In the House….Former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere once asked, “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” Two decades later, given Africa’s crushing $260-billion debt, the answer is still yes–but with this week’s House passage of the Jubilee Act, Congress has moved closer to lessening the burden for 25 heavily indebted countries. The bill passed by a bipartisan 285-132 vote, with the top House Finance Committee Republican calling debt relief “dollar-for-dollar the most effective” national security program. The Senate hears the bill next week.
On Tax Day, the House passed HR5719, a bill that aims to simplify tax filing, stop federal contractors from using foreign subisidaries to evade employment taxes, encourage more use of the EITC and halt IRS use of private debt collectors. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, because–well, for some bizarrely defended reason, it wants to keep using private colletors that cost $37 million more than they generate. Also this week, responding to concern about tightening credit markets, the House voted to raise the limit on federal student loans (prompting outcry from advocates worried about student debt) and ease payment conditions for certain borrowers. Meanwhile, members rejected a measure to support states transitioning back to use of paper ballots with federal funds, citing fear of “excessive spending.”
In the Senate….While the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” garnered Rep. Young his greatest notoriety, this week, the Alaskan Congressman faced additional scrutiny as senators skirmished over how to investigate another $10-million earmark request inserted into the 2005 transportation bill after it was passed by both chambers–likely by Young, at the behest of a contributor. After substantial debate (made especially difficult because the earmark’s likely instigator is a House member), the Senate requested a DOJ probe of the matter, marking possibly the first time Congress has requested any such formal earmark investigation. The Senate also passed a one-week farm bill extension and approved technical corrections to the surface transportation program.
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee passed legislation to extend jobless benefits by 13 weeks. (The CBO estimates about 3.5 million Americans will run out of benefits before finding another job this year.) As the House considers housing legislation, Rep. Frank‘s proposal to expand FHA-backed mortgages is moving forward, but the Massachusetts Congressman announced that allowing bankruptcy judges to restructure strapped borrower’s mortgages is now off the table.
This week, the tussle over the Bush administration’s additional $108-billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan continued, with the White House budget director assailing Democrat attempts to add domestic spending to the emergency supplemental as “holding hostage” troop support. Meanwhile, Rep. Conyers requested Karl Rove testify about the political prosecution of former Demoratic Governor Don Siegelman of Alabama. In a Rose Garden speech, President Bush called for a halt in the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, but offered no specifics on how to do so. (The White House opposes the Warner-Lieberman “cap-and-trade” bill scheduled for June debate.)