Saturday, February 14, 2009

What Exactly Was That That Happened at the First time in 50 years Televised Meeting of the House-Senate Appropriations Committee?

I'm new at this, so I may not have got it all right, but as a watcher of the actual televising Wednesday night of the House-Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, this is what I noted:

Senator Inouye chaired the meeting, at some point announcing, "There will be no amendments presented in this meeting." I thought this was curious, because I had understood that the purpose of the meeting was for selected Republicans and Democrats to "tweak" the bill that had just been passed by the House. This tweaking, I thought, was to be accomplished through debate and amendments to the House bill, so that the resulting bill out of Appropriations could be a compromise one.

What struck me as odd was that most of the attendees were Republicans Where was an equal number of of Democrats? And why were amendments not allowed? Don't those who show up get to sway the vote?

A few days later, a FOX news reporter mentioned that on Wednesday, while Republicans showed up to debate and amend, the Democrats never showed. They were "holed up" behind closed doors.

So apparently a House-Senate Appropriations Committee meeting never was, dispite the fact that something loosely described as one was televised.

So much for transparency.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Senator Ensign Requests Key Lawmakers Debate on House/Senate Compromise Stimulus Bill Be Open to the Public

Debate on the House/ Senate Compromise Stimulus Bill by key lawmakers apparently will not be open to the public via CSPAN, as last week's was. This next round of debates will be behind closed doors. Although this may be current protocol for Congress, given the current economic crisis the US is facing and President Obama's pledge of greater transparency in government, Senator Ensign's request makes sense. I believe that Americans are currently paying closer attention than ever before to how their government operates. Decisions made behind closed doors in the absence of a public hearing will tend to lead to more questions, frustration and cynicism at a time when Americans need to believe that our representatives are acting on behalf of all of us and not out of loyalty to their specific constituents and themselves.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CSPAN The Senate Debate of the House Stimulus Bill in Real Time

All day sessions of Senators' presentations pro and con, without edit--no O'Reilly or VanSusteren selective sound bites, (although I enjoy their shows for different reasons).

Here is what stood out to me as notable from the week's hearings:

The Coburn Amendment to strike tax breaks for the film industry -- approved.

The Coburn Amendment to allow bonus depreciation for the film industry -- approved.

Did I get this right ? Seems as if bonus depreciation would be a tax break.

The McCain Amendment giving the Stimulus Package a chance to work, but after two full quarters of demonstrated growth in the GNP, some new Bill provisions would sunset, and Congress would begin working toward a balanced budget-- defeated.

The Ensign-Boxer bi-partisan amendment on "repatriated funds," which would have offered a tax rate lower than the going US business based rate of 35% to get off shore US company profits back in US banks and working to back more US jobs -- defeated. Apparently defeated on the basis that it was just not fair to offer a tax rate lower than what US companies currently pay, even if it meant instant "found money" for the US economy.

But the Dorgan "Buy America" amendment which McCain opposed, quoting President Obama as having said it would undermine international trade agreements and should be voted down, was passed.

The Vitter amendment referred to a "laundry list" of specifics I did not find in reading the website version of the House Bill:

--$20 million for removal of small and medium size fish barriers (where? in a specific state?)

--$150 million for honeybee insurance

--$400 million to prevent STDs

--$100 million for the 2010 census taking

--$13 million for Amtrak subsidies (which I think is already a yearly regular budget item)

--$75 million for state department training

--Homeland consolidation and streamlining at a cost of $248 million (is this an oxymoron ?)

The Coburn amendment highlighted some additional items, saying that the prohibitions on these, which were in the House bill, were not in the Senate version:

--funding for renovations of museums, swimming pools, aquariums, golf courses, theaters, highway beautification and art projects

-- a Rhode Island tree planting project

--a Chula Vista, CA dog park

-- $100,000. for an Alameda, CA skate park

-- Rhode Island zoo renovation

--$6.1 million for corporate jet hanger renovations for Arkansas

--$ 500,000 for a Dayton, Ohio golf course

--$50 million for a Las Vegas Museum

Would these be called "earmarks" ?

The website version of the House bill states: "There are no earmarks in this package."

Coburn's amendment to prohibit the above -- tabled as of today (Thursday, February 5)

Coburn's amendment requiring competitive bidding on ALL governmental projects -- defeated.

Brasso's amendment to require new projects to begin within 9 months rather than taking months, years to get permitted-- defeated.

The Martinez amendment to provide insurance to protect loan servicers currently stalled in their reworking of toxic loans by the fear of law suits against them (by lenders they serve?) -- withdrawn.

The Bunning amendment to suspend tax increases on social security benefits -- defeated.

The Harkins amendment to give a $10,000. subsidy (ie mandatory trade-in credit on your old auto) for buyers of new, cleaner, more efficient cars assembled in the USA-- withdrawn.

What passed?

--$15,000 tax credits for home buyers

--$2 Billion additional aid for state housing finance for affordble housing, which is now stalled because credit is stalled.

--an increase from $2 million to $5 million for loans to small businesses

And the bulk of the House bill remains in tact.

The purpose of my blog is essentially to clarify and understand for myself, events I consider important to understand as a voter. If it informs you in some way, if I have got something wrong, or if you wish to have a friendly debate, feel free to comment.