This Week in CongressJuly 14, 2008 - by Donny Shaw
(Cross-posted from Congresspedia, the citizens’ encyclopedia on Congress).
Congress this week may send a housing relief package (CP) to President Bush for his signature. The other major action in the House and Senate will be on energy-related measures, as both Republicans and Democrats propose fixes for high energy prices. There is also a primary election in Georgia this week, as we prepare for the fall election season.
Federal officials announced early this morning that the government would take steps to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-founded companies that finance about half of the home loans issued in the United States. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the companies would be allowed to borrow money from the Federal Reserve, and the government might invest directly in the privately-held firms if their situation worsens. The steps are unprecedented, but officials have said the companies’ failure would cause further damage to America’s housing market and the overall economy.
Increased oversight of the firms is a central idea in the housing package (CP) approved by the Senate last week. Under the measure, a new full-time regulator would be appointed to oversee government-sponsored enterprises, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In addition, the Senate legislation would prevent the firms from repackaging certain mortgages and selling them as securities, though House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) wants to remove that provision.
The bill, which is designed to help banks and homeowners impacted by a worsening credit market, has broad support for its major provisions. It would reform the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage insurance program, and provide $300 billion in insurance to allow some homeowners on the brink of foreclosure to refinance their mortgages. Still, differences remain: when the House takes up the measure this week, some “blue dog” Democratic representatives will likely try to find funding offsets – spending cuts or tax raises – for the $3.9 billion the bill grants to local communities to purchase, refurbish and sell foreclosed homes.
On the energy front, it is a return to partisan politics this week, as each chamber considers measures designed to reduce prices. Republicans in the Senate are introducing a bill that would allow states to decide whether drilling offshore should be permitted 50 miles from their coasts. Their Democratic colleagues want instead to encourage development in areas that are already open for drilling. The Democrats’ legislation would require the Bureau of Land Management to offer production leases every year — twice as often as happens now — in Alaska’s 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve. Democrats in the House are proposing a ban on exporting oil produced in Alaska.
Georgia will hold its congressional primary tomorrow, the first since Utah voters went to the polls almost a month ago. Between now and September 20, twenty-two states will hold nominating contests for congressional seats. Congresspedia’s citizen-journalists are on the case, fact-checking information on races and updating biographies and policy positions for hundreds of candidates. This is all part of our Wiki the Vote project, and we need your help too: if you know something about the candidates in your state, please add that information to their profile. You can always contact one of the staff editors for help.
For a full list of this week’s committee hearings, see the original post on Congresspedia.