Congress completed a busy week as the House and Senate were in session at the same time for one of the last times before the August recess. This week, the House begins a weeklong recess, while the Senate will be in session before adjourning for a week on July 1. Below is a summary of the significant events of the past week.
- The House passes patent reform legislation ( See our previous update of the Patent Reform Legislation) with strong bipartisan support 304-117.
- Biden negotiations hit a major snag (see below).
- President Obama announced Wednesday that 10,000 American troops currently fighting in Afghanistan will return to the U.S. by the end of the year and that an additional 23,000 would be home within 12 months.
- The Senate confirmed CIA Director Leon Panetta as the next Secretary of Defense by unanimous vote.
- Legislation was introduced in the Senate regarding U.S. military engagement in Libya. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a resolution authorizing U.S. participation in the NATO-led military operation in Libya for the next year. The bill (S. Res. 194) enjoys strong bipartisan support and has enough votes to pass, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
- The House voted Friday on two bills regarding U.S. engagement in Libya. The first resolution, H.J. Res. 68, is very similar to S. Res. 194 and failed by a vote of 123 - 295. The second resolution, H.R. 2278 would limit funding for the war in Libya to search and rescue; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR); aerial refueling; and operational planning.unless specifically authorized by Congress. That bill failed by a vote of 180-238.
- The Congressional Budget Office released a study this week finding that the U.S. debt could be nearly twice the nation’s GDP in 25 years if the U.S. does not implement changes in spending and tax policy.
- The Obama Administration announced Thursday that it would release 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next month. The release will be coordinated along with an additional release of 30 million barrels from other International Energy Agency countries. The Obama Administration said that the release was intended to ease gasoline prices as unrest in Libya continues to reduce international supply. There was an immediate impact from the decision as the price of a barrel of oil on the commodities market fell by $4 to $90.80.
Bipartisan Debt Ceiling Negotiations Stall
Vice President Biden convened several meetings last week of the bipartisan debt reduction task force, but the biggest news came Thursday when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) announced they were exiting the talks.
According to Leader Cantor, a general blue print has been agreed upon that includes “trillions of dollars in spending cuts.” The key obstacle at this point appears to be the insistence by the Obama Administration and some Democrats that revenue increases also be part of the agreement. While the level of tax increases being discussed is not known, the Washington Post reported that during a meeting with the President Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other Democratic House members asked the President to include $400 billion in revenue increases as part of the final deal.
If an agreement to raise the debt ceiling is not reached by August 2nd, the government risks defaulting on its obligations which some believe will negatively impact interest rates and the financial markets. The debt-reduction package is aimed at persuading reluctant lawmakers to approve the debt ceiling increase.
Senator Whitehouse Expresses Concern Over White House’s Cybersecurity Proposal
During a hearing on Tuesday, June 21, to discuss the Obama Administration’s Cybersecurity Proposal, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, said the plan may take too long to become effective. “I’m worried about the extent of the threat we’re facing right now and the time it will take to work through the administration procedures that are built into the administration’s proposal.” The Administation’s plan would grant regulatory authority to the Department of Homeland Security to work with businesses to identify the most vital networks, the risks to those networks, and then design plans to protect them.
The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies also had a hearing on Friday, to discuss the Obama administration’s cybersecurity proposal.
House of Representatives Begins Consideration of the Defense Appropriations Bill
The House of Representatives began debating amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill on the House floor Thursday and plan to vote on passage when the House resumes session on July 6th. The bill appropriates $649.2 billion for defense programs in Fiscal year 2012, $8.1 billion less than the President’s request and $21.9 billion less than the current funding level. It includes $118.7 billion in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the general war on terrorism. That amount is almost $40 billion less than the current level, a reduction that is mainly due to the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq.
The White House issued a statement against the bill, strongly opposing a section included that would prevent the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the United States, effectively precluding them from facing U.S. trial or imprisonment. In the statement, the Administration said that the language "is a dangerous and extraordinary challenge to the critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and national security interests," the White House statement said.
We continue to follow news from Capitol Hill and within the Administration as the FY 2012 appropriations process moves forward and as the President works to revive negotiations with House Republicans.