House to Consider Housing Stimulus, Expanding Student Loans, and Debt Relief

Posted April 11, 2008 at 2:57pm

The House will spend the week of April 14 debating legislation to jump-start the struggling housing sector, as well as other bills to expand federal student loans and provide debt relief for developing countries.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said last week that although it has yet to be marked up, he hopes to bring up the Iraq supplemental spending bill to the floor by the end of April or early May. Despite President Bush’s veto threat, Democats may or may not look to attach their domestic spending priorities to the war legislation.

A vote is expected as early as Tuesday on the Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act, which includes $11 billion in housing tax credits and deductions in a first step toward the House’s effort to produce an economic stimulus package for the housing sector.

The bill’s most hotly debated provision would end an Internal Revenue Service program that hires private contractors to collect tax debt. The provision has passed the House before, but has been opposed by the Senate.

Lawmakers will also consider bipartisan legislation that would increase the amount of federally backed student loans at a time when some private lenders have offered fewer education loans due to the economic downturn.

The bill, known as the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, would increase from $3,500 to $5,500 the limit on certain Stafford loans. It would also increase the total amount a student can borrow to $31,000 for dependent undergraduates and to $57,500 for independent undergraduates.

Other bills on tap include the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Collection, which would permit 24 developing nations to receive debt cancellations from the United States. The measure would waive up to $30 billion in debt in an effort to free up resources for social, economic and political reforms in those countries.

The bill has broad bipartisan support, including that of House Financial Services Committee ranking member Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who has described the debt relief program as “one of the most successful things this Congress has done.”

Lawmakers will also resume debate on the Federal Water Pollution Control Act relating to beach monitoring, which Hoyer (Md.) said he expects to pass with “overwhelming numbers” when it comes up for final passage.

In response to GOP questions about the timing of the Iraq supplemental spending bill, Hoyer said he is still hopeful it can reach the floor by the end of April or in early May, and possibly with other provisions attached to it.

“Obviously, it has not been marked up in committee,” Hoyer said.

And while Democratic leaders may be in discussions to attach domestic spending provisions to the bill, “I would not want to preclude that effort” by saying what they are planning, Hoyer said.

Earlier this week, President Bush threatened to veto the war-spending bill if it includes unrelated spending, a threat that Hoyer said was not “particularly useful.”

It tells Congress, “What I propose you take, or we’ll leave it. We’ll not do anything other,” said the Majority Leader. “I don’t want to commit us to simply doing exactly what the president asks, or apparently thinks he can tell us to do. We don’t think that is the process.”

House GOP Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Republicans are willing to work on domestic spending issues in separate legislation, but that the war supplemental bill should be kept clean.

“The view on this side of the House” is that “we don’t have to use the troop-funding” bill to advance other issues relating to education and jobs, he said.