This week, both houses must pass the omnibus appropriations package to fund the federal government for FY08. Eleven of the 12 individual spending bills will be combined in the omnibus due to repeated presidential veto threats and the unified obstruction of House Republicans. The bill includes $3.7 billion in additional funding for veterans programs, for which the president has demanded offsets in spending despite his request for $200 billion in no-strings-attached war funding.
An additional $7.4 billion in emergency spending will be provided for a number of programs: low-income home heating aid, or LIHEAP, the WIC program, health care for World Trade Center workers, funding for the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis, foreign aid, drought relief, border security, fighting wildfires, and cybersecurity. The omnibus will include $31 billion in funding solely for operations in Afghanistan. House passage is expected Monday or Tuesday, with the Senate following suit on Wednesday.
The House is scheduled on Tuesday to consider the Senate version of a comprehensive energy package. Highlights of the bill include an increase in fuel efficiency standards and incentives for the production of alternative fuels. Tax incentives for renewable electricity development, paid for by a repeal of tax breaks on oil and gas companies, were removed during Senate consideration. President Bush threatened to veto the bill if those tax provisions were included.
The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing Wednesday focusing on the results of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali.
Two important healthcare provisions will likely be combined this week to ensure passage before recess. An extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program through next fall will fund the program at current levels. Language to halt a scheduled 10 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians will also be included. The Medicare fix will likely be as narrow as possible so as to ensure little floor debate and quick passage.
Another must-pass item this week is a patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is estimated to hit 21 million taxpayers if left uncorrected. A dispute over the inclusion of $50 billion in revenue-raising provisions to offset costs must be resolved. The House has passed two separate versions of the AMT patch, each one including a different set of cost offsets. During Senate floor consideration, the offsets were removed due to Republican opposition. This version would violate the House Democrats’ “pay as you go” rules. The House must take up the Senate-passed AMT patch this week, though the exact timing is unclear.
On Monday, the Senate will resume debate over the scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The base bill will be an Intelligence Committee-passed version that includes immunity for telecommunications companies who participated in warrantless wiretapping. A competing Judiciary Committee-passed version without immunity will be offered as an amendment on the floor. The House version of FISA also does not include immunity.
The Senate may also pass the conference report to the Intelligence Authorization bill, which the House passed last Thursday. Senate leadership would like to see the bill passed before the holiday recess.
The Senate passed the farm bill last Friday, so conference negotiations could begin this week. Revenue-raising provisions, the establishment of a disaster trust fund, and revisions in subsidy payment cycles will be the major topics of discussion. The conference report also must satisfy the president. He has threatened to veto the House-passed version and has made clear that he strongly disagrees with certain provisions in the Senate-passed version. If conference negotiations do not begin this week, they will take place in mid-January when Congress returns, clearing the bill for the president’s signature by the end of that month.
On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs will hold a hearing examining the upcoming elections in Pakistan.
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