Yet another very busy week on the Hill. Greg Kaufmann has the goods:
The House delayed its vote on the DC Voting Rights Bill due to the Senate's draconian gun amendment. Advocates are still hopeful a less extreme alternative can be agreed to in the House-version so that 600,000 DC residents will finally get a little voting representation to go along with their taxation.
In brighter news, the House passed Rep. John Conyers' "Helping Families Save Their Homes Act". The legislation allows bankruptcy judges to reduce the principal on mortgages. According to CongressDaily, Sen. Richard Durbin hopes to bring the bill to the floor before the April recess.
The Obama Administration also began implementation of its $75 billion anti-foreclosure plan. While the plan will help an estimated 4 million borrowers reduce monthly payments through lower rates, it doesn't include as strong a provision for principal reduction as the Conyers legislation so we need the Senate to move on the bill and not water it down.
The Senate took up the $410 billion omnibus spending bill for FY09 this week. The government has been operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- spending at FY08 levels -- since Congress declared enough with the Bush budgets and took a pass on his last one. A vote was expected this week but the Senate hasn't been able to get the 60 votes needed for cloture, so they have been busy defeating GOP amendments like Sen. McCain's "don't increase any spending amendment" and Sen. Murkowski's "keep Bush's last gasp rule to limit protection of polar bears amendment." They now need a new CR since this one expires at midnight tonight and voting on the omnibus isn't expected until Monday or Tuesday.
The Obama Administration held its Health Care Summit with key players across the spectrum. The President seemed to be extending his trademark olive branch to the GOP when he said, "If people think we can simply take everybody who is not insured and load them up in a system where costs are out of control ... we will run out of money…. I'm talking to you liberal bleeding hearts out there. Don't think we can solve this problem without tackling costs. And that may make some in the progressive community uncomfortable. But it's got to be dealt with." I'm wondering which progressives he's spoken with who don't know cost containment is key to universal access to healthcare? One big highlight of the summit: Sen. Ted Kennedy was there, getting back to work.
Both Kennedy -- who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus said they intend to produce a single comprehensive healthcare bill. Baucus hopes the bill will be on the floor in July. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wants a bill by August.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and OMB Director Peter Orszag were on the Hill talking budget and taxes with congressional committees. Orszag defended against GOP charges that the Administration's recovery projections are too optimistic while Geithner was open to Baucus' concerns about limiting deductions for the wealthy. (No surprise there since Geithner viewed taxes as optional in his previous life.) On Tuesday Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had the unenviable task of testifying about another cool $30 billion being doled out to AIG. Sen. Bernie Sanders also pressed Bernanke to reveal which banks received $2.2 trillion in taxpayer money from the Fed. Bernanke refused, and Sanders has now introduced legislation to compel disclosure.
Defense contract reform was huge this week -- with President Obama, and the Senate and House Armed Services Committee all taking it on. This is no small matter, since the GAO has found cost overruns of at least $300 billion for the top 75 weapons systems in 2008. But some of the leaders for reform here -- like Sen. Carl Levin -- are the same characters who will fight against sensible cuts to Cold War weaponry.
In other news… Sen. Pat Leahy held a hearing on his proposal for a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the Bush-Cheney Constitutional assault.... Rep. Rush Holt introduced legislation to establish a 9/11-style commission to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks and government response… a FEMA Deputy Administrator revealed that Republican governors Haley Barbour and Bobby Jindal have failed to spend half the funds allocated for clean up, bridges, roads, schools…. Rep. John Tierney held a hearing this week and posed the question of whether it's in our national security interest to send more troops to Afghanistan to prevent a safe haven for Al Qaeda when it already has one in Pakistan and could easily establish them in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Algiers, etc.?
Today in Columbus, Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Pres. Obama attended the graduation ceremony for 26 police academy cadets who had been laid off during their training and then rehired with the passage of the Recovery Act.