorate in drinking water.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also punted off until next week a vote a bill to overhaul FISA that would granted immunity to phone companies that participated in the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program. Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican, has apparently offered a compromise would make the federal government — instead of the phone companies — the defendant in about 40 pending lawsuits across the country.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse introduced the Caging Prohibition Act, a bill which would outlaw the long-recognized voter suppression tactic which has often been used to target minority voters. Sen. Barack Obama's Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act, which bans voter photo ID laws, has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate farm bill, which differs substantially from the one the House passed a few months back, may languish until 2008 due to non-related amendments. Bush has threatened a veto anyway.

Lawmakers are looking into Yahoo! company's possible involvement in the jailing of a Chinese journalist, alleged financial wrongdoing involving six well-known televangelists, and how nearly four months after the Federal Emergency Management Agency promised to study the risk of formaldehyde in trailers provided to Hurricane Katrina survivors, none of 52,000 occupied units have been tested, and FEMA has warned its employees for their own safety to stay out of 70,000 similar trailers in storage.

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