In the Senate…On Thursday, members passed the Foreclosure Prevention Act by an 84-12 vote, though the bill — as Sen. Dodd gently put it — “does not quite live up to the title.” The bill faces considerable criticism (its funding goes principally toward $25.5 billion in business tax relief) and is expected to undergo substantial House revisions. The Senate also voted to back extension of wilderness protection and heritage areas, and additionally end the Abramoff-backed “guest worker” program in the Northern Mariana Islands.
In the House…Following the White House’s decision to send the Colombia free-trade agreement to Congress (triggering a 90-day timeline for consideration), members countered Bush’s move with a vote to eliminate the timetable altogether. In light of White House resistance to extending greater food stamp, unemployment and housing assistance, Pelosi declared the House was “pleased” to consider the agreement, but couldn’t without first addressing the “economic insecurity of America’s working families.” The House also voted to expand traumatic brain injury research and recognize the National Landscape Conservation System.
In high-profile hearings, flanked by the presidential candidates’ accompanying press phalanx, Petraeus declared progress in Iraq “fragile and reversible” and recommended against consideration of any new troop withdrawals before fall. On Thursday, Bush responded by declaring Petraeus will have “all the time” he needs to evaluate further decreases. In a volte-face from last year, Gates testified there was no possibility that the number of Iraq-based troops could drop to 100,000 by the start of 2009. Meanwhile, Dems pressed Crocker and Petraeus for a clearer definition of success in Iraq and highlighted the war’s economic and military strains, while Admiral Mullen described the distressed state of Afghanistan and argued troop commitments in Iraq continue to hamstring efforts in the region.
On Thursday, in an attempt to preempt Democratic plans to use this year’s must-pass war spending bill to fund emergency social spending, Bush vowed to veto any bill that exceeds his $108-billion request. In his war speech that same day, he called for reducing troop deployments from 15 to 12 months (though the policy change doesn’t affect troops currently stationed in Iraq).
Amid the focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, this week the revised GI Bill sponsored by Sen. Webb (D-Va.) gained new backers, bringing the total number of sponsors up to 54, including 10 Republicans. Neither McCain or the White House have endorsed the legislation. (The latter cites cost issues and fear that better education benefits might drive more troops to leave the service early.)
Also this week, the latest woman to come forward with KBR-related allegations of rape testified before Congress. Both chambers passed resolutions condemning Chinese crackdowns in Tibet. Rep. Conyers (D-MI.) threatened to subpoena John Yoo to appear before Congress this May. House lawyers filed a motion for summary judgement against Miers and Bolten (both who continue to dodge House subpoenas), while Attorney General Mukasey refused to declare whether a 2001 memo–which argued the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to domestic military operations–remains in force.