The Week Ahead

Posted March 10, 2007 at 1:21pm

The Week Ahead

Congress will be consumed this week by a pending showdown over an emergency war spending bill, but lawmakers also are poised to complete work on a major 9/11 bill in the Senate. They also may glimpse details of new immigration overhaul legislation plans and will hold hearings on universal health care.

The Senate is expected to spend most of the week finishing work on the Improving America’s Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. Several amendments to the bill are pending.

Meanwhile, the House will consider the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 985). The bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, was reported favorably by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month. The bill prevents retaliation against those who report wrongdoing to authorities.

Also expected to come up for votes in the House are:

• Presidential Library Donation Reform Act (H.R. 1254)

• Presidential Records Act Amendments (H.R. 1255)

• Freedom of Information Act Amendments (H.R. 1309)

• Accountability in Contracting Act (H.R. 1362)

The House and Senate will likely be the scene of fierce political negotiation this week as lawmakers wrestle over a roughly $100 billion war supplemental spending bill to pay for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation also will contain language calling for withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2008, and the Pentagon says it must be passed by April 15 or war funding could run out.

The House Appropriations Committee could mark up the spending legislation by the end of this week, while the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the war bill next week.

On other defense matters, theHouse Armed Services Committee will continue a series of hearings with Pentagon officials as it readies a 2008 defense authorization bill. Sparks could fly when the military service vice chiefs testify before the panel on Wednesday on readiness of the armed forces, which Democrats charge has deteriorated as a result of fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House Armed Services Committee also could consider legislation this week that seeks to overhaul medical care for injured military personnel and veterans. Lawmakers have expressed outrage at recent reports of substandard treatment for wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will wade into concerns over troop care at a hearing on Thursday on the impact of ongoing wars on the health care claims process in the Veterans Affairs Department.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has a closed-door briefing slated with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Iraq.

Meanwhile, the House Homeland Security Committee this week will mark up the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007, which would require greater security at railways and other transit sites. The legislation already has been approved by the panel’s subcommittee on transportation security and infrastructure protection.

Immigration overhaul legislation written by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) could be unveiled as early as this week. Those lawmakers have been working with the White House on legislation that could win more Congressional support than last year’s stalled immigration bill.

House Democrats, tasked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with getting climate change legislation to the floor by this summer, will continue a blitz of hearings on global warning.

House Energy and Commerce Committee members on Wednesday will hear testimony from the auto industry, which could face serious economic repercussions in any climate change plan. Automakers could find a sympathetic lawmaker in the committee’s chairman, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who represents a Detroit-area district.

A day later, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hear from state and local governments about their ongoing plans to reduce greenhouse gases in lieu of any federal actions. Opponents of global warming legislation could cite those existing efforts as reason to forgo federal action.

Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday will consider technological solutions to global warming.

As Congress prepares fiscal 2008 spending bills, the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget will face additional scrutiny from lawmakers, some of whom excoriated the agency’s administrator last week over cuts to key agency programs. On Wednesday, the agency’s research budget will be put under the microscope by the House Science and Technology Committee.

The House Science and Technology Committee also will consider NASA’s budget Thursday, with Administrator Michael Griffin likely to reiterate his concerns that budget cuts are hampering the space agency’s ability to develop an alternative space vehicle for manned mission once the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will consider reauthorization of the African Elephant Conservation Act and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994.

As part of a drive to hold the Bush administration to account, House Democrats will hold a series of hearings this week on health care. Among the topics the House will explore are the impact of the federal food stamp system on children’s health and problems with health care in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

House lawmakers also will consider problems with health insurance coverage. There will be hearings on how employer-provided health benefits can cover the uninsured and the impact of genetic testing on insurance coverage.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee is planning to study ways to develop universal health care beginning at hearing on Wednesday.

In the meantime, Democrats will resume their push for consumer-friendly legislation this week.

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection will hold a hearing Thursday on the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (H.R. 964), which would require people or companies that deploy spyware to provide notice to consumers and obtain their consent before spyware could be loaded onto computers. The measure also would bar activities such as tracking computer keystrokes and displaying advertisements that cannot be closed.

The House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets, insurance and government sponsored enterprises will hold hearings on how to reform mortgage-backing giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is likely to use the hearings to make a case for requiring Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to offer more money for lower-income buyers in an Affordable Housing Fund.

The House Small Business Committee is expected to mark up two bills that give small businesses more favorable borrowing options. One Democratic-backed bill, the Relief for Entrepreneurs: Coordination of Objectives and Values for Effective Recovery Act (H.R. 1361), would make small businesses and nonprofits eligible for disaster loans for up to 20 percent of the cost of the damage to their property. A second measure, also to be marked up by the panel, is the Small Business Lending Improvements Act (H.R. 1332), which would make loans more economical for small businesses.

In other action, the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation will hold a hearing on a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA contends that the nation’s air traffic control system needs to be revamped at cost of $1 billion by 2025 in order to handle an expansion of the flight load over the next few decades. The Bush administration proposes shifting some of the costs to general aviation companies, while small-aircraft pilots, plane manufacturers and business-aviation interests argue that the proposal would be little more than “corporate welfare” for the airlines.

Senators will hit the hustings on Monday, with the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee holding field hearings in Colorado and Vermont. A third, on food safety, will be held in Wisconsin on Monday, hosted by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture, rural development and related agencies. Those hearings will help shape the 2007 farm bill.

— CongressNow Staff