Congress is back from recess today and so is Capitolism. Greg Kaufmann previews what’s on tap:
Recess is over, some big fights ahead — like the budget, healthcare, and energy policy — and we’ll see some of that playing out this week.
For starters, there’s the FY10 budget. The House passed its version, so did the Senate, and now negotiations for the final bill begin. Expect to hear continued talk about whether to include “reconciliation instructions” which would allow the Senate to pass the bill with a simple majority, instead of needing 60 votes. Another issue will be whether to include an absurd Senate amendment to cut the estate tax for the wealthiest Americans.
One of the biggest disappointments of Senate budget debate was the approval — by a vote of 67-31 — of a Republican amendment to prevent reconciliation from being used for a cap-and-trade bill. Good luck finding 60 votes to pass any proposal with teeth. In the House, Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey will give it their best shot, and we’ll hear some of their ideas this week as the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds four days of hearings on Waxman and Markey’s draft of energy/climate legislation — the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
In the Senate, Democratic leaders continue to try to negotiate with banks in order to pass a bill allowing bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages — including principal reduction. The Senate will also take up anti-fraud legislation on the floor today. Among other things, the Leahy-Grassley bill increases the number of FBI agents working on mortgage fraud, and funds fraud prosecutors for the FBI and DOJ.
The House Financial Services Committee will also be looking at mortgage fraud — legislation addressing predatory lending — CongressDaily reports that it’s tougher than legislation passed in the last Congress… which is a good thing, since federal prosecution of predatory lending seems next to nil.
Speaking of lending, the banks still aren’t doing it. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that “the biggest recipients of taxpayer aid made or refinanced 23% less in new loans in February, the latest available data, than in October.” Should make for an interesting TARP report from Secretary Geithner to the Oversight panel on Tuesday. (Just last month Dr. James Galbraith testified at Sen. Sherrod Brown’s hearing — Lessons from the New Deal — that “a first lesson of the Depression is that stuffing banks with money does not solve a credit freeze.”) Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Simon Johnson will probably offer some good alternative approaches on Tuesday at a Joint Economic Committee hearing: “Too Big to Fail or Too Big to Save?“