In the House….After last week’s indictment of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), the House continued its skittish debate over the creation of an independent ethics office. Democrats yanked a slated vote on the proposal as the GOP offered a competing plan to expand the existing ethics committee; neither proposal would grant subpoena power to a new body. By 212-198 vote, Democrats defeated a GOP attempt to force a vote on Senate-passed FISA legislation that grants telecom companies immunity. On Wednesday, the House voted to eliminate $18 billion in tax subsidies for oil companies and expand renewable energy incentives. That bill, HR5351, faces an uphill Senate fight and White House veto.
In the Senate….The largest $35-billion Indian health care overhaul in over a decade won passage after protracted battle, increasing federal spending by an annual average of $500 million for 10 years. “People are literally dying because we have not acted,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chief sponsor. In what was expected to be a largely symbolic move, two of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)’s Iraq-related measures were unexpectedly seized by the Republicans as an opportunity to debate the success of the “surge,” and simultaneously delay consideration of a Democrat-backed housing bill. After three days, the Democrats pulled the two bills without final votes taken. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)’s subsequent attempt to take up the housing bill likewise stalled as Republicans pilloried its proposal to allow bankruptcy judges’ modification of mortgage terms for principal residences; the White House threatened to veto the bill.
Also this week, under threat of subpoena, former Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed to testify before the House about the no-bid, 18-month consulting contract worth up to $52 million his company was awarded to oversee a DOJ settlement. In a packed Cambridge public hearing, the FCC weighed whether to discourage cable giants like Comcast from discriminating against particular web sites or types of traffic. Both the House and Senate voted to extend the Andean trade promotion program for 10 months. Meanwhile over the weekend, state governors entreated Congress to end new Medicaid regulations that would shift billions onto already struggling state budgets (fully 21 states face budget shortfalls in 2009).
On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill to reauthorize Bush’s global AIDS program, boosting Bush’s original $30 billion funding request to $50 billion and eliminating the requirement that one-third of funding promote abstinence education. The White House reacted less than enthusiastically: “We don’t think it’s smart to send additional American taxpayer dollars that will sit there and not be used, or used ineffectively,” said Dana Perino.
And as the Republican Study Committee urged more business tax cuts, at a Thursday press conference, President Bush exhorted Congress to make his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent. The President also rebuffed the notion that the U.S. was experiencing a recession: ”We’ll make it through this period just like we made it through other periods of uncertainty during my presidency,” he said.