Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Congressional Oversight Ever Needed -- revised

By Carol Gee

After the Democrats took over both houses of Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections, they began to use committee oversight as a tool to put things right. Today's post is an update on some of the most interesting things going on up at The Hill this week.

Some Senators tied up -- Senators Clinton, Obama and McCain, who will have to rely on Republican party money, are busy today trying to get elected to the U.S. presidency. Senator Kennedy will be finishing up the last of his tests today at Massachusetts General Hospital, before going home for a few days of rest. Doctors have yet to announce the cause of his seizures.

Updated with the heart-breaking news that Senator Ted Kennedy has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, as the cause of his seizures. Our hearts go out to him and to his family. This is tough to hear -- on both sides of the political aisle.

High Energy -- Senator Barbara Boxer D-California is working hard to get an energy bill passed that would be an improvement over the one proposed by Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner that may come up on the Senate floor tomorrow. Boxer's substitute bill would include tax cuts for energy efficiencies from corporations, as part of an overall cap and trade program. In another energy development, the House Committee on Government Reform has learned that the White House is responsible for an EPA ruling denying California's petition to make emission standards tougher. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is looking into whether EPA head Stephen Johnson was under political pressure in making his ruling against California.

Congressional Intelligence -- Both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees will meet today in closed hearings. The House committee will get a follow-up briefing on the National Intelligence Estimate, that some say was the Intel Community's effort to return some sanity to the Iranian nukes issue. The Senate Armed Services Committee has just issued a report on The Cyber-Security Initiative, posts emptywheel at Firedoglake. This post effectively explores the Committee's mixed conclusions.

Funding Bills -- The Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee will mark up NASA's 2008 authorization legislation. The Senate/House Conference Committee will be working this morning on the congressional budget for FY 2009. How to fund help through FHA to avoid foreclosure is a contentious issue right now. Senators Dodd and Shelby have agreed to get the money from a related affordable housing trust fund. Representative Barney Frank, key lawmaker in the House says he will look for ways to compromise in order to get a bill for the President to sign into law.

Airport Security -- At a time when airline customer satisfaction is at its lowest since 2001, the House Homeland Security Committee will be starting mark-up work on several bills today. Those include a measure improving the appeal process for individuals wrongly denied or delayed boarding flights, a measure to prohibit advance notice of security testing at airports, legislation to direct Homeland Security to do a study of how to make baggage handling more secure through screening of those with access to airports that do not undergo it at this point. This is follow-up to a congressional mandate to implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Voting Rights and Human Rights -- The Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon will look at "Protecting the Constitutional Right to Vote for all Americans." The panel that testifies consists of leading voting rights advocates. The House Foreign Affairs Committee meets this afternoon for Part Two of a study to look at ". . . The Mistakes of Guantanamo and the Decline of America's Image." Part One was held on May 6. This, from the Congressional Quarterly Homeland Security Newsletter, is a related piece of news.

" A planned 40-acre Afghan detention complex is “a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come,” The New York Times tells — while an L.A. Times op-ed argues that “you need to put captured [terror war] combatants someplace — someplace other than a conventional U.S. prison, where they’re treated like any other criminal.”

Congressional oversight is, indeed, ever needed. Much of the effectiveness of committee oversight depends on the skill of the committee chairmen, the ability of the Ranking Member and the Chairman to achieve bipartisan consensus, the charter of the committee, and what issues have achieved momentum with the folks back home. The Democrats' record of success is spotty at best. But, at least, it is something.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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