Congress Heads Into Busy Week

Posted February 23, 2009 at 3:46pm

Congress is back to a busy schedule this week, whether it be a high-level huddle on fiscal responsibility, action on a multibillion-dollar spending package or advancing one of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet nominees.

Two weeks after passing a $787 billion economic stimulus bill without a single House Republican vote, Congressional leaders from both parties spent Monday afternoon attending a White House summit on long-term fiscal challenges facing the country.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is among those attending, although he made it clear that he is not happy about the “reckless spending” coming out of Washington, D.C., under Democrats.

“With the federal budget deficit already sitting at $1.2 trillion before the ‘stimulus’ plan was enacted and with the Democrats in Congress planning even more spending on projects, programs, and bailouts, it’s clear a change in course is needed,” Boehner said in a statement.

On Tuesday night, Obama will address the House and Senate in a joint session. Characterized as an unofficial State of the Union speech, the address will focus on the economy and the president’s legislative agenda for the year.

The House will spend Wednesday debating a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. Democratic leaders are cramming to pass the package of leftover fiscal 2009 appropriations bills before March 6, when temporary funding for nine federal agencies runs out.

On Thursday, Obama will send his budget outline to Congress. Congressional Democrats are already praising Obama’s plan as the first honest representation of the budget in years, saying that unlike former President George W. Bush, Obama’s plan includes the costs of the Iraq War, the alternative minimum tax and the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Also Thursday, House Democratic leaders are hoping to advance key housing legislation, but senior Democratic aides said the measure could slip to next week. The package looks to enact key provisions of Obama’s $75 billion foreclosure prevention plan, which is designed to keep up to 9 million households out of foreclosure.

Regardless of the bill’s timing, GOP leaders are already prepping their Members on how to tackle the Democratic housing proposal.

In a memo sent to rank-and-file Republicans on Friday, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) outlined key principles that Members should keep in mind when reviewing the legislation. These include not raising taxes on “responsible homeowners” as part of the solution to stemming foreclosures, not expanding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac without key reforms, and not aiding homeowners who “knew they could never have afforded the home they purchased.”

Meanwhile, the Senate will take up legislation Monday that would grant voting rights in the House to the District of Columbia.

The voting rights bill, which failed in the Senate by three votes last year, strikes a compromise by adding two seats in the House: one for heavily Democratic D.C. and one for Utah, a reliably Republican state. A vote on final passage is expected Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the chamber will vote on the nomination of Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) to serve as Labor secretary. The nomination requires a 60-vote majority to overcome Republican objections.

Solis’ confirmation has been drawn out in part because to her affiliation with a pro-labor advocacy group and her support for legislation that would loosen labor-organizing rules. Her nomination also hit some hiccups after it was revealed that her husband paid $6,400 to settle tax liens against his business that had been outstanding for 16 years.

Solis will be the first Cabinet appointee to require a 60-vote majority to clear the Senate. Her nomination sailed through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, with only two Senators opposing it: GOP Sens. Pat Roberts (Kan.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.).