The Week Ahead: Top Hill Aides Weigh In
Appropriately enough for a week that will be dominated by legislative items left over from before the July 4th break, aides to the top four congressional leaders foresee a continuation of debates over housing and high gas prices.
Democrats plan to resume blaming the GOP for obstructing their agenda, while Republicans will keep up the drumbeat that this is a "do-nothing" Congress marked by inaction on reducing prices at the pump. Which side has the better argument? Read the submissions from House and Senate leadership aides below, then weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments section:
Jim Manley, for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):
Democrats are continuing to work to make the American Dream affordable again while Republicans are continuing to stand in the way of every effort to turn our economy around and help hard-working American families.
This week Senate Democrats are addressing the continuing housing crisis and working to lower record high energy prices. We will also make health care more affordable by fighting for our seniors and doctors who would benefit from Medicare legislation that Senate Republicans blocked last week.
Don Stewart, for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):
The Senate left town with a lot of unfinished business and there are just five short weeks to finish big legislation before the August recess. Due to a filibuster by Senate Democrats, the Senate did not pass an update to FISA, though the legislation has wide bipartisan support. But we will pass this critical national security legislation on this week.
The Senate must also address the expiring Medicare provisions which affect payments to providers and access to quality health care for seniors. Sens. McConnell, Kyl and Grassley sent a letter to Leader Reid last week calling on Sen. Reid to allow a vote on a 31-day extension of current law to prevent the impact of expiring provisions from taking effect before the Senate has a chance to act. Democrats must return to negotiations to fix this problem immediately, and ensure Medicare beneficiaries and doctors do not continue to be punished because of political games.
In addition, the rest of the Housing bill is also still awaiting legislative action. Democrats slowed passage of this bill by refusing to allow a vote on an amendment extending renewable energy tax credits, even though 88 Senators supported an identical amendment earlier this year. If Democrats would allow a vote on bipartisan renewable energy tax credits, it would speed up the process for the remaining parts of the housing bill.
The Senate must also tackle the extension of several other tax relief provisions, like the deduction for college tuition costs, the R&D tax credit and the AMT patch. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid have been asked to join in a compromise to extend expiring tax relief in a deficit-neutral manner, and without permanently raising taxes. Forging a compromise now would ensure the upcoming filing season is not adversely affected, as it was last year, by last-minute changes in tax regulations.
But the number-one issue on constituents' minds is the price of gas at the pump. Two weeks ago, forty-four Senate Republicans introduced a balanced bill to bring gas prices down both by finding more American energy and using less. And this idea is supported by Americans- last week's Pew Research Poll found that support for increased energy exploration has jumped by 12 percent in just four months. The Gas Price Reduction Act would allow for increased domestic production, in an environmentally sensitive way, as well as reduce our consumption by encouraging the use of plug-in electric card and trucks, and strengthening our futures markets to guard against speculation pushing up the price of oil. It is a balanced solution to the problem of record-high gas prices, and we will be working to encourage Democrats to join us in trying to enact it to provide Americans with much-needed relief at the pump.
Brendan Daly, for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
Building on last month's bipartisan legislation passed overwhelmingly by the House requiring the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to use its emergency powers to curb excessive speculation distorting the energy markets, the House Agriculture Committee this week will hold three days of hearings on oil market speculation. The goal is to present the House with strong legislation this month to bring transparency to the markets and to end speculators' ability to artificially inflate the price at the pump.
After last week's announcement by the Labor Department that America has experienced its sixth straight month of job losses, Democrats are committed to doing even more to help America's workers and families struggling in this economy We will build on our legislative record that provided 3.5 million Americans who have lost their jobs with extended unemployment insurance while they look for work and $107 billion to more than 130 million American families.
Michael Steel, for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio):
Gas prices hit a new record high today, and as Congress returns to work tomorrow, Speaker Pelosi claims Democrats will "pursue every possible effective solution to address the causes of the record energy prices and to assist consumers in coping with the prohibitive cost of energy."
But what are they actually doing?
The House Democratic leadership has announced no legislation that could possibly help lower gas prices this week. None. In fact, the only vaguely energy-related bill the House will consider will make things even worse. That bill, which designates large portions of the Taunton River in Massachusetts -- which is lined with industrial facilities -- as "wild and scenic," is expressly designed to block construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Fall River. It is estimated that this plant would help lower heating costs in New England by up to $500 million a year, which translates to as much as 15 percent off every homeowners' heating bill. At the same time, some House Democrats are talking about the need for a "second stimulus" package that would include spending more taxpayer dollars for a home heating assistance program called LIHEAP.
This is how far their embrace of radical environmentalism has driven the Democratic Leadership from reality - they want to block a new facility to supply more energy and lower home heating costs, then waste taxpayers' money on subsidies to help pay the higher costs that they caused.
What are House Republicans doing? What we've been doing for months: using every tool available to us to increase the supply of American energy and help lower gas prices. This is the number one issue on the minds of voters, and Democrats are standing in the way of policies supported by huge majorities of the American people. All of our Members heard from their constituents over the Independence Day work period, and we understand that the American people don't just want talk from Congress, they want action.
As we've seen with both the economic stimulus bill and troop funding, when Democrats are willing to work with Republicans, we can get things done for the American people. We can and should work together to help increase the supply of American energy and lower gas prices. In basketball, when a team is trying to run out the clock, they often employ the "four corners offense" (developed by Brendan Daly's hero, UNC Coach Dean Smith). This week, the House Democratic leadership seems to be running the Congressional equivalent of the "four corners" - they are stalling, rather than working with Republicans to deal with the damage that high gas prices and the Democrats' tax increase will do to the American economy.
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