June 30, 2009
In this issue:
Currently in Washington
For the first time since the 103rd Congress, the Democratic Party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress. Now 6 months into President Obama’s first term, Democratic leaders are using their majorities to assert an ambitious agenda of domestic reforms ranging from health care to climate change legislation, 12 appropriations bills, an overhaul of student financial aid, immigration reform, gay rights, a hate crimes bill, implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
The current debate in Congress over health care reform, President Obama’s top priority, remains the single most important issue in determining the schedule and progress of the rest of the administration’s agenda. As three separate proposals have begun to take shape in the Congress, both Republican and Democratic policy-makers remain sharply divided over both the substance of the reform’s provisions and the mechanism for financing an expansionary program likely to cost upwards of $1 trillion over ten years. After narrowly passing a cap-and-trade energy bill in the House, Senate Energy and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer is looking to produce a report on the Senate companion to the bill before the August recess. In what will surely be a highly partisan Senate battle, the recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision in favor of Democrat Al Franken gives the Democratic majority a key 60th vote in the chamber – the number of votes needed to fight a Republican filibuster.
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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
(FOAs for the week of June 22 – 26 only. Complete listing available in the working document)
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News & Highlights
6.29.09 - Patient-Centered Research Report Sent to Congress Outlining Research Priorities
Council Reports Back After Vigorous Public Outreach; Advises New Research Dollars To Focus On Populations Who Have Been Under-Represented And Better, More Coordinated Dissemination Of Information To Patients And Providers
Recommendations for how the HHS Office of the Secretary will spend $400 million in funds for patient-centered research, also known as comparative effectiveness research, were released today by Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER). The report, mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is designed to help the HHS Secretary and lawmakers improve the quality of care for patients, and provide patients and doctors the best information possible to make decisions about health care.
The Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research report also catalogues current federal activities on CER, which had not been previously inventoried. The new report is available at www.hhs.gov/recovery/programs/cer.
“This essential patient centered research will help give patients and doctors more information so they can make the best decisions,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “The council has produced an important tool that will help us better target our investments in this vital area of health care research. I was impressed by the amount of public input that was incorporated into their report; especially the focus on funding research for populations who have been left behind or left out.”
The council was charged by Congress with the task of identifying key areas of comparative effectiveness research where funding could make the greatest impact to improve health outcomes for our nation. The council heard many perspectives, including public input from hundreds of diverse stakeholders, which influenced the entire report. The report includes a definition of CER, criteria for determining which research projects should be a priority, and a strategic framework to identify gaps and future priorities.
The council focused on the unique role that the Office of Secretary funds could play in complementing and leveraging funding currently allocated to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies. Recommendations include the following:
- It is critically important to be able to share the results of comparative effectiveness research with doctors and patients and make better investments in how information is disseminated;
- Research should focus on the needs of priority populations such as racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, persons with multiple chronic conditions, the elderly, and children;
- Research should be in specific high-impact health arenas such as medical and assistive devices, surgical procedures, behavioral interventions and prevention; and
- Investments should be made in data infrastructure such as linking current data sources to enable answering CER questions, development of distributed electronic data networks and partnerships with the private sector.
The council’s report will help to inform Secretary Sebelius’ submission of an operational plan for the combined $1.1 billion allocated for patient-centered research, which includes the $400 million allocated to the Office of the Secretary at HHS. This investment will empower clinicians and patients with the information needed to achieve the best outcomes possible.
6.25.09 - Obama Administration Announces Availability of $3.9 Billion to Invest in Smart Grid Technologies and Electric Transmission Infrastructure
Recovery Act Funding Will Create Jobs, Help Modernize Nation’s Electric Grid
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today that the Department of Energy is soliciting applications for $3.9 billion in grants to support efforts to modernize the electric grid, allowing for greater integration of renewable energy sources while increasing the reliability, efficiency and security of the nation’s transmission and distribution system, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“These investments will be used to develop a smart, strong and secure electrical grid that will help integrate renewable resources onto the grid, deliver power more reliably and effectively with less environmental impact, and create new jobs across the country,” said Secretary Chu. “By investing in updating the grid now, we will lower utility bills for American families and businesses, lessen our dependence on oil, and help advance a clean energy future for the nation.”
Secretary Chu announced the release of the final Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) for $3.9 billion in Recovery Act funds. Approximately $3.3 billion for the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program and $615 million for smart grid demonstration projects will help develop and implement smart grid technologies across the country.
As part of the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program, DOE will provide cost-shared grants to support manufacturing, purchasing and installation of existing smart grid technologies that can be deployed on a commercial scale. Funding under the Smart Grid Demonstration Program will be used to demonstrate how emerging technologies can be applied in innovative ways within the electric delivery system to provide integrated and economically-feasible solutions. The Investment Grant program is intended to enable smart grid functions on the electric system as soon as possible, while the Demonstration program is aimed at identifying and developing new and more cost-effective smart grid equipment, tools, techniques, and system configurations that can significantly improve upon today’s technologies.
