House Aiming for Consideration of Iraq Supplemental Week of May 5

Posted April 18, 2008 at 3:43pm

The House will spend the week of April 21 debating reauthorization bills for the Coast Guard and for two federal programs that promote research and development at small businesses.

But it could also take up the Senate version of the highway technical corrections bill, which includes a controversial provision that would send the investigation of the Coconut Road earmark to the Justice Department.

Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she thought the earmark probe should be pursued by the House ethics committee. But with Senate Democratic leaders pushing through the Justice Department probe, Pelosi seems to have shifted her stance and now plans to support the Senate position.

Looking further down the road, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) signaled that the House will take up the Iraq War supplemental spending bill the week of May 5 and the budget bill “as soon as” the conference committee finalizes its report.

Hoyer clarified that the war supplemental bill will not be split into two separate bills, one for Afghanistan and one for Iraq, despite media reports suggesting that may be where the legislation is heading.

“The way the budget is structured, it would be very difficult to consider them discretely, Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. “So it is my understanding that [Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.)] has recommended and intends to pursue it as one bill.”

Speaking about the 2008 legislative calendar, Hoyer further signaled that he does not intend to continue legislative work beyond the November elections because, “in my experience, [such sessions] have not been particularly productive, particularly when you are going to have a change of administration.”

Still, this does not mean a “death knell” for the Colombia free-trade agreement, which remains in limbo after Democrats suspended the 90-day time frame to consider it, Hoyer added. There have been “positive discussions and indications from the administration” that they are willing to work with House Democratic leaders to finalize the trade pact this year.

The Majority Leader said he remains hopeful that lawmakers will reach an agreement by Memorial Day on how to proceed with stalled legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“That is my time frame. I am working toward that,” said Hoyer.

The week of April 21, however, lawmakers will focus their attention on legislation to authorize $7.5 billion through fiscal 2012 for Coast Guard activities.

The bill also addresses contracting practices used by the Coast Guard’s troubled, multibillion dollar Deepwater program, a massive research-and-development and acquisition effort aimed at modernizing the maritime body’s ships and aircraft. The program has come under fire for cost overruns, schedule delays and building poor equipment.

The House will also consider legislation to reauthorize through 2010 the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program, both of which support scientific research and development among small businesses.

Among its provisions, the bill would increase federal awards for each phase of the programs, from $100,000 to $300,000 for phase one projects and from $750,000 to $2.2 million for phase two projects. It would also allow companies to apply for phase two awards without having already received phase one funding.

Bills set for the suspension calendar include the Close the Contractor Fraud Loophole Act, which would require contract employees aware of intentional overbilling of the federal government to report it to the inspector general. Items on the suspension calendar are typically noncontroversial and can’t be amended.