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This Week in Congress

March 5, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(The below post is from our friend Avelino Maestas at Congresspedia, the publicly-editable source for congressional information.)

The House and Senate will begin laying the groundwork for the 2009 federal budget this week, with proposals coming from the Senate Finance Committee and from the House and Senate budget and appropriations committees. Also this week, a compromise might be reached on electronic surveillance, with some saying a bill could head to the President by the end of next week.

The budget proposals — to be unveiled on Wednesday — are produced with two separate frameworks: each resolution is non-binding, but includes policy priorities in “reserve funds” and “reconciliation” instructions. Reconciliation instructions are provided to authorizing committees, which then produce a set dollar amount to fund policy priorities based on spending and taxation. The reserve funds, on the other hand, must follow “paygo” rules, and be offset by revenue increases or spending cuts.

Bush Administration officials have already threatened a veto for any budget proposals that exceeds the president’ spending goals.

The FISA reform debate continues unabated: House and Senate Democrats are meeting this week to discuss ways of reaching a deal on the RESTORE Act (congresspedia page here), a permanent electronic surveillance reform. A House bill — approved last year — includes additional oversight of the nation’s intelligence gathering apparatus. The Senate version provides for legal immunity for phone companies that helped the government listen in on Americans without a warrant, a possible violation of American civil rights over which dozens of lawsuits have already been filed. Meetings to reconcile the two bills will continue on Wednesday.

Partisan debate continues in the Senate over legislation to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A comprehensive bill is advancing, though Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is expected to try to substitute the watered-down House version after cloture is invoked. That would strip whistle-blower protections and modify the the role states’ attorneys general could play.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) has offered some refinements to his proposal for an independent House ethics watchdog. A vote on an earlier draft was postponed last week over objections from Democrats and Republicans. One change would require at least one member from each party to initiate an ethics review, while a third member would have to sign on before a review could proceed to a second level.

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