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NJ Daily / OUTLOOK

Heat Turns Up On War, Climate Measures

June 2, 2008

Congress this week will get the chance to mop up business members had thought would be behind them at this point: the war supplemental bill, the FY09 budget resolution and another farm bill veto override, while starting debate on an issue likely to drag into next year: climate change.

House Democratic leaders want another crack at approving a Senate-approved Iraq war supplemental spending package and the FY09 budget resolution this week, but no definite schedule has been decided, according to leadership aides.

Prior to adjourning for the Memorial Day recess, the Senate approved the supplemental, which is made up of two sections: The first includes a provision that would increase veterans' education benefits without offsetting the 10-year, $51 billion price tag, and other domestic spending initiatives, such as an extension of unemployment insurance; $10.4 billion for aid to Gulf Coast states affected by 2005's Hurricane Katrina; and $1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

 

The second section consists of $165 billion in war funds for the rest of the fiscal year and about $70 billion for part of FY09.

House Democratic leaders are deciding whether to accept the Senate package or change the measure and send it back to the Senate.

The House approved a supplemental spending measure, which as introduced on the floor consisted of three separate amendments, in May. But the war-funding portion failed after most Republicans voted present and anti-war Democrats voted against it, so the package with the two provisions that passed was sent to the Senate.

"Leadership has to discuss" the matter, a House Democratic leadership aide said. "We are looking at options."

The aide's comments come after the Pentagon last week requested permission from Congress to transfer $9.7 billion from the other services to the Army to cover war costs. The department asked Congress to act on the request by June 9.

"This emergency action was necessary to extend Army and defense-wide operations in the absence of requested supplemental appropriations funds," the Pentagon said in a statement released Wednesday.

The department warned that "should Congress fail to pass the GWOT [global war on terror] supplemental appropriations legislation by mid-July, the department will have exhausted all military personnel and operations funding and will, at a minimum, be unable to make payroll for both military and civilian personnel throughout the department."

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders will look to bring the FY09 budget resolution to the House floor this week.

House and Senate action on the resolution, which would call for $1.013 trillion in discretionary spending, was slated for before the Memorial Day recess but was put off because of complications in overriding the farm bill that arose from a clerical error that dropped the trade title from the version that President Bush vetoed.

Senate discussion of global warming legislation kicks off with a vote today to limit debate before proceeding to amendments.

This cloture motion on proceeding to the bill is expected to easily pass as both parties have agreed on the importance of discussing the broader issue.

Since many senators will likely want to give floor speeches on the bill and more generally on climate change during the post-cloture vote period, debate on amendments might not start until Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Reid said debate on the bill will last all week, while it remains unclear whether it will extend longer before Democrats are expected to try to limit the remainder of the debate.

Backers of the bill, however, do not have enough votes to suppress a filibuster, so the future of the bill in the 110th Congress is murky.

The bill is sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., and aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by about 70 percent by 2050 by instituting a market-based cap-and-trade program.

Supporters say this is necessary to reverse the planet's warming and avoid dire and costly impacts, including coastal flooding and an escalation of the number and severity of hurricanes.

Opponents say the bill would hurt the economy by raising energy prices and sending U.S. jobs to developing nations with weaker environmental laws.

All three major presidential candidates support the concept of instituting a cap-and-trade plan, although none are expected to be here today for the initial vote to go to the measure. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, opposes the Senate bill because it does not single out nuclear power.

Lieberman, a key backer of McCain's presidential campaign, and Warner will propose creating a section of the bill devoted to nuclear energy, which will likely spur a number of senators to offer subsequent amendments on the subject.

Meanwhile, Congress is expected to try to tidy up the enactment of the new farm bill conference report his week.

The copy of the farm bill on parchment that was sent to President Bush last month lacked the trade title, but that was not discovered until after Bush vetoed the bill. The House and the Senate later overrode the veto.

House and Senate parliamentarians and a White House spokesman agreed that the 14 of the 15 titles that were printed on parchment became law after the override votes. Before the recess, the House passed the full bill, including the trade title, a second time.

