Congress comes back to D.C. today after a weeklong break designed to allowlawmakers to celebrate Memorial Day in their home states and districts.
While dozens and dozens of members of Congress fled the country on congressional fact-finding trips, known as CODELS (Congressional Delegations), the majority returned to spend at least a little time with the folkswho actually hired them to do their jobs.
This writer contacted several members of Congress who held town hall meetings and speaking tours with their constituents during this recess and to no ones surprise, the American public is still angry. They expressed to their representatives outrage over the irresponsible spending, disgust about the over- reaching by our government and the general lack of consideration for the ideals and constitutional principles that most Americans still hold dear.
This new-found knowledge on the part of members of Congress will make the summer in D.C. seem twice as long as it normally seems, and hotter than usual due to the inaction and consternation the Democratic leaders will feel from their members. Add to this a mounting list of unfinished business, from expiring legislation, reauthorizing bills and new regulations and programs like cap and trade and immigration reform,and it is easy to see why summer cant end soon enough for the Democratic leaders in Congress.
The first week back, the Senate is faced with trying to pass a bill from the House designed to extendmore than50 expiring tax provisions, including extending unemployment benefits through November and further extending the postponement of a cut in doctors reimbursement payments. On June 1, while Congress was on recess, the federal unemployment benefits ran out and the cut to doctors went into effect.
Passing this tax extension bill wont be easy on the Senate Democratic leadership and promises to be explosive. The price of this bill comes in at approximately $115 billionwith about 45 percent of it being paid for by taxing hedge fund managers. Republicans in the Senate will offer amendments to pay the full tab for the tax extension bill by taking the money from the unspent stimulus program. The Democrats will want to add other tax provisions and programs, including increasing the COBRA health benefits available for the unemployed and more than likely will not offer a way to pay for the new programs. This is the monumental divide that continues to split the Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
The Senate will pause its business on Thursday for an entire day to consider a privileged resolution by Sen. Murkowski, R-Ark.that is designed to disapprove the Obama administrations EPA Rule from December 2009. This is the environmental rule whereby that agency will begin some requirements to implement a cap and trade program. The rule requires reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from large sources and suppliers in the United States. It is intended to collect accurate and timely emissions data to inform future policy decisions.
Under the rule, suppliers of fossil fuels or industrial greenhouse gases, manufacturers of vehicles and engines, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of greenhouses gases are required to submit annual reports to the EPA. This will be the first and possibly only vote on the controversial cap and trade issue in the Senate before the November elections. Consequently, all major environmental groups will be watching and hoping for a strong vote against the disapproval resolution. On the other side of the argument are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Both joined together and filed lawsuits on June 1against the EPA, challenging the schedule by which EPA plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, they will be rooting for a strong, positive vote to pass the resolution disapproving the EPA rule.
In the House of Representatives, they will likely begin consideration of the war supplemental appropriations bill that passed the Senate just before they adjourned for the Memorial Day recess. This bill has a price tag of $60 billionand none of these funds are offset. There will be efforts and strong rhetoric by the House Republicans to try to pay the price tag the bill carries, while the Democrats will maintain the spending is necessary and therefore doesnt need to be offset.
Can we spend our way out of the recession or should we conserve and cut programs as a way out of this recession? That is the fundamental debate that will dominate summer in D.C. and more than likely make it longer and hotter than usual.
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.(Link: http://www.gradegov.com).