Around the State
By Friday of this week, the Senate Majority leader hopes to conclude debate on the financial reform bill. This bill has been pending for more than 3 weeks and major legislation is getting backed-up due to the valuable floor time it is consuming. Passing financial reform out of the Senate this week will be a tough feat for the Senate Democrats, because more than 100 amendments remain to be considered.
Two very visible issues that will need some serious debate time are the responsibilities of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, and the future of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac.
The issue surrounding the Consumer Bureau is that it needs to be curbed and its reach into the public's finances shortened, in the eyes of many in the GOP. This idea gives many Senate Democrats problems. However, a few Democrats have similar reservations about the bureau, specifically whether state attorneys general would be allowed to enforce state rules or to pass tougher state consumer laws. This is sure to bring many hours of spirited debate to the Senate floor this week.
The second issue that could consume considerable debate time is an amendment being offered by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), which in a nutshell takes the government-sponsored enterprise (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gse.asp) status away from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac within 30 months. If they end up standing on their own as a private business, they would no longer be required to meet the previously legislated housing goals that contributed to the financial meltdown. Some banking industry pundits believe Congress can't have serious financial reform legislation without dealing with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. However, the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate would like to punt on the Fannie/Freddie issue and debate their status in a later bill to be scheduled next year. This political fight should also consume much of the valuable floor debate time this week.
The House side of our nation's Capitol is much quieter this week. When Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was pressed by GOP whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) on the floor this past week to discuss the upcoming floor schedule, he uttered lots of "mays and mights" when it came to bills coming up for consideration this week. The House "might consider the budget resolution" and the House "may get to the tax-extenders bill" this week, the leader was heard saying. The House definitely will consider the complete bill this week which is an authorization bill that sets funding levels for research and development at federal science agencies.
The problem with the House floor schedule is the inability of the leadership to schedule bills that contain tough political issues. They have been deluged with members of Congress asking them not to put them in positions where they will have to cast tough votes. This writer is guessing the primary defeat of three-term Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) this past weekend in Utah will add to this "gun shy" fever that has hit the U.S. House. Sen. Bennett lost his bid to be the GOP's candidate for the U.S. Senate for a 4th term in part because he supported and voted for the TARP legislation. This feeling and need to be insulated from hard votes will only get worse given the suspected upsets predicted in some of the primaries that will take place in a little over a week in PA, WVA, AR, NE, OR and KY.
While the House Democratic leadership struggles to get bills through that chamber, the struggle will intensify and bleed over to the U.S. Senate as more upsets occur and the people's voice of disapproval toward the current Congress begins to be heard louder and louder in the halls of Congress.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of GradeGov.com.