The Senate is expected to hold a vote this week on the full bill, although aides for Reid and Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin said the leaders have not decided what day the vote will take place.

After the Senate vote, the House clerk is expected to send a copy of the complete bill on parchment to Bush, who is expected to veto it again. After the veto, the bill is expected to go back to the House and Senate for another override vote, which is expected to pass.

The trade title's main sections deal with food aid, overseas market development programs and a new section affecting softwood lumber.

Congress considered passing only the trade title a second time and sending it to Bush, but House Minority Whip Blunt said he might not vote for it and Senate Budget ranking member Judd Gregg said he might try to amend it. Conference reports are not amendable.

The Senate meets today at 2 p.m. for morning business and follows with consideration of climate change legislation.

The House is not in session today. On Tuesday, the House meets at 2 p.m. to consider suspension bills. Votes are postponed until 6:30 p.m. On Wednesday and Thursday the House will meet at 10 a.m. and on Friday at 9 a.m. to consider suspension bills, education and environment measures, the budget resolution and possibly the supplemental war funding bill.

BANKING

The Senate Banking Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Tuesday on three nominees to the SEC, which is currently operating with only a Republican panel.

The committee will consider the nomination of Troy Paredes, a Washington University School of Law professor, to replace current commissioner Paul Atkins, one of three Republicans on the five-member board.

Members will also hear from two Democratic nominees: Luis Aguilar and Elisse Walter, both of whom are former SEC aides.

On Thursday, the committee will hold another hearing in a series on the state of the banking industry and will hear from such officials as FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair, Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, and Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision John Reich.

DEFENSE

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to review the Defense Department's major weapons procurement programs.

John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and Katherine Schinasi, GAO managing director of acquisition and sourcing management, are scheduled to testify.

Many members of the Senate panel have long been concerned about the escalating prices of weapons systems, as well as program delays that have plagued many of the military's major development efforts, such as the Joint Strike Fighter and the Navy's shipbuilding program cost increases.

GOVERNMENT OPS

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will consider recommendations Thursday for improving the organization of arms control and nonproliferation offices within the State Department.

The hearing, which will include testimony from State officials, follows a May 15 committee hearing where witnesses argued the current organizational structure, largely established in the 1990s "may not be effective," according to a committee summary.

The House Oversight and Government Reform National Security Subcommittee has a hearing Wednesday on oversight of the State Department's Antiterrorism Assistance program. The panel's Management Subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on federal financial management oversight.

HEALTH

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus plans to hold a hearing Tuesday to examine whether patients are receiving quality health care for the steadily increasing price of services.

Top brass from Ford Motor Co., the AFL-CIO and the research groups RAND Health and the Center for Studying Health System Change will testify on trends in employer-sponsored and individual health coverage, according to Baucus' office.

The hearing is the second in a series of events the committee is planning leading up to anticipated healthcare reform.

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee plans to hold a hearing Wednesday on draft health information technology legislation that aims to encourage physicians to adopt systems for digital health records and electronic prescribing.

Full committee and subcommittee Democratic and Republican leaders proposed the draft last month.

The draft is similar to legislation long worked on by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy, who reached a deal recently with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy over privacy concerns.

It includes a grant program to assist physicians who purchase health IT systems, codifies the office of a health information technology coordinator and directs HHS to adopt standards for the electronic exchange of information.

The House version does not include a transparency provision pushed by business and consumer groups that would make Medicare claims data on physician visits and hospitalizations available to research groups that can track trends in healthcare quality.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., is scheduled Thursday to speak at an event in town on fighting chronic disease as a key aspect of healthcare reform.

The event will be hosted by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and Emory University. Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Mark McClellan, former FDA commissioner and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator, are scheduled to speak.

HOMELAND SECURITY

House and Senate lawmakers will hold hearings this week to examine the federal government's ability to respond to a natural disaster or terrorist attack and care for victims.

