Congress is back from recess today and so is Capitolism. Greg Kaufmann previews what's on tap:
Recess is over, some big fights ahead -- like the budget, healthcare, and energy policy -- and we'll see some of that playing out this week.
For starters, there's the FY10 budget. The House passed its version, so did the Senate, and now negotiations for the final bill begin. Expect to hear continued talk about whether to include "reconciliation instructions" which would allow the Senate to pass the bill with a simple majority, instead of needing 60 votes. Another issue will be whether to include an absurd Senate amendment to cut the estate tax for the wealthiest Americans.
One of the biggest disappointments of Senate budget debate was the approval -- by a vote of 67-31 -- of a Republican amendment to prevent reconciliation from being used for a cap-and-trade bill. Good luck finding 60 votes to pass any proposal with teeth. In the House, Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey will give it their best shot, and we'll hear some of their ideas this week as the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds four days of hearings on Waxman and Markey's draft of energy/climate legislation -- the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
In the Senate, Democratic leaders continue to try to negotiate with banks in order to pass a bill allowing bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages -- including principal reduction. The Senate will also take up anti-fraud legislation on the floor today. Among other things, the Leahy-Grassley bill increases the number of FBI agents working on mortgage fraud, and funds fraud prosecutors for the FBI and DOJ.
The House Financial Services Committee will also be looking at mortgage fraud -- legislation addressing predatory lending -- CongressDaily reports that it's tougher than legislation passed in the last Congress… which is a good thing, since federal prosecution of predatory lending seems next to nil.
Speaking of lending, the banks still aren't doing it. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "the biggest recipients of taxpayer aid made or refinanced 23% less in new loans in February, the latest available data, than in October." Should make for an interesting TARP report from Secretary Geithner to the Oversight panel on Tuesday. (Just last month Dr. James Galbraith testified at Sen. Sherrod Brown's hearing -- Lessons from the New Deal -- that "a first lesson of the Depression is that stuffing banks with money does not solve a credit freeze.") Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Simon Johnson will probably offer some good alternative approaches on Tuesday at a Joint Economic Committee hearing: "Too Big to Fail or Too Big to Save?"
The nukes will be in town this week -- they seem to hang around just as long as the low-level waste they don't know what to do with. Thursday's Senate Finance Committee hearing is dubiously titled "Technology Neutrality in Energy Tax", and it looks like the Nukes will ask for new tax credits similar to the ones offered for clean energy in the Recovery Act.
Ways and Means will be looking into health insurance market reforms on Wednesday, including a public option for coverage. Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley will hold a "roundtable" on Reforming America's Health Care Delivery System. Aetna, Blue Cross, and the Pacific Business Group on Health will be at said round table, among others.
Some notable hearings this week: on Wednesday, Secretary Clinton testifies on the Administration's foreign policy priorities before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. General Petraeus will appear before House Appropriations on Friday, and I would think the Obama Administration's $83 billion war supplemental will be at least part of the discussion.
Tuesday the Congressional Progressive Caucus holds its third "forum on Afghanistan -- "…How is the President's military strategy increasing or decreasing security locally and regionally?" -- which should offer some good arguments both for and against escalation.
Also on Tuesday, former Clinton Attorney General-nominee, Zoe Baird, will be on the Hill for a hearing chaired by Senator Ben Cardin on "Protecting National Security and Civil Liberties: Strategies for Terrorism Information Sharing." (It's a busy week for Cardin, he will also chair a field hearing this morning on the health of the Chesapeake Bay -- the nation's largest estuary with a watershed that is home to more than 17 million people.)
Secretary Hilda Solis will testify tomorrow on "Green Skills Training for Workers", and in other labor news, Rep. Dennis Kucinich will chair a hearing this Thursday on enforcing the rights of guest workers.
Finally, hearings on a "Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights", "Newspaper Competition", and "Secrecy [after] Bayer's Fatal Chemical Plant Explosion" should all be interesting. And I think this has to be a first: a closed hearing for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on "Global Climate Change". Looks like the intelligence community is taking global warming seriously even if Republicans still aren't.