House and Senate conferees will be working hard this week to try to finish a compromise bill by Friday. Last week the president signed a one-week extension to the 2002 Farm Bill. Republican leaders and the White House have said that this will be the last short-term extension and if negotiators are unable to reach an agreement by the end of the week they should pass a long-term extension of the 2002 Farm Bill that will reach into next year. However, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson may ask for another extension until May 9. Formal conference negotiations will resume on Tuesday with votes on the most contentious provisions possible.
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The first vote of the week in the Senate will be a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to S. 1315, the Disabled Veterans Insurance Improvement Act, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. The veterans’ insurance bill deals with life insurance, housing, education, and burial matters. It also makes Filipino veterans who served during World War II eligible for U.S. military pensions.
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After finishing work on the veterans’ benefits bill the Senate is expected to consider H.R. 2831, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Ledbetter Act reverses the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter vs. Goodyear that said employees cannot sue their employers for wage discrimination more than 180 days after the discrimination occurred. The bill specifies that an unlawful practice occurs each time an employee receives unfair compensation rather than simply when the decision was made to set the wage at an unfair rate. The president has threatened to veto the bill saying he believes it will lead to frivolous lawsuits.
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The Senate may take up a Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Measure, H.R. 493, that would ban employers from using genetic information in decisions to hire and fire employees, and prevent insurers from using the information in determining insurance premiums. Similar measures have passed the Senate and the House in the past but never in the same year. Last April, the House passed H.R. 493 by a vote of 420-3.
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The House will consider a bill on Tuesday to maintain federal funding for Medicaid programs. The bill will be brought up under suspension of the rules, meaning a two-thirds majority is needed to pass the bill. The administration announced rules that will cut federal funding to the states for Medicaid programs because they feel states have shifted the burden of funding the joint federal-state programs unfairly onto the federal government. This bill will suspend those rules from taking effect until April 1, 2009. The president has threatened to veto the bill but it enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress.
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The House Financial Services Committee will hold a markup for two bills aimed at helping the Housing Crisis. H.R. 5818, the Neighborhood Stabilization Act, would create a $15 billion loan and grant program to purchase and renovate owner-vacated foreclosed properties. The properties would then be sold or rented to low-income families.
The second bill, H.R. 5830, the FHA Housing and Homeowner Retention Act, would allow the FHA to guarantee up to $300 billion in loans to refinance borrowers who are at risk of defaulting on their loan. The lender would have to agree to write-down the value of the loan to make them affordable for the borrower. If the lender agreed to the write-down, the FHA would guarantee the loan for up to 85 percent of the value of the home. The bill would also authorize $200 million for foreclosure counseling.
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