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This Week in Congress

July 7, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(Cross-posted from Congresspedia, the citizens’ encyclopedia on Congress.)

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will take up the main bill containing Congress’ response to the housing and mortgage crisis (CP). The central provision of the package is a massive program to offer a federal guarantee to banks on mortgages if the lender agrees to reduce the outstanding principal on the mortgage to 85% of the current value of the house and reduce high, variable interest rates to a lower fixed rate. A version of the bill has passed the House but just before Congress adjourned for the 4th of July recess, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) derailed a final vote by demanding a vote on an amendment of his containing renewable energy tax changes. Once the bill passes the Senate, however, it still faces a veto threat for President Bush, who has objected to the price of a $4 billion grant program contained in the bill for local governments to buy, fix up and sell abandoned homes.

Reid is also likely to bring up for a second vote the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (CP), which reverses a 10.6% cut in payments to doctors for Medicare services that went into effect on July 1. Supporters of the bill say the cuts will cause more doctors to stop participating in Medicare while detractors cite the cost of the bill or say more comprehensive changes to Medicare need to be made. The bill has passed the House with a veto-proof margin and was only stopped in the Senate by a single vote vote before Congress broke for recess. (See how your senators and representative voted here.)

Finally, the controversial bill to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (CP) may also be brought up for a vote. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has caused a ruckus among many of his supporters by indicating that he will vote for a final bill even if it contains a provision to give retroactive immunity from lawsuits (and possibly criminal prosecutions) to the major telecom companies that broke federal privacy laws by turning over phone records without court authorization when cooperating with President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program. He had previously stated that if the bill contained the provision he would support a filibuster, which is exactly what Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have announced they will do.

While the Senate plays catch-up on bills passed by the House, the lower chamber is largely concerned with more mudane business this week; the one exception being a bill to require the White House to preserve emails.

For a full list of this week’s committee hearings, see the original post on Congresspedia.

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