The final FOAs reflect the more than 600 comments DOE received on the draft solicitations. The Department previously announced that while the maximum award limits for both programs were being increased, the Department will support projects of all sizes. Under the final solicitations, the maximum award for the Smart Grid Investment Grants will be $200 million; the maximum award for the Smart Grid Demonstrations will be $100 million.
The final FOAs are available at www.fedconnect.net. Search public opportunities for the following reference numbers: Smart Grid Investment Program (DE-FOA-0000058) and Smart Grid Demonstrations (DE-FOA-0000036).
6.22.09 - New Guidance for Recipient Reporting Released
On June 22, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published Implementing Guidance for the Reports on Use of Funds Pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("Recovery Act"). This guidance implements the reporting requirements included in Section 1512 of the Recovery Act for recipients of grants, loans, and other forms of assistance. The reports required by Section 1512 will be submitted by recipients beginning in October 2009 and will answer important questions, such as:
- Who is receiving Recovery Act dollars and in what amounts?
- What projects or activities are being funded with Recovery Act dollars?
- What is the completion status of such projects or activities and what impact have they had on job creation and retention?
Based on input received from the public on previous implementing guidance issued by OMB, the reporting framework in the attached guidance has been updated and enhanced to capture additional spending data from prime recipients and sub-recipients of Federal financial assistance Recovery Act awards. Further, OMB has worked with the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to deploy a nationwide data collection system at the website www.FederalReporting.gov that will reduce information reporting burden on recipients by simplifying reporting instructions and providing a user-friendly mechanism for submitting required data.
6/22/09 - HUD JOINS USDA EFFORT BY LAUNCHING CUTTING EDGE RECOVERY ACT WEB MAPPING TOOL
Today, HUD announced that it is joining USDA's geospatial project by uploading HUD Recovery Act data into USDA's cutting edge web tool, which will allow Americans to learn how and where HUD is spending money provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act).
USDA developed the tool and launched it on the 100th day of the Obama Administration. Since USDA launched the tool, there have had more than 1 and a half million hits.
"HUD and this Administration are committed to providing the highest level of transparency possible as Recovery Act funds are spent," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "It is vitally important that the American people are fully aware of how their tax dollars are being spent and can hold their federal leaders accountable. We are proud to collaborate with USDA on this project and build on their effort to increase transparency by launching this innovative web tool today on HUD's Recovery Act website."
The Recovery Act includes $13.61 billion for projects and programs administered by HUD, nearly 75 percent of which was allocated to state and local recipients only eight days after President Obama signed the Act into law. The remaining 25 percent of funds will be awarded through a competitive grant process in the coming months.
To visit the HUD/USDA map, use the following link: www.usda.gov/recovery/map. HUD's Recovery Act website was launched on May 8, 2009 in order to increase transparency and access to HUD Recovery Act information.
The tool allows an internet user to search and view HUD and USDA projects that are funded by the Recovery Act nationwide. Users can also see the total amount of Recovery Act funds going to each state and how many grants and/or contracts are being signed under a specific program. Users can search by agency, state or amount of money that is obligated to grantees.
"This website is yet another effort to keep President Obama's promise of an open and transparent government, responsive and accountable to the American people - we are thrilled to be working on this project with HUD," said USDA Secretary Vilsack.
President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law on February 17, 2009, as the nation faced the greatest economic crisis in half a century. Just over 100 days into the two-year economic recovery program, over $135 billion in Recovery Act funds have been obligated to programs and projects that create jobs and strengthen the economy.
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Student Financial Aid Reform
Student financial aid reform is a higher education priority for the Obama Administration. The federal government has already bought out many student loans, and legislation is currently being debated in Congress. The most controversial changes that Democrats want to implement include making the Pell Grant an entitlement and dissolution of the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). This would make the direct student loan program the only student loan program. Congressman George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, has announced that he will use the FY10 House Budget Resolution, which includes instructions for this committee, to enact reforms that will create $1 billion in savings through the next five years. His committee has held hearings on student financial aid reform and is developing legislation.
Additionally, starting this week the Department of Education will begin offering an income-based repayment program, a provision created as part of the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act. The new program will allow borrowers with high debt-to-income ratios to reduce or even postpone their monthly payments. Graduates’ monthly payments will be set at 15 percent of their monthly disposable income, and people who earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level can defer payment until their income rises. The plan also includes a debt forgiveness program that absolves graduates of their debt after 25 years of on-time payments, or 10 years for graduates who work in public service jobs.
