In the House…This week, a global AIDS bill authorizing $50 billion over five years secured passage by a 308-116 vote. The White House endorsed the legislation (somewhat tepidly, given how it authorizes $20 billion more than the President requested); the bill now moves to the Senate. Less than three weeks after the Senate rejected a similar ban by a 71-29 vote, on Wednesday, an effort to force consideration of an earmark moratorium failed. And in a rather embarrassing development for the GOP–which aggressively pushed the election-season measure–out of a tally of Congressional earmarkers subsequently released, Republicans topped the list. In other moves, the House also voted to speed up the visa approval process for foreign artists and entertainers and reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration.
In the Senate…On Tuesday, Sens. Reid and McConnell jointly promised across-the-aisle cooperation to address the housing crisis’s “core issues” and help families avoid foreclosure. Yet the plan–announced Wednesday–abandons the Dems-backed provision that would allow bankruptcy judges to restructure mortgages (killed yesterday by a 58-36 vote) and cuts in half proposed foreclosure counseling funding. Fully 40% of the bill’s costs go toward business tax breaks to help homebuilders–who, as one workers’ union noted, “helped cause the mess by pushing subprime loans through their mortgage subsidiaries.” According to the Joint Tax Committee, the bill offers $25 billion in tax cuts to banks and home builders, but just $3 billion in tax relief for homeowners. (Threatening to withhold campaign contributions–as the National Association of Homebuilders did this February–ain’t classy, but evidently it works.)
Meanwhile this week, scandal-dogged Bush crony Alphonso Jackson–one of the key players entrusted to handle the housing crisis–announced his resignation as HUD secretary. On Monday, Treasury Secretary Paulson unveiled sweeping changes in the regulatory schema that oversees America’s financiers, including a near-freeze on new regulations. The House Commerce Committee overwhelmingly approved a bill (backed by 220 House members and 55 Senators) to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco.
In hearings this week, lawmakers pushed oil executives to explain why they should continue receiving billions in tax breaks in a time of record gas prices and corporate profits. Bernanke made an appearance to emphasize that weakness in housing remains the greatest pall over the economy and defend the Feds’ Bear Stearns bail-out, which he declined to classify as such. Yesterday, FAA inspectors testified that the agency had not only allowed uninspected planes to fly, but had threatened workers who complained about oversights.
On Tuesday, the State Department suspended exports of arms dealer AEY Inc., who was awarded a $298-million contract last January and has since been caught supplying troops with aged Chinese munitions–some up to 40 years old. Still to be addressed: why a 22-year-old with a criminal record was entrusted with millions in taxpayer money, anyway. Also this week, the White House’s extensive involvement in torture was made repugnantly clear in the release of this 2003 brief, as well as Vanity Fair’s latest issue.