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Washington Week

May 20, 2010 - 6:00pm

The U.S. Senate spent a precious five weeks of floor time debating the financial reform bill and passed the bill Thursday night by a vote of 59 to 39 before leaving for the week. This bill now goes to a conference with the House to resolve the different versions. The Senate GOP tried to get the government-sponsored enterprise Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac to become an all-private company, thereby competing with other mortgage companies instead of being tied to Uncle Sam. This effort failed.

Efforts were made to try to break up mega-banks, but these too failed. Hedge funds now must come out of the shadows and report to the SEC if they are of a certain size. The bill creates a new government agency called the Consumer Protection Agency, but its reach into American pockets is not yet really known. There is so much to resolve between the House and the Senate, but the White House is considering the passage of this financial reform bill a huge win, second only to the health-care reform victory this past spring.

The U.S. House chamber finally passed the compete bill, which authorizes funds to be spent in various government agencies that deal primarily with science. The idea is for our government to push programs that help us compete around the world, especially in science. Before passage, the House GOP was able to get an issue attached to the bill that would ban money being given to any government agency where employees are caught surfing the web for porn. This idea was born out of the government report released recently that said staff members of the SEC were spending part of their work day looking at porn on the Internet. While this seems likes a no-brainer, the House democrats objected to the language and thus pulled the bill from final consideration the previous week.

Behind the scenes, House and Senate leaders are working to unclog all of the legislative items stuck in both chambers in part due to the recent upsets in the various primaries. The House and the Senate haven't passed a budget yet and probably won't this year. The houses also haven't begun any of the 12 appropriations bills that are required to fund all of our agencies that run the federal government, and they haven't passed the much-needed $58.6 billion war supplemental appropriations bill to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the bill that defense secretary Robert Gates has been calling on Congress to pass for months. The House and the Senate also haven't passed the tax provisions that expired last December, called "extenders." This "extenders" bill passed in the House in December 2009 and had a price tag of $31 billion. Now the House is considering it again, but the new price tag is almost $200 billion.

This legislative constipation in Congress has caused much of the normal, routine legislation to be stopped, because members of Congress fear they will be defeated in the upcoming November elections. The members of Congress don't want to cast politically tough votes so close to their election. However, these"must-pass money bills need attention by Congress before the upcoming Memorial Day recess. Stay tuned to see how much of our money will be spent in the coming week in the House and Senate.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of

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