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The Department of Education announced new changes last week to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to make it easier for students to fill out the form quicker. Starting this summer, enhanced skip-logic will reduce user navigation by more than half. This means that questions will be skipped when they are irrelevant to the applicant. Early next year, students will be able to automatically retrieve tax information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for use in completing the form. Finally, the Obama Administration will seek legislative authority to eliminate questions not answerable by information from the IRS that are generally not relevant to student loan decision-making.
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Higher Education Act Technical Amendments
Last week Congress passed the Higher Education Act (HEA) Technical Amendments (H.R. 1777), which patched up a discrepancy between HEA reauthorization and the Post 9-11 GI Bill that would have forced veterans to return money that has been awarded for the upcoming school year. In addition, the bill authorizes the maximum Pell Grant award to any student with a parent who died on active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. Loan guarantors are authorized to sell rehabilitated student loans to the Department of Education, allowing borrowers to clear their credit history and get out of debt if they have been in default. Also, the bill allows for participating financial aid offices of the “experimental site” program to continue their efforts for another year. This program supported innovative and experimental approaches to awarding aid to students.
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Earlier this month, the House passed the STEM Education Coordination Act (H.R. 1709), authorizing the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to establish a committee under the National Science and Technology Council to support the coordination of activities and programs for all agencies that depend on and support STEM education. This includes the development of a strategic plan that includes specifications of objectives, common metrics to achieve the objectives, description of approaches to assess the effectiveness of STEM programs and activities, and a description of role of agencies in achieving the objectives. The committee would also keep an inventory of STEM education programs and activities. The legislation has been sent to the Senate for approval.
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SIMON Study Abroad Act
On June 10th, House passage of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for FY2010 and FY2011 included a new provision, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, which provides financial assistance to students to study abroad. The act also requires U.S. higher education institutions to address the on-campus factors that impede students’ ability to study abroad. The Senate has been waiting for action the House on this measure, so it is expected that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will soon move to complete a Senate version of the bill.
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National Defense Authorization Act
On June 25th the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (H.R. 2647) with overwhelming bipartisan support (389-22). Opposition came mostly from anti-war Democrats. The bill authorizes funding for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the national security programs at the Department of Energy (DOE). The House version of the bill provides the Department with $550.4 billion in budget authority while authorizing $130 billion to support defense operations overseas. The bill also provides for a 3.4% pay increase for all active military servicemembers, a 0.5% increase over the President’s budget request. During the committee’s deliberations, Democrats blocked several GOP amendments aimed at restoring funding for missile defense programs to FY09 spending levels.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also completed its review of the Senate version of the bill late Thursday evening. The Senate version contains a provision to buy seven additional F-22 Raptor fighter jets, a reversal of the Pentagon’s decision to end production of the stealth fighter with the four funded in the FY09 war supplemental spending bill. The White House has threatened to veto any authorization measure that includes funding for more F-22s, citing concerns that the aircrafts are not cost effective. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to send the bill to the floor before the August recess.
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FY09 Supplemental War Funding
Last week the President signed into law a $106 billion supplemental war spending bill, a measure that is likely to be the last off-budget war funding bill now that Obama has decided to include war spending in his annual budget. The supplemental appropriations bill survived after numerous battles over key provisions governing loan provisions to the International Monetary Fund, language prohibiting the transfer of a terrorist suspect from Guantanamo Bay, an attempt to kill a provision designed to encourage new car buying, and a provision barring the release of photos showing U.S. soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last hurdle to the bill’s passage, a “cash for clunkers” program, provides $1 billion in vouchers for consumers seeking to trade in older, less environmentally-friendly vehicles for newer, more fuel-efficient cars. By a 60-36 vote, Democrats succeeded in keeping the provision in the war spending bill. Sixty votes were needed to waive points of order against the bill.
In order to get the bill out of conference and passed by the House, Democratic leaders also eliminated the controversial detainee photo language. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid satisfied Republican Senators by passing a stand-alone prohibition of the photos’ release the following evening. The House and Senate also forged a compromise on the treatment of detainees and the rules governing their transfers from Guantanamo Bay. The final measure will allow the Obama administration to transport detainees to the states for trial only, but not for permanent detention.
The supplemental war spending bill had been troubled since the beginning. In the House, Texas Democrats held back their votes on the bill because of a dispute over how funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are spent on public schools in the state. At a time when the Texans’ 12 votes were critical to securing enough support for adopting the conference report, members of the Texas Delegation attempted to insert language into the bill that would block the ability of the state legislature and governor from diverting money intended for schools to the state’s “rainy day” fund. To earn their support, White House officials promised to use a future appropriations bill as a vehicle for language to block Texas from shifting the funds.
