The Second Session of the 110th Congress is underway, with the House returning on January 15 and the Senate reconvening on January 22. This Session will have a somewhat limited window for legislative accomplishments. There will be a lengthy Summer Recess with the usual August break, as well as the Democratic and Republican Conventions. In addition, because it is an election year, Congress will likely attempt to leave as early as possible for the campaign season. The House has already tentatively scheduled the date of its final adjournment for the end of September.
Senate Republicans are particularly concerned with the potential impact of the upcoming elections on the number of seats they control in that body. Twenty-three of the 49 seats the Republicans currently control are up for election this year, while the Democrats will only have to defend 12 of their 51 seats. Senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are Independents, but caucus with the Democrats.
The first significant item on the Administration’s agenda for Congress is the renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which is currently due to expire on February 1. The President will also be seeking more money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the renewal of his No Child Left Behind education reform law, the permanent enactment of his first term tax cuts, and the passage of free trade agreements for Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Because of concerns regarding the overall state of the economy – particularly the recent problems with the housing market – the Administration may also propose an economic stimulus package to include tax rebates for individuals and tax breaks for businesses to encourage investment.
Congressional Democrats will seek to pass legislation to reduce global warming by regulating carbon dioxide emissions. In December, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works reported the American Climate Security Act (S.2191). The Act establishes a “cap and trade” program within the Environmental Protection Agency, allowing for the creation of an annual cap on greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, in addition to the issuance of credits to allow covered source of pollutants to emit prescribed levels. The credits can be traded, purchased or sold. The Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA), has said his Subcommittee will produce similar legislation early this year. The Democratic Leadership is also expected to introduce its version of an economic stimulus package.
In November, the House passed the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act (H.R.3915) to better regulate the subprime lending markets. The Senate will have to consider its version of a housing market reform bill. The House has also passed the Patent Reform Act of 2007 (H.R.1908). The Senate Leadership would like to set aside some time to debate and vote on its Patent Reform Act (S.1145)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will also renew her efforts to pass legislation to compel the Administration to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. There were numerous efforts to do this in the First Session, but a combination of the President’s veto and the need for producing 60 votes in the Senate to invoke cloture prevented these efforts from succeeding.
The First Session of the 110th Congress saw a flurry of activity on the Floors of both the Senate and the House. Before leaving in December, the Senate conducted its 442nd Roll Call vote of the year and the Members of the House cast their 1,186th vote, the most Floor votes ever cast in a single session of Congress. While the Congress passed 155 bills last year, more than one-third involved naming post offices or courthouses. However, among the more significant legislative accomplishments of the First Session are the following:
Omnibus Appropriations – Before leaving for the year, Congress passed an Omnibus Appropriations bill which combined 11 appropriation bills calling for $555 billion in spending for FY 2008, including 8,993 earmarks for Member-sponsored spending programs. When funds from the already enacted Defense Department Appropriations Bill are included, the overall discretionary spending level for FY 2008 amounts to $932.8 billion.
Energy Legislation – Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110- 140), which enhanced the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for automobiles and strengthened renewable fuel standards.
Terrorism Risk Insurance – Congress passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-160), which will extend the Federal backstop for terrorism risk insurance through December 31, 2014.
Minimum Wage – Congress raised the minimum wage to $5.85.
Ethics and Lobbying Rules – Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (P.L. 100-81), which strengthened ethic standards for Members of Congress, staff and lobbyists.
Alternative Minimum Tax – Congress enacted the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2007 (P.L. 100-166), which extends the exemptions for individuals to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) through 2007. Without this bill, the AMT would have applied to about 2.3 million more families in the 2007 tax year.
9/11 Commission – Congress passed the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53), which enacted into law 23 recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
The State of the Union Address is scheduled for January 28. It will be the final State of the Union speech of the Bush Presidency.