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Congress Returns from Recess, With Contentious Bills In Sight

February 25, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Members of Congress will face some tough legislating as they return today from a week-long President’s Day recess. On Thursday, the House of Representatives is scheduled to debate the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that has almost no support from Republicans but has enough support to pass on the Democratic sponsors’ votes alone. The Senate is where things could get really tense this week, as Senators address the largely bi-partisan 9/11 Commission bill under the shadow of dueling partisan resolutions on the war in Iraq.

This Week in the Senate

Senators from both parties want to pass Senate Bill 4 to implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. It was drafted in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, whose Chairman, Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Ranking Member, Susan Collins (R-ME), are both moderates in the Senate. While there are some issues in the bill that will be taken up in debate, the bill is designed to appeal to the majority of senator. But the real tension will come from an issue that will be looming over the debate: Iraq.

Both parties are openly threatening to propose their Iraq resolutions as amendments to this bill, which could potentially cause the bill itself not to pass. Senate Republicans are still waiting to put into play a resolution by Judd Gregg (R-NH) which states that Congress will not withhold funding for troop activities in Iraq. Senate Democrats, for their part, have a new Iraq resolution that calls for most of the U.S. troops in Iraq to be deployed out of Iraq by March 31, 2008.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to allow senators to offer amendments to this bill. The previous non-Iraq-related bill the Senate dealt with, the Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded, came to the floor with the amendment tree full. Filling the amendment tree is a procedural move that prevents amendments from being offered to a bill. Otherwise, since the beginning of February, the Iraq issue has come up in the Senate twice, and both times Republicans argued that the proceedings were conducted unfairly because they were not allowed to offer their own proposals to the debate. Reid, in a press release before the vote last Saturday, claimed otherwise: “Today, Democrats offered Republicans another chance for compromise, suggesting the Senate debate one resolution in favor of escalation and one resolution opposed to escalation. Once again, Senate Republicans refused.”

Both parties suspect that the Gregg proposal would get the 60 votes it would need to be approved. That is why Republicans so badly want it voted on and why Democrats so badly want it avoided. If it was presented and approved as an amendment to Senate Bill 4, Senate Democrats could then present their own Iraq proposal — and if that wasn’t approved, they could all cast a ‘nay’ vote on the bill and send the whole thing to the scrap yard.

This Week in the House of Representatives

The House will be in session only three days this week. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pledged that she would keep the House in session for five-day workweeks. So far in the 110th Congress, that has that has happened only once.

On Tuesday, the House will consider bills under suspension of the rules. Bills that have overwhelming support are often considered under suspension of the rules in order to save time and move along quickly to more complicated matters. To see a complete list of the bills that will be voted on under suspension, you can download the floor schedule from the Majority Leader’s website.

On Wednesday, the House will consider H.R.556, the National Security Foreign Investment Reform and Strengthened Transparency Act of 2007. The bill would reform the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in order to improve the committee’s effectiveness in assessing security issues with U.S. foreign investments.

Finally, on Thursday, the House will debate the controversial Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA. EFCA proposes changes to the rules under which workers’ unions may be formed, the way first contracts between unions and employers are negotiated, and how employees’ rights are enforced. Currently, unions are certified by a secret ballot election, where the majority of employees vote in favor of forming a union. EFCA would also allow unions to be certified once a majority of employees have signed union authorization cards. We’ll have more on this bill later in the week.

This Week in Committee Hearings

The most interesting hearing in Congress this week will likely be the one on Tuesday, when the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on President Bush’s request for $93.4 billion in supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supplemental funding is intended to cover expenses that were not able to be predicted, and thus were not included in the budget. Democrats have been critical of President Bush’s continual usage of supplemental funding requests for the wars, and now that they are in control of Congress, they will finally have a chance to question the Administration on this issue. They will also undoubtedly be asking questions about President Bush’s plan to increase the U.S. troop level in Iraq by 21,500. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Gen. Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will all be testifying, and you can watch a broadcast of the hearing, which starts at 2:30 EST, on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s website.

You can see a complete schedule of congressional hearings for the week here.

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