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The Congressional Connector

Week of January 30 - February 3, 2006

Congress Reconvenes to Hear President’s State of the Union Message

On January 31, President Bush delivered his fifth State of the Union message to a joint session of Congress.  Among other things, the President called on Congress to renew the PATRIOT Act, increase the use of so-called “health savings accounts,” and reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil by 75 percent by the year 2025.  The President also warned against “shut[ting] ourselves off from trade” and urged the nation to stay the course in Iraq.  After listening to the President’s speech, Rep. Levin had this reaction: “The President has a five year record of failure on the very items he described this evening as the priorities American families are most concerned about.  Families have to be asking themselves where has the President been when it comes to health care costs, energy costs, and addressing the manufacturing jobs crisis.”  For a point-by-point critique of the speech, click here.

House Holds Cliffhanger Re-vote of Bill to Cut Billions from Child Support Enforcement, Student Aid, and Health Care

On February 1, the House of Representatives held a re-vote on a Republican budget bill to cut $38.8 billion from federal funding for child support enforcement; student loans; and health care for children, the elderly and disabled.  The final vote was a razor-thin 216 to 214, meaning that the measure would have been defeated if one more person had voted no.  The House had approved a nearly identical bill by a somewhat wider margin in December, but a second vote was needed after the Senate made a number of small, technical changes to the legislation.  Rep. Levin blasted the bill, calling it “harmful for America’s children.”  For additional information, click here.  

How Much Red Ink Can You Stand?

On January 27, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the federal government would post a $337 billion deficit in 2006.  If, as anticipated, the President requests additional funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Hurricane Katrina recovery, the 2006 deficit could top $360 billion.  CBO is Congress’ non-partisan budget scorekeeper.  If CBO’s forecast is correct, the 2006 shortfall will join 2003, 2004, and 2005 as the four largest deficits in American history.

House Adopts Band-Aid Reform Bill

On February 1, the House voted 379 to 50 to adopt a resolution to ban former Members of the House who are lobbyists from getting onto the House Floor and the House gym.  Rep. Levin voted for the resolution.  During the debate on the measure, there were loud complaints that the bill would do little to rein in the unprecedented political access that lobbyists have come to enjoy on Capitol Hill in recent years, and Members from both sides of the aisle complained that the House Leadership brought the bill to the Floor with little notice and without any opportunity for rank-and-file Members to offer amendments.  Earlier in the week, Rep. Levin and 160 other House introduced a sweeping government/lobbying reform bill.  

Rep. Boehner to Take Over as House Majority Leader

On February 2, House Republicans elected Representative John Boehner of Ohio to be the new Majority Leader of the House.  Mr. Boehner will take over the job from Representative Tom DeLay, who was forced to relinquish the post after being indicted on state campaign finance charges in Texas.

In Negotiating a Korean Trade Agreement, the Bush Administration Must Stand Up for U.S. Automakers

On February 2, the Bush Administration announced that the U.S. and South Korea will begin negotiations on a free trade agreement.  If these negotiations are successful, this would be one of the largest bilateral free trade deals ever.  Rep. Levin, a senior member of the influential House Committee with jurisdiction over trade, cautioned that any trade agreement must open the Korean market to U.S. automakers.  “Korea is the world’s eleventh-largest market and the United States seventh-largest trading partner, yet it remains virtually closed to our automotive exports, despite previous agreements....  If the President is interested in making good on his promise to open markets and level the playing field for the U.S. Automotive Sector, he can start by knocking down barriers to Korea.  This agreement presents an opportunity for the Bush Administration to stand up for our automotive sector.” 

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