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This Week in Congress: July 13 – 17, 2009

This week Congress debates health reform, the F-22, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.

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)

Appropriations

The House of Representatives continues to roll through appropriations measures this week, bringing to the floor two new spending bills: the $33.3 billion FY10 Energy and Water appropriations bill and the $24.1 billion FY10 Financial Services appropriations bill.

The full House Appropriations committee will also mark up the $160.7 billion Labor-HHS spending bill on Friday after a favorable report out of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education last week. The bill, as reported, includes $446 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, while slashing $1.3 billion in overall funding from FY2009 levels. Democratic leaders intend to move all 12 of the annual spending bills through the House by the end of the month.

For more information on the Teacher Incentive Fund, see:

Health care

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions continues markup of the American Choices in Healthcare Act this week. The most controversial elements of the bill will be examined by committee members, including a public plan. Acting Chairman Christopher J. Dodd hopes to finish markup by Friday. The Senate Finance Committee is hammering out the final details of its version of the legislation; issues of cost are at the forefront after Democratic leadership refused to support taxing employer-based health benefits as a source of revenue.

For more information on health care reform, see:

Defense

The Senate today begins consideration of the $679.8 billion FY10 defense authorization bill. The most contentious issue surrounding the authorization bill will likely be the additional $1.75 billion put forward for the purchase of seven new F-22 fighter planes. The planes were not requested by the administration, and are opposed by Secretary Gates, and President Barack Obama has indicated that he may veto the final version of the authorization bill if the F-22s are included. The language adding the F-22s into the bill is opposed by Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and ranking member John McCain, but narrowly cleared the full committee last week and is facing strong opposition on the floor of the Senate.

It is also possible that the Senate will attach to the bill a version of hate crimes legislation that passed the House in February and hasn’t moved in the Senate as a standalone measure. The hate crimes language, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), would extend hate crimes provisions to cover crimes based on the victims’ sexual orientation, disabilities, and gender, and give states more authority and federal resources to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

For more information on the F-22, see:

For more information on hate crimes legislation, see:

Sotomayor nomination

The Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings today to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Opening statements by committee members and the nominee were be offered today; the nominee will testify and answer questions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Witness testimony will follow on Thursday and Friday. The most contentious issues expected to receive attention include the nominee’s history as a legal advocate for under-represented minorities, as well as her positions on affirmative action, the Second Amendment, and how her life experiences and personal background will affect her decisions on the bench.

For more information on the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, see: