Congressional Observer: November 2008

 - November 4, 2008, 4:38 AM

• Normal Congressional activities came to a screeching halt in late September and early October as the legislature turned its attention to deciding what to do about the nation’s financial crisis. A lot of midnight oil was burned by a host of instant money experts. First the House rejected a $700 billion bill, then the Senate worked out a compromise, passed that bill and sent it on to the House, where it was accepted and passed. President Bush quickly signed off. Both the lawmakers and the administration objected to the term “bailout,” preferring to refer to the legislation as a “rescue package” or “an emergency economic stabilization” plan. Details of the legislation have been covered more than adequately by the general media.

Spending watchdogs pondered where the money would come from and where it would go. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal budget deficit for the 2008 budget year set a new record as it rose to $438 billion, topping the previous record set by the $413 billion posted in 2004. The deficit is almost certain to grow even higher as the government delves into the financial crisis and digs into the $700 billion Treasury fund to pay off mortgage-related securities and other activities.

• Regardless of who is elected President, the winner will leave a vacancy in the Senate, and cabinet appointees might also hail from the Senate. If that happens, the next and future Congresses could see a shift in balance as some of the potential appointees would be named by state governors of the opposite party. Early in American history, Senators were frequently tapped for the Cabinet but, according to the Senate historian, only three have been appointed since 1950–Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), in 1993; Edmund Muskie (D-Maine), in 1980; and William Saxbe (R-Ohio), in 1974.

• On October 3, the House voted to adjourn until Jan. 3, 2009. The Senate continued with its pro forma sessions, which last a few minutes and prevent President Bush from making any recess appointments. Lame-duck sessions remain a possibility if there is a demand for Congressional action on matters deemed important. At the beginning of last month, the bill count for the 110th Congress was 7,270 in the House and 3,682 in the Senate. Bills not enacted will hit the big round file at the end of the year and would have to be reintroduced when the next session of Congress begins.

• In spite of Democrat promises to fund government agencies by the September 30 fiscal year deadline, none of the 12 agency appropriations bills was passed. To avert a government shutdown, lawmakers passed a resolution to continue funding the agencies until March 6. As it does every year, the fiscal funding year begins on October 1 and another cycle of appropriations bills has to be considered and passed by September 30.

• Citizens Against Government Waste named Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) “Porker of the Month” for inserting a provision in the Fiscal Year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act that gives earmarks contained in the act’s committee report the force of law. In January President Bush instructed government agencies not to fund any earmarks contained in committee reports or based on any other non-statutory source. What Levin’s provision does is to incorporate earmarks listed in the report into the statute itself, making the earmarks “a requirement in law,” thereby circumventing Bush’s Executive Order.  

• Aviation bills introduced were:

- H.R.6984, the “Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2008, Part II,” introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to extend authorizations for the airport improvement program, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend the funding and expenditure authority of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) moved to suspend the rules and pass the bill. The question was taken and two-thirds being in the affirmative, the rules were suspended and the bill was passed. A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

- H.R.6985, the “Military Air Travel Fairness Act of 2008,” introduced by Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to require air carriers to waive certain baggage fees for members of the uniformed services traveling under orders.