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The Economic Growth and Jobs Creation Plan
Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee conducted the first of four hearings on President Bush’s economic growth plan. Treasury Secretary Snow, the first Administration representative called before the committee, deflected Democratic opposition and hammered on the package’s pro-growth and jobs creation features.
Chairman Thomas (R-Calif.) would like to have the bill marked up and on the House floor by March 24. Although some House Republican moderates have reservations on the proposal’s pricetag, House passage of the plan is near certain. In fact, some lawmakers have urged party leaders to consider adding more simulative tax cuts to the plan, such as reducing further the capital gains tax.
Action in the Senate is still pending. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Grassley (R-Iowa) has yet to schedule hearings on the issue, as he prefers to wait until a budget resolution is completed.
With respect to the budget, both Rep. Nussle (R-Iowa) and Sen. Nickles (R-Okla.) chairmen of their respective Budget Committees, are both hoping to have their budget resolutions passed as quickly as possible. Passing a budget resolution is a necessity for the tax plan. Senate procedure will allow the tax cut to be approved under reconciliation, which allows a simple majority for passage, instead of 60 votes.
However, both chambers have yet to agree on how far out the budget should be written, either a five or ten year plan. This final number is important because it will essentially determine how long the tax cuts will be valid. In either case, the tax cuts will expire after five or ten years, whichever budget figure is used, and therefore a future vote is needed to permanently lock in the tax cuts. Nevertheless, both chairmen hope to have a conference budget report passed before April 15.
Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved medical malpractice reform legislation, which would cap “non-economic damages” at $250,000. It’s likely that the Judiciary Committee will do the same today. The bill now moves to the House floor where it will face predictable opposition by Democrats.
Essentially, the malpractice reform bill addresses the booming rise of medical malpractice insurance. Doctors and medical practitioners in dozens for states have been either forced to retire early, move out of the profession, or move to other states in order to escape exorbitant insurance rates caused by excessive lawsuits brought on by trial lawyers.
Republicans Move to Limit Debate on Estrada
Republican senators have agreed to invoke cloture on the Estrada nomination. Cloture will cut off debate on the issue and force a vote in which only a simple majority is needed for confirmation; however, it takes 60 votes to invoke cloture. Republicans are five votes short of 60; Democrats are holding firm.
The strategy behind this move is to force Democrats to take successive votes against cloture, which will paint them as obstructionist. Republicans are hoping that this move may eventually turn at least five Democrats to favor Estrada.
It’s hard to see how this will work though. This is an ideological battle, and Democrats are firmly opposed to the nomination as a sure way to bolster their position with their base supporters. Therefore, Democrats know they have to make their stand on the Estrada issue. They can play the angle that they are “protecting” the judiciary from a “right-wing” conservative ideologue who will overturn Roe-v-Wade, allow polluters to despoil our environment, and so on. By firmly filibustering, they can throw a sop to all their interests groups.
It’s hard to see Estrada on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. anytime soon.
Bringing Home the Bacon, or Just Dishing it Out
Tucked away in the 3,000-page omnibus appropriations bill is a $202,500 grant to help fund a multi-purpose meeting facility on Dotham, Alabama’s National Peanut Festival fairgrounds.
A press release by Congressman Terry Everett (R-Ala.), the sponsor of the appropriation, stated:
“The multi-purpose facility will be used to house additional activities when the Festival's large arena is already occupied. Given the Festival Fairgrounds’ frequent use as a community gathering place for shows and exhibitions, the need already exists for the new facility.”