Greg Kaufmann gives a run-down of a busy upcoming week on Capitol Hill:
The Rest of the Week
The House and Senate negotiated a final budget resolution Monday night and will vote on it this week. It includes “reconciliation instructions” which would allow healthcare and education legislation to pass the Senate with a simple majority rather than the filibuster-proof 60 votes. It should be fun to watch the histrionics of Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as he does a 180 from his days in the Majority and claims that reconciliation will basically bring down the Republic. (Jon Stewart had a blast with this earlier this month — worth checking out at the 05:05 mark.)
President Obama’s $83 billion war supplemental will also be taken up in Senate Appropriations when Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates testify on Thursday. The bill includes nearly $76 billion for the military and approximately $7 billion for diplomatic efforts and foreign aid.
The supplemental is sure to be a topic that comes up when the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and its 77 members meet with President Obama today — many members oppose the escalation. Another focus likely will be on the Caucus’ determination to only support a healthcare reform bill that includes a public plan option (like Medicare). CPC Co-Chairs — Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Lynn Woolsey — recently wrote a letter to Obama outlining that commitment along with the chairs of the Black, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific American Caucuses.
In other CPC news… the fourth forum in a six-part series on Af-Pak policy will be held this morning at 10:00. It’s good to see the Caucus ahead of the curve in its commitment to hearings and exploring alternatives.
On credit card reform, the House will take up a bill that — like the Dodd bill in the Senate — seems largely designed to allow legislators to tell constituents they took action while avoiding real reform that takes on the banks. I think Senator Bernie Sanders has it exactly right as he continues to fight for an interest rate cap of 15 percent — the same limit that has applied to credit unions for decades. Last week Sanders asked people to write him about their dealings with the credit card companies — he’s posting some responses online and will read others on the Senate floor. He’s received over 1,000 emails and wants more from people all over the country. Fellow-Vermonter and CPC member — Rep. Peter Welch — along with CPC members John Tierney and Maurice Hinchey will introduce an amendment to the House bill to cap rates at 18 percent.
Senator Dick Durbin continues this week to try to win over banks and credit card unions in order to allow bankruptcy judges to modify the principals of mortgages. The longer this goes on, the more infuriating it is that loan modifications are done on a voluntary basis by banks. (Even though modifications are better for both homeowners and the banks than foreclosure.)
Speaking of banks sucking… Sen. Chuck Schumer is holding his first hearing on immigration reform this Thursday. The star witness? Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. According to CongressDaily Greenspan will “assess the economic impact of [immigration] legislation.” In his opening statement Schumer should explain why the American people should trust Greenspan to assess the economic impact of anything.
Other notable happenings on the Hill…. Pakistan-Afghanistan envoy Richard Holbrooke will testify about the Administration’s Pakistan strategy before the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The House Armed Services Committee will also hear from Administration officials on Wednesday regarding counterinsurgency efforts with Pakistan. The House (Select) Intelligence Committee will receive a closed briefing on Afghanistan the next day.
Workplace safety gets a fresh start after eight years in the wilderness. The Senate HELP Committee looks at incentives for workplace safety, and the House Education and Labor Committee holds two hearings — on OSHA penalties as deterrents to safety violations and improving OSHA enforcement.
Wednesday there is a Senate Judiciary hearing on “Restoring Fairness to Federal Sentencing: Addressing the Crack-Powder Disparity“. It’s great to see this still on the radar — but haven’t there been a ton of hearings on this? It’s disappointing that this isn’t a markup of an actual bill that takes corrective action. On the other hand, the same committee will markup the “State Secrets Protection Act” and “Improving Assistance to Domestic and Sexual Violence Victims Act“.
Finally, a hearing on the VA Meeting Veterans’ Mental Health Needs… The House Financial Services Committee will once again markup a Predatory Lending Bill (it did so last session as well but the Senate failed to act)…. Representatives of 16 nations responsible for 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions gather in DC to try to get a jump on curbing climate change…. On Wednesday, President Obama will hold a prime time news conference marking his 100th day in office.
Of course both the House and Senate will hold hearings on the federal response to the Swine Flu, surgical masks optional.