Around the State
School's almost out for the summer … oops, I mean Congress. The House will recess at the end of this week for a six-week summer vacation. The Senate will follow suit at the end of next week.
However, before the school bells ring symbolizing the start of the August recess, much work remains in Congress.
Let’s start with the U.S. Senate. Senators will have a procedural vote on Tuesday on the "disclose" act. This is the bill that requires corporations, unions and nonprofits to disclose their top 5 donors if they wish to participate in political activity. It is a direct response to the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that allowed political spending by corporations. Most “Hill watchers” see the vote Tuesday as just an exercise to fulfill a promise made by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to the liberal base of the Democratic Party. This “check the box” vote is expected to fail and therefore not take up too much valuable Senate floor time.
Following the Tuesday vote, the Senate could resume a small-business lending bill, which the leader had to pause in order to get to the "disclose" act. The small-business lending bill has a price tag of about $30 billion, which is mostly paid-for by asking large corporations to pay their third quarter estimated taxes from 2015 right now. Weird, I know. Don’t try this at home; it only works in Washington, D.C.
Nevertheless, the Senate GOP has trouble with this small-business lending bill in part because of the Treasury Lending Fund contained in the bill. The fund has been characterized by some GOP senators as resembling TARP or as "baby TARP." Notwithstanding the major GOP opposition, Sen. George Lemieux, R-Florida, is a main cosponsor of the Lending Fund provision.
The Senate could also take up a newly crafted energy bill. This bill had all the promise to be a true “cap ‘n trade” bill until Sen. Reid announced last week that carbon taxes were too controversial for consideration before the August recess. Instead, he has created a much smaller energy bill that would deal with removing the liability of oil companies in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf, drilling regulations in the Outer Continental Shelf and the “cash for caulkers” bill that passed the House this past spring. Read a previous Washington Week column devoted to the House consideration of the bill back in May.
The legislation calls for a new two-year program within the Department of Energy that allows up to $3,000 in rebates to homeowners who make energy improvements like caulking windows, installing new water heaters, etc. -- at a cost of $6 billion. The rebates kick-in after using a contractor licensed under the Laborers International Union of North America, just to name one of the sanctioned contractors.
GOP senators are expected to offer amendments that deal with opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), reopening the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which is being closed by the Obama Administration, and delaying the EPA regulations on carbon emissions for two years.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives will need to make a big decision as it pertains to the funding of our war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The House received the stripped-down war-funding bill late last Thursday from the Senate, after representatives rejected the $23 billion spending added by the House. Basically, the Senate dropped the House language and sent the House the same text that the Senate passed last May 27 by a vote of 67-28. The House will have to decide this week if its $23 billion in add-ons is precious enough to jeopardize funding two ongoing wars.
But that isn’t the only issue that exists with the war funding bill. The House added this huge amount of funding in part to sway liberal Democrats to vote for the bill. Typically, the very liberal wing of the House doesn’t vote for war funding bills because they fundamentally disagree with the war effort. The vote was so shaky in June that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had to resurrect the “Slaughter solution” as a way to get the bill passed.
If you remember, the “Slaughter solution,” named after the chairwoman of the Rules Committee, Louise Slaughter, D-New York, allows members of the House to cast their vote on the rule governing floor debate on the bill in question and that procedural vote counts as their vote on final passage. They never actually voted up or down on the war funding bill back in June. This “Slaughter solution” was created as a way to pass the health-care bill in March.
However, the thought of members of the House not voting for Health Care, but it still becoming the law of the land, created such a public outcry, that the speaker decided against using this gimmick for health care. Instead, she used it in June so she could get the Iraq and Afghanistan war-funding bill passed.
Stay tuned to see if this gimmick will need to be used this week before the bell rings for recess in the House of Representatives.
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.