Congressional Observer: November 2006

 - November 9, 2006, 8:35 AM

• Congress closed up shop on September 29, and November 13 was set as the date for what might be a lame-duck Congress to reconvene. The long interval freed legislators who are up for election to go to their home districts and do battle for votes. Democrats are hoping that the scandals surrounding Republican congressmen will influence voters to restore the Democrats to majorities in the House and Senate. The activities of lobbyist Jack Abramoff put Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) in jail and caused Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio) to plead guilty to corruption charges that stemmed from his relationship with the lobbyist. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) threw in the towel after revelations of inappropriate behavior with Congressional pages.

• President Bush signed the Department of Homeland Security annual spending bill, which includes $1.2 billion for a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border; increases the number of U.S. Border Patrol Agents to 14,800; funds 27,500 detention beds for illegal aliens; and finances hundreds of programs, including transportation and port security.

Bush also signed into law S.2590, the “Federal Funding Accountability Act of 2006,” better known as “The Sunshine Act,” which had been delayed in the Senate by a hold put on the bill by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The bill would require the full disclosure of the $460 billion in federal grants and $340 billion in federal contracts. The Office of Management and Budget is tasked with providing a database that would allow the public to get information about each entity that receives federal funding, the amount received, how the money is being used and where the entity is located.

• Smarting from the label “the do-nothing Congress,” members of the 109th Congress pointed out that, as of September 29, there had been 4,045 bills introduced in the Senate and 6,312 in the House and suggested that those figures were indicative of performance. However, The Washington Post observed that while a number of bills had not been passed, the House found time to consider House Resolution 748, “Recognizing the 225th anniversary of the American and French Victory at Yorktown”; House Resolution 991, “Congratulating the Columbus Northern Little League Team from Columbus, Georgia”; and House Resolution 973, honoring “the financial-planning profession for their adherence and dedication to the financial-planning process.”

• September 30 marked the end of the government’s fiscal year and the deadline for legislation providing appropriations for 12 government agencies. Only the appropriations bills for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security were passed.

The DOD received funding of $463 billion, a 3.6-percent increase over Fiscal Year 2006. That figure includes such items as $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; $81 billion for new weapons, including aircraft (20 F-22As, 22 C-17s, nine C-130Js and two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters), two Navy destroyers, two high-speed Littoral Combat ships and one Virginia-class attack submarine; $76 billion for research and development; and $9.3 billion for missile defense programs.

The total amount authorized by Congress for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 has risen to $507 billion. For the government agencies that were not funded, the Senate passed a resolution that allows them to continue operations based on the appropriations for the previous fiscal year. Whether Congress will pass individual appropriations bills or lump them together in an“omnibus” bill remains to be seen.

• Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced S.3967, the “Flight 800 Improvement Act of 2006,” a bill that would require the FAA to finalize the proposed rule relating to the reduction of fuel-tank flammability exposure. The bill would give the FAA until January 1 next year to finalize and implement its proposed rule and require that operators and manufacturers take action to comply with the rule.

• Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Rep. Rick Keller (R-Fla.) introduced S.3993 and H.R.6226, bills that would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code, to provide penalties for aiming laser pointers at airplanes.

• Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced H.R.6228, a bill to amend Section 29 of the International Air Transportation Competition Act of 1979 relating to air transportation to and from Dallas Love Field.