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This Week in Congress: June 7 – 11, 2010

Congress this week begins to gear up to start work on comprehensive energy legislation and discusses tax extenders and the budget.

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)

Energy and climate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will meet with committee chairmen and the Democratic Caucus in separate meetings this week to assemble a comprehensive energy and climate bill to be considered this year. The package will likely include provisions from Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) American Power Act, Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) American Clean Energy Leadership Act, and various oil-related provisions. Sen. Reid has indicated that he wants an energy bill considered on the floor before the July 4 recess.

The Senate will also vote on Thursday on a resolution of disapproval from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The resolution only requires 51 votes for passage and currently has 41 co-sponsors including three Democrats. There is no expected House action on this resolution even if it is successful in the Senate.

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Tax extenders

The Senate will look to take up a $114.5 billion package of unemployment benefits, tax breaks, and Medicare physician payments this week. The House passed its version of the "tax extenders" legislation after a divisive debate in May, but the Senate did not consider it in time to prevent cuts to physician payments and unemployment benefits from expiring. Majority Leader Reid said he would like to start voting on amendments tonight or Tuesday, but that is the day of Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-AR) primary, a key vote. If there are any changes made to the bill in the Senate, it will have to be sent back to the House where it was only passed initially by a heavy whipping effort.

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Regulatory reform

The House is expected to name conferees on the regulatory reform bill on Wednesday, with leadership in both chambers planning to have the conference report voted on and sent to the president by the July 4 recess. Key issues remain to be resolved, including the derivatives language by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) that would force large banks to spin off their swaps desks or risk losing access to the Federal Reserve’s discount window and FDIC insurance backing, and a provision by Sen. Dick Durbin that would give the Fed powers to reduce the fees that banks charge merchants to process debit cards.

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Fiscal year 2011 budget resolution

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad has indicated that the Senate will consider its version of the FY 2011 budget in the next few weeks before the July 4 recess. The Senate Budget Committee has already passed a version of the budget resolution that would reduce the deficit by 70 percent from 9.8 percent of gross domestic product in FY 2010 to 3 percent of GDP in FY 2015. But the House has still not scheduled any action on a budget resolution and continues to consider passing a series of deeming resolutions instead.

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