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DOD Minority Contracting Programs
The House passed the Defense Authorization bill last week which included language that would require DOD to “establish a program to enhance the capability of minority-serving institutions to perform research that is vital to national defense.” Recently, a court decision, Rothe Development Corporation v. Department of Defense, struck down a law (10 U.S.C. § 2323) that had provided technical and infrastructure assistance to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Institutions, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions. The critical issue for Rothe was a 10 percent price adjustment made on contracts for the benefit of minority businesses and institutions, yet the court threw out the entirety of the law. Hispanic-Serving and Minority Institutions have felt the negative impact of this decision with programs and grants being dissolved or moved, and Congress has made a strong attempt to rectify the problem. The University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa sent a letter to the entire Texas Delegation regarding the need for the assistance to continue.
Click here for the letter from Chancellor Cigarroa to the Texas Delegation
Click here for the Rothe Development Corporation vs. DoD court decision and DoD Directive
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Health Care Reform
Work in Congress to develop a solvent healthcare overhaul proposal is ongoing as efforts to reduce the price tag of the proposal and negotiations over the inclusion of a public healthcare option take center stage. Three separate proposals are currently being developed: one by the Senate Finance committee; one by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee; and one by a tri-committee panel in the House (Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor).
In response to the $1.6 trillion price tag originally assigned to its proposal by the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate Finance committee has significantly scaled back its health care bill to consider smaller subsidies for low-income families to purchase insurance and a more limited expansion of Medicaid. The Finance committee proposal does not include a public insurance plan option, but instead includes provisions for a non-profit cooperative designed by Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND); an alternative that has raised interest among Republicans opposed to a public option. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus has maintained his commitment to developing adequate fiscal offsets to pay for the cost of the proposed overhaul. To meet this goal, Chairman Baucus has stated that any action on the bill will be postponed until after the July 4th recess when lawmakers will have time to bring the bill’s cost below $1 trillion and reach a bipartisan compromise on key provisions. It remains unclear whether Senate Democratic leaders will use a reconciliation vehicle – a legislative process whereby normal rules for debate and amendments are suspended – to pass the legislation or not.
Both the House and Senate held hearings on their draft proposals this past week. As both chambers continue to revise their proposals, the White House continues to avoid public interference with the development of the legislative proposals, hoping that this will help staffers complete their work on legislation more quickly. OFR will provide a detailed summary of each proposal in the next Washington Update.
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On June 29th, the Health and Human Services Department rescinded three controversial regulations governing Medicaid and said it would postpone and possibly change or rescind a fourth. The regulations were among seven that President George W. Bush ’s administration tried to implement in 2007 and 2008 that sent health care providers, state governments and advocates for the poor into a lobbying frenzy. Critics charged that the administration was trying to shift to the states, from the federal government, the burden for about $19.6 billion in Medicaid spending over five years. Medicaid, a health insurance entitlement program for the poor, is a shared federal-state program, and there is constant tension between the two over costs. The department’s action was not unexpected. Democrats have been particularly critical of the regulations, and introduced several bills in the 110th Congress to stop them. A series of congressional moratoria delayed implementation of most of the regulations until June 30. One of the regulations the department rescinded would have narrowed Medicaid payments for what are called “case management services” that some states offer to Medicaid clients. Another would have prohibited Medicaid reimbursement for administrative costs incurred by schools, and for transporting Medicaid-eligible children to school. A third would narrow the definition of “outpatient services” under Medicaid — medical treatment performed outside a hospital or clinic. And the regulation that was postponed would limit taxes that some states assess on health providers to help pay the state portion of Medicaid expenses. That regulation now cannot take effect before June 30, 2010; Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services may “give additional consideration to alternative approaches” in the meantime. Sebelius said she had ordered the three regulations rescinded because they might have harmed Medicaid beneficiaries.
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Comparative Effectiveness Research
On June 30th, a highly anticipated report by the Institute of Medicine outlines a list of 100 high priority health topics that the Obama administration should focus on as they plan to spend $1.1 billion in comparing the effectiveness of competing drugs, medical devices, operations and other treatments for specific health conditions. The report is one of the first concrete steps in a broad effort by administration officials and health experts to shift the focus of medical practice toward scientific evidence — rather than a physician’s personal views or treatments promoted by medical product companies. Issues featured in the report include prostate cancer, reducing hospital infections and lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies.
Click here to access the report.
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FY10 Appropriations Update
The House Appropriations Committee is moving ahead at full speed on the FY10 appropriations bills. This is in stark contrast to FY09 appropriations cycle where many of the bills were put on hold and wrapped into one large omnibus bill passed early this year. Now that the Democratic Congress has a Democratic President with little likelihood of a veto, Chairman David Obey (D-WI) has laid out an ambitious schedule with a goal of completing all FY10 appropriations bills in the House before the August recess. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee also started its process with its approval of the Commerce/Justice/Science and Interior/Environment bills.
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Cell Phone IRS Tax
The Internal Revenue Service decided to reverse course and ask Congress to repeal a rarely enforced law that requires