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Week in Summary: It is a fight to the finish this week as both the House and Senate prepare for a weeklong Memorial recess. The House has the supplemental bill at the top of its calendar. The House bill may be paired with other initiatives such as a measure to raise the debt ceiling limit or language ‘deeming’ the House-passed budget resolution. The ‘deeming’ language would create a blueprint for the fiscal 2003 appropriations bills since the Senate does not appear inclined to pass its own budge resolution, leaving the spending accounts without any guidance.
The Senate will enter its fifth and likely final week of debate today on a trade package (HR 3009) that includes fast-track trade negotiating authority for the president, aid to workers displaced by trade pacts, and a reauthorization of trade preferences for some South American nations. They also hope to take up the supplemental spending bill in committee and hate crime legislation on the Senate floor.
Once Bitten – Twice Shy – Use That Veto!!
There is a lot of frenetic activity on Capitol Hill right now – a lot of heat, but little light. Congress generally works in increments of deadlines – rushing to pass legislation before the clock chimes. It is very much like cramming for a college final the night before. Next week heralds the start of the Memorial recess, which means they have one week to shove in five weeks of promised legislation. For the Senate, this is proving particularly difficult. On April 9th Daschle had a long list of initiatives that he planned to get by Memorial recess. I guess time really does fly when you are having fun. Since that date he has spent five weeks on one issue, trade. I am of course NOT complaining. The best thing that can happen for the American people is that Congress goes home and does not pass laws that increase the size and reach of government.
However, in their rush to enjoy a “much needed” weeks vacation haste may get the better of prudence. Unfortunately, this happens quite a bit in Washington, DC. The taxpayers get trampled as Members rush to find the exits. While significantly worse when the focus is sine die (the final adjournment for the year), these mini-recesses often prove debilitating to the taxpayers wallets and freedom.
One example is the current debate over the trade package. After considering this monstrosity for over five weeks it appears that each day the Senate just keeps making it worse. Free trade is a cornerstone of the American economy. Exports now provide more than 12 million American jobs; one out of five manufacturing jobs is export-related, and one in every three acres is farmed for export. However, the Senators only see an opportunity to create their own personal Christmas tree. This bill even has health care subsidies for workers affected by trade disruptions. Regardless of the merits of this proposal, why are we linking health care with trade? Pretty soon they will make a case for adding all sorts of new initiatives – why not have new cars for every displaced worker so they can drive to a new job? Now they are even trying to attach another amendment that would provide health care specifically to recently retired steel workers. The steel industry has been in decline for decades due to a loss of competitive advantage. It has received several bailouts in the past few months and is still searching for even more of our hard-earned money? At what point do we say enough? What is going to be the straw to break the camel’s back?
This same dynamic is beginning to play out on the supplemental spending bill as well. A decent idea to begin with, after a bit of work from Congress it becomes an absolute atrocity that needs to be killed with wooden stakes and silver bullets. To conduct his war on terror and improve our national defense, President Bush asked for $27.1 billion. At the time he wisely threatened to veto the measure if it ran a penny more. Congress, in its wisdom, decided to tack on an additional $2.3 Billion. To get around the President’s veto threat they decided to make the extra funding ‘contingency’ funding. Essentially this is a fancy new spending gimmick that allows Congress put the money but not ‘count’ it because it is only used on a contingency basis as deemed necessary by the President. Of course as soon as the President signs the bill, Members of Congress start sending out releases and letters taking credit for the new spending, thereby forcing the President’s hand in releasing this extra money that was only supposed to be for ‘contingency’ purposes. Now the bill heads to the Senate where Robert Byrd (D-WV) “king of the big spenders” has already thrown away any pretence of keeping fiscal sanity and claims to have a bill around $34 billion. This represents a modest proposal for him. Once again the question begs to be asked. What is enough? When will the President finally admit that getting this bill and the extra funding is not worth having all of this other crap included? Let’s all hope that this happens soon – and he follows up on his promised veto. Once bitten – twice shy – once the President vetoes one measure it will make the Congress that much more cautious about thumbing their nose at his requests and threats the next time.