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This Week in Congress: July 20 – 24, 2009

This week Congress discusses appropriations bills, teacher compensation, health reform, the F-22, and more.

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 passed two major FY 2010 appropriations bills last week, including appropriations for energy and water development, and it continues to move through spending bills this week. The House is scheduled to take up the $123.1 billion Transportation-HUD bill and the $730.5 billion Labor-HHS-Education bill, which includes $160.7 billion in funding for discretionary, non-entitlement programs and $567 billion in mandatory funding for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The Labor-HHS-Education bill was reported favorably out of the full Appropriations Committee last week by voice vote, and includes $446 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund. This figure is $41 million below the president’s FY 2010 request for the Teacher Incentive Fund, but it marks an increase of $ 97 million from the FY 2009 TIF funding level of $349 million.

For more information on the Teacher Incentive Fund, see:

Defense

The Senate is set to finish consideration this week of the FY 2010 Department of Defense authorization bill. The Senate voted late on Thursday night to invoke cloture and allow a vote on the Leahy Hate Crimes Amendment after a lengthy period of debate and negotiation. The hate crimes language, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, 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. Votes on additional amendments related to hate crimes are expected early this week.

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) will also re-introduce his amendment today to strip $1.8 billion from the bill that would authorize the purchase of seven new F-22 fighter jets. The amendment, which is co-sponsored by Armed Services ranking member John McCain, was withdrawn last week to allow for debate of the hate crimes amendment. The debate on the F-22 authorization will occur in the shadow of a veto threat from the White House—President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates continue to express strong opposition to any defense bill that includes authorization for new F-22s.

For more information on the F-22, see:

For more information on hate crimes legislation, see:

Health care

Negotiations over health care reform are heating up in the House and Senate as the debate moves one week closer to the August recess. Chairman Max Baucus holds out hope that a bipartisan bill is a realistic goal for his committee; the major obstacle at this point is cost after President Obama and Democratic leadership opposed a proposal to raise $320 billion by taxing health benefits.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also continues to mark up the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act after the Ways and Means and Education and Labor Committees both voted to support the bill last week. But the legislation hit a major bump in the road last week when the Congressional Budget Office reported that the legislation, along with the bill reported out of the Senate HELP committee last week, would increase U.S. health care spending. CBO recommends containing costs by taxing health benefits packages that exceed a predetermined threshold, otherwise known as “capping the tax exclusion.” House Democratic leadership has, on the other hand, proposed a surtax for individuals with annual adjusted gross incomes of $280,000 or families that make $350,000 or more. Speaker Pelosi said on Monday that she would like the threshold raised to $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for families.

For more information on health care reform, see:

SCOTUS Nomination

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation rolls along after last week’s hearings; the full Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the nomination on Tuesday of this week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he will continue to oppose the nomination, while three Republicans have expressed their support for Sotomayor: Mel Martinez, Richard Lugar, and Olympia Snowe. The full Senate could vote on the nomination as early as next week.

For more information on the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, see: