One Last Round With President BushNovember 5, 2008 - by Donny Shaw
The country may have already picked a new President, but Congress is still going to have to deal with George Bush if they are going to pass a new economic stimulus package before January. House Democrats have tentatively scheduled Congress to return for a special lame-duck session the week of November 16th to try and pass a $100 billion stimulus package and get it signed into law by President Bush. But striking a deal with Bush in the lame duck session is going to be difficult.
According to CongressDaily ($), House Democrats are planning to include “federal matching funds for state Medicaid programs, an extension of unemployment benefits, expanded food stamp spending and money for infrastructure projects” in their new economic stimulus package. That’s a package that Democrats can probably pass in the House, but might not be able to pass in the Senate, where, despite their success in the elections this week, they will still only have a 51-49 majority in the lame-duck session. Since the Republican minority in the Senate can require 60 votes for the stimulus package to pass, they’ll probably demand that the stimulus package is stripped down to just an unemployment insurance extension and food stamp expansion.
Even if Congress passes a stripped-down economic stimulus package, the Bush Administration has indicated that they would prefer to leave the Wall Street bailout as their last and final legislative accomplishment. “We believe the appropriate stimulus right now is the $700 billion stimulus that comes in the form of the TARP [”troubled asset relief program"]. That’s a huge amount of money, and we believe that it’s targeted at exactly the right thing," said, Eddie Lazear, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for the President, at a press conference last week. “The approach that we’re taking is, deal with the cause, don’t deal with the symptoms,” he added.
One of the primary “symptoms” of the slumping economy is, of course, a steady increase in the number of unemployed Americans. The Department of Labor’s unemployment report for October is due out on Friday, and it’s expected to show that 200,000 jobs were lost during the month and that the unemployment rate grew from 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent. And the numbers have been going this direction for quite a while at this point, so the amount long-term unemployed who have been unable to find work before exhausting their insurance benefits is also growing.
If you’re a frequent visitor to OpenCongress, you’ve probably noticed that several of the most-viewed bills on the site have to do with dealing unemployment insurance benefits. One of them in particular, H.R. 6867, has nearly 15,000 user comments from unemployed Americans who are pushing Congress to extend unemployment benefits. Traffic to that bill page is coming overwhelmingly from Google – people doing web searches for phrases like “unemployment extension” and “is there any chance of getting an extension of unemployment benefits.” The result is a strong and informed grass-roots community working together on OpenCongress to lobby Congress and the Bush administration on this issue. Their efforts, along with other groups pushing for an unemployment benefit extension, could help refocus the administration’s attention on the “symptoms.”