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This Week in Congress

March 31, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(Cross-posted from Congresspedia, The citizen’s encyclopedia on Congress.)

Senators and representatives return to work today following a two-week recess to once again find the struggling economy dictating their schedules. The mortgage crisis is continuing, and home foreclosures are on the rise. In addition, cities across the country are bracing for an oversupply of housing units as construction of new homes and condos—began while the housing bubble was at its peak—is completed. Meanwhile, taxpayers are waiting for rebate checks that were part of a stimulus package (on OpenCongress) approved last month.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to vote on a second stimulus package meant to relieve pressure on the housing market and on homeowners. Under the Senate measure, municipalities would share $4 billion in grants for the restoration of foreclosed homes. The bill would also provide $200 million for loan counselors, and would amend bankruptcy law to allow judges to modify mortgages for individuals on the verge of bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy provision is a bitter pill for the banking industry, which has lobbied for its removal from the legislation. In addition, Senate Republicans are striving to insert their own amendments: a limit on plaintiff attorneys’ fees and an extension of President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts.

While there’s plenty to get done on the economic front, Congress will also take up legislation regarding the Iraq war in April. House leaders are drafting an “emergency” supplemental spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, since Pentagon officials have refused to include the wars in their normal budget requests. Democrats are saddling the legislation with a slew of domestic priorities, hoping to force tough votes for GOP members.

In other Iraq news, General David Patraeus will testify before several Congressional committees next week. Patraeus is expected to give a progress report on the situation in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is also scheduled to give testimony.

President Bush has also weighed in on the Congressional calendar, asking Congress to take action on a number of his priorities. Bush, who departed for a NATO summit in Europe today, said the legislative branch should adopt a reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, approve a free trade agreement with Colombia, and change the Federal Housing Authority to help more homeowners.

The FISA reform bill, the RESTORE Act, is something we’ve mentioned quite often in the past. While checking on the differences between the House and Senate version, I came across this great RESTORE Act summary over at Think Progress—it basically describes the House version of the bill.

Aside from the question of immunity for telephone companies (who helped the Bush administration eavesdrop on Americans’ phone conversations without a warrant), the House would place greater oversight on the nation’s electronic surveillance activities and require that agencies obtain warrants prior to conducting surveillance (though the requirement could be obtained after-the-fact in an emergency).

Congressional Democrats will likely stall progress on a Colombian trade pact until President Bush agrees to move forward on Trade Adjustment Assistance for displaced workers.

Nighttime pic of cherry blossoms and Capitol building by aakaak, used under a Creative Commons license.

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