Legislation left undone as Congress takes off
- Article by: The Associated Press
- Associated Press
- August 1, 2012 - 2:53 PM
Major bills that Congress has left unfinished as it prepares to leave at the end of the week for its August recess:
FARM AND FOOD PROGRAMS:
The Senate in June and the House Agriculture Committee in July passed similar bills to set agriculture subsidy and conservation policy and spend almost $100 billion a year over the next five years for farm and nutrition programs. But the House Republican leadership has refused to bring the bill to the floor, fearing a rebellion from conservatives who say it spends too much, particularly for the expanding food stamp program.
Fearing backlash from constituents in rural communities about failure to act on a farm bill, the House on Thursday is expected to vote on legislation to revive disaster relief programs for livestock producers hit by the widespread drought. A proposal to link that to a one-year extension of the existing farm bill — which expires at the end of September — was also rejected because of resistance from farm groups and the Senate.
POSTAL SERVICE OVERHAUL:
The U.S. Postal Service at midnight Wednesday will default on $5.5 billion in scheduled payments to the Treasury for future retiree health care benefits as it waits for Congress to come up with a plan to help it regain fiscal solvency. Another $5.6 billion due in September is also likely to go unpaid. The mail agency has come up with its own plan to restore profitability by cutting Saturday delivery, closing smaller postal facilities and reducing retiree benefit responsibilities.
A Senate bill passed in April took a less aggressive approach, providing an $11 billion cash infusion to help the independent agency avert a default while avoiding some of the cuts.
The House remains stalled over its version and it appears unlikely that it will pass legislation this year. The House would set up a commission to determine facility closures, opposed by rural lawmakers whose constituents would be most affected by the cuts.
Senators this week took up legislation to protect the U.S. electrical grid and other critical industries from cyberattacks and electronic espionage, but it is doubtful they will finish before leaving for the recess.
The White House has warned that failure to pass the bill leaves the country's essential businesses vulnerable to criminals, foreign governments and terrorists, but Republicans say the bill would lead to costly mandatory rules imposed by Washington that would not substantially reduce the risks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Wednesday criticized Republican senators for trying to offer unrelated amendments, including one to repeal the 2010 health care law. The House in April passed legislation to remove barriers to information sharing between businesses and the government, but the White House issued a veto threat, saying it did not adequately protect private-sector computer networks.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT:
House Speaker John Boehner on Monday named lawmakers to negotiate with the Senate on a compromise bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for five years, but progress on the bill remained elusive four months after the Senate reauthorized the act on a bipartisan vote. The 1994 act, created to prevent domestic abuse and protect its victims, expired last year.
The House in May narrowly passed its own version, but the Obama White House threatened a presidential veto, saying it didn't go far enough to protect battered illegal immigrants, Native Americans or gays. The Democratic-led Senate did extend new protections to those minority groups and the legislation has become a point of reference as the two parties campaign for women's votes before the election.
Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have approved bills to end Cold War restrictions and extend permanent normal trade relations to Russia. Normalizing trade with Russia is a top priority of U.S. business groups, because on August 22 Russia will enter the World Trade Organization, and without congressional action, American exporters will not be able to take advantage of the lowering of tariffs and other trade barriers that will accompany WTO membership. Economists estimate that U.S. sales to Russia, now about $9 billion a year, could double within five years if trade is normalized.
But there are no signs either the full House or Senate will take up the legislation this week. To satisfy lawmakers concerned about Russia's human rights record, the trade bill has been linked to legislation that would punish Russian officials involved in human rights violations. But there is still resistance to improving relations with Russia at a time when the Moscow government is threatening U.S. missile defenses in Europe and aiding the Assad government in Syria.
© 2013 Star Tribune