In the House….On Thursday, members approved a housing package that would expand Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgage guarantees by $300 billion, as well as offer first-time home buyers a $7,500 tax credit. CBO reports the proposal would cost $2.7 billion and assist 500,000 homeowners. Members also backed a $15-billion program to assist with the state purchase of foreclosed homes; only the tax-credit proposal has the votes to override Bush’s threatened vetos.
This week, House leadership planned to attach Sen. Webb’s GI bill to the pending war supplemental, but Blue Dogs — arguing it would violate “pay-go” — scuttled the deal, and the scheduled vote was pulled. Apart from veterans’ benefits, a $15.6 billion extension of unemployment benefits was the second-biggest domestic item that had been slated for inclusion. Bush has maintained any such spending will trigger his veto.Also this week, in attempt to fix one of the U.S. terror blacklist’s more conspicuous oversights, members voted to eliminate Nelson Mandela’s name from the rolls. The House further adopted a proposal to begin manufacturing cheaper copper-plated steel pennies and steel nickels, a move expected to save $100 million a year.
In the Senate…Attempts to fund and overhaul the U.S. aviation system thudded to a halt over procedural squabbles and GOP opposition to non-aviation provisions in the bill, including an amendment that would have granted New York the $1.7 billion remainder of Bush’s pledged September 11th recovery aid. Also this week, despite appeals by senators from Louisiana and Mississippi, lawmakers voted 73-19 against adding wind coverage to the federal program that provides flood insurance. While post-Katrina, private insurer managed to dodge claims by arguing damages resulted from flooding and not wind, the GAO raised sharp concerns about the proposal’s fiscal impact. Senate members also passed a resolution demanding that the Burmese junta lift restrictions on foreign aid.
After months of frustrated anticipation, House and Senate negotiators delivered a $300-billion, disappointing deal on the farm bill. The current bill’s incarnation still permits couples with joint incomes of up to $2.5 million to qualify for subsidies. Meanwhile, despite spiraling food prices, negotiators spurned Bush’s appeal to allow 25% of U.S. food aid to go towards the purchase of local food supplies. (Currently, aid must be purchased primarily from U.S. producers and shipped overseas–creating overhead costs that absorb 65% of food-aid expenditures.) It remains unclear if Bush plans to exercise his threatened veto.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats unveiled a plan to revoke $17 billion in oil company tax breaks and impose a 25% windfall profits tax on firms that don’t invest in new energy. Responding to Rep. Conyers’ subpoena threats, Yoo and Ashcroft agreed to testify before the House at a future hearing, and Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who refused, was formally subpoenaed. The White House pulled David Mason’s FEC nomination, seemingly in retaliation for his earlier recommendation against allowing McCain to withdraw from the public funding system. The GOP continues its refusal to give up Hans von Spakovsky, and nominations remain deadlocked.