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This Week in Congress: December 14 – 18, 2009

This week Congress continues debate on a health care bill and hammers out the last fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill.

Rush hour traffic on Independence Avenue makes its way past the U.S. Capitol Building. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Rush hour traffic on Independence Avenue makes its way past the U.S. Capitol Building. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Health care

The Senate will continue to debate the health care bill while awaiting Congressional Budget Office scoring on the compromise proposal from the Gang of 10, a group of five progressive and five moderate Democrats who negotiated a consensus approach to the bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has not yet filed for cloture on the substitute language, the manager’s amendment, or the underlying bill. Agreements must be reached on all outstanding issues and the support of 60 senators must be guaranteed before cloture will be filed. A vote on final passage is expected no earlier than the middle of next week.

The Dorgan amendment on prescription drug reimportation has been held up thus far but will likely be voted on early in the week. The amendment would allow U.S. pharmacies and wholesalers to import drugs from Canada and other countries with safety standards comparable to those of the United States. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has offered an alternative version of the Dorgan Amendment that allows drug reimportation only if the Department of Health and Human Services can certify the safety of every drug that is imported. The Crapo amendment on income taxes is also pending, and a Democratic alternative from Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is also expected to be considered.

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Appropriations

The Defense appropriations bill is the only outstanding fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill, and its conference report will be used as the vehicle for several provisions Congress must pass before adjourning for the year. Although not yet finalized, the conference report is expected to include a six-month extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA health care benefits, a one-year extension of the estate tax at current rates, an increase in the national debt limit, reauthorization of several provisions from the PATRIOT Act, and possible job creation measures.

Moderates in both chambers are currently negotiating on the inclusion of statutory pay-as-you-go language as well as a proposal from Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) to create a commission on the national debt that would make policy recommendations to Congress. The House will consider the bill on Wednesday, and the Senate must pass the package before the current resolution funding the Department of Defense expires on Friday.

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Trade

The House will consider a one-year extension of trade preferences for the Andean nations as well as an additional 130 developing countries this week. The bill will be considered under suspension of the rules, meaning it cannot be amended and requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The Senate may consider the bill this week following House passage but must act before December 31, as the trade provisions will expire if not extended before that date.

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