Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This week on Capitol Hill

By Carol Gee

The personalities of those elected to Congress are often the stuff of the news, as yesterday's post "Fighting back at your critics" illustrated. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership has been one of the keys to success so far in the 111th Congress. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is one that gets regular coverage, such as this piece that declares McCain "does not want the President to fail," even though his opposition is major in several areas. House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor (R-VA) appears to lead the obstructionist tactics of the minority, fighting President Obama at every turn. Democrats will rely heavily on the big new "freshman class" and deputy whip, Mark Udall (D-Colo). If Al Franken is elected and seated the group will number an even dozen.

Senate leadership vs. Republican strategy -- The $410 billion omnibus spending bill has not yet passed the Senate. Problems from Senate Democrats that complicate House-Senate relations have stalled the measure since last Thursday night. House Democrats are mad at Senate Majority leader Harry Reid because of his perceived weakness in the face of "marginal members of both parties," according to Politico. The Republicans are thence able to turn the fight into one over what they call pork-barrel politics and CQ calls "earmark overload." Several more Republican amendments are up for a vote Tuesday. Republican Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is looking to get a vote on his amendment that would force legislators to have to vote themselves a pay raise, rather than depend on the current automatic method. CQ Politics explains: "If the amendment is adopted, it could prove to be a poison pill, eroding support in both chambers for the yearlong spending measure, and forcing a House-Senate conference."

Congress will get to finish the jobs -- President Barack Obama lifted the ban imposed by former President Bush on stem cell research. But Congress will be asked to codify the administration's position so that the scientific community could tap into funds in the economic stimulus bill, according to a story in CQ Politics on Monday. Quoting the key idea, "It also would block any of Obama’s successors from overturning his support through similar executive actions." Last week a bill that would give the FDA the power to regulate tobacco as it is advertised and marketed, got out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with a strong affirmative vote. The bill, (HR1256) is sponsored by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, (D- Calif).

The Employee Free Choice Act could be debated soon --"Card check," the EFCA union bill, would make it easier for employees to organize workers into unions. Pressure from unions, who helped President Obama win his election, is strong and united. Much of the business community and Republicans are furious at the prospect of its passage, characterizing it in end-of-the-world terms. The result is lots of lobbying money being spent to defeat it, according to a Politico's story of Monday. In further news it seems that moderate Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), may hold the key to its passage or defeat.

And finally last week there was a discussion among Democrats about a possible strategy for filibuster-proofing President Obama's agenda this year. The budget reconciliation process allows legislation affecting tax and entitlement programs to be moved through the Senate by a simple majority vote, according to CQ Politics (3/5/09). Potential measures might include health care overhaul, the climate change cap-and-trade proposal, as well as the student loan program. No decision has been made yet.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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