The House Homeland Security Emergency Communications Subcommittee and the House Financial Services Housing Subcommittee plan a joint hearing Wednesday to examine the responsibilities of government agencies to meet the housing needs of Gulf Coast states following a disaster.

The hearing will feature testimony from officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and HUD.

Also on Wednesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Economic Development Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the effectiveness of the nation's public alert system.

Economic Development Subcommittee Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and ranking member Sam Graves, R-Mo., announced two weeks ago that they were introducing legislation to set standards that FEMA must meet to modernize the nation's emergency warning system.

FEMA is developing the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which will eventually allow alerts to be sent via e-mail, Web sites, pagers, cell phones and hand-held devices.

The bill would require the system to be designed to use multiple current and future communications technologies, alert people in remote areas and people with disabilities, and allow people to choose how they want to receive alerts.

On Thursday, a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee plans a hearing to examine community preparedness efforts of states and local governments, as well as the private sector.

Also on Thursday, the House Homeland Security Border Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing to review the Bush administration's so-called Merida Initiative, which aims to combat transnational criminal organizations. The initiative is intended to provide more than $1 billion to Mexico and Central American countries to confront criminal organizations.

INTELLIGENCE

House and Senate lawmakers return from recess facing the difficult tasks of rewriting the nation's surveillance laws and figuring out what to do with the annual authorization bill for the intelligence community.

On May 22, Senate and House Republicans proposed what they described as a compromise offer to House Democrats to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Republicans are waiting for House Majority Leader Hoyer and other House Democratic leaders to respond to the proposal.

Their proposal includes a provision that would allow the secret FISA court to determine whether telecommunications companies should be granted retroactive legal immunity for helping the Bush administration conduct wiretaps of the communications of U.S. citizens without warrants.

The court would not be allowed to conduct a full-scale investigation into whether the companies broke the law.

Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately slammed the provision, saying the FISA court review appears to be too limited.

The GOP proposal would also require the administration to submit its procedures and certifications to the FISA court for review before surveillance could begin, except in exigent circumstances.

The proposal contains language stating that FISA is the exclusive means for conducting wiretaps, and would allow intelligence community inspectors general to conduct an audit of the administration's warrantless wiretapping activities.

On another front, Democrats and Republicans face hurdles in clearing the FY09 intelligence authorization bill.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's version of the bill includes a provision that would require the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual when interrogating terrorism suspects.

Republicans oppose the provision, noting that it was a primary reason President Bush vetoed the FY08 intelligence authorization bill.

The House Intelligence Committee's version of the FY09 bill does not include the provision. But Senate Republicans appear hesitant to put more work into finishing the bill if Democrats insist on retaining the provision.

Aides said it did not appear likely that the intelligence authorization bill would be brought to the Senate or House floors this week.

TECHNOLOGY

The National Academy of Public Administration and consulting firm Deloitte will host a Tuesday seminar called "Web 2.0: The Future of Collaborative Government."

The third in a series of talks examining key issues that will face the next president will feature Mike Wertheimer of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Stephen Goldsmith of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the Academy's Frank DiGiammarino. Speakers will address high-tech workforce and organizational challenges that the new administration could encounter.

The newly coined phenomenon of a national "ID divide" will be the topic of a Center for American Progress briefing today.

Much like the Internet-fueled "digital divide," the ID divide is easily overlooked but impacts millions, according to the center. Over 20 million adult citizens lack government-issued photo ID, while victims of identity theft and those put on watch lists also fall on the wrong side of the divide.

A report that will be released at the event proposes six principles for identification and sets forth a plan for how the next presidential administration should address issues of identification and authentication.

Panelists will include report authors Cassandra Butts and Peter Swire; Cato Institute information policy director Jim Harper; security guru Bruce Schneier, and Common Cause Vice President for Research Tova Wang.

On Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will keynote the American Electronics Association's annual Technology for Government Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Washington. Last year, more than 600 federal chief information officers; members of Congress and their staffs; officials from the Bush administration, and high-tech executives attended.

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