Full Plate for Senators This Week

Posted June 23, 2008 at 1:34pm

With just a week to go before the July Fourth recess, the Senate plans to wrestle with a host of major legislative proposals involving housing market reform, wiretapping of suspected terrorists and funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But all eyes will likely be on the return to the Senate on Tuesday of one of the chamber’s most prominent Members: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Clinton has made few public appearances since conceding the race for the Democratic presidential nomination to Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), aside from attending journalist Tim Russert’s funeral in Washington last Thursday.

Clinton will back at her day job on Tuesday and will also host a private joint fundraising event with Obama on Thursday. Details surrounding the Obama fundraiser have not been released.

First up for Clinton and her colleagues is the housing bill, which seeks to overhaul financial giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during a housing crisis that has caused many struggling homeowners to face foreclosure.

This Friday, Obama and Clinton will attend an event together in Unity, N.H.

In a move that has not been seen in recent months, Senate leaders allowed votes on relevant housing amendments to the bill. However, negotiations hit a snag Thursday afternoon when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tried to offer an amendment that seeks to finance some of the rising energy costs for low-income families.

But Republicans objected, arguing that allowing that amendment was not a part of the agreement made between Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). At this point, the way forward is unclear.

But the most contentious battle for Democrats for most of the week is likely to be reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the House approved Friday with a controversial provision to shield telecom companies from legal liability.

Late last week, Reid, who opposes language that would exempt telephone companies from privacy lawsuits, said he may try to remove the provision from the bill.

It is unlikely that such a move will succeed; in February, an amendment offered by Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) failed. It would, however, give political cover to the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Obama, allowing him to support civil liberties while at the same time voting to strengthen national security.

Obama has stated that while he supports extending the government’s wiretapping program, he will work to strip the current bill of the provision granting telecom companies immunity.

The must-pass war spending bill is likely to be the easiest sell as Democratic leaders from both the House and the Senate negotiated with the White House to arrive at compromise legislation including an extension of unemployment insurance, flood relief to the Midwest and expanded veterans benefits. But Reid as been largely mum on his stance.

The Majority Leader told reporters last week that “individuals will have to make a decision” on the supplemental bill, perhaps plotting to add additional funding, much like what was done in May. Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) pleaded with their colleagues to add more money to rebuild storm-ravaged towns recovering from Hurricane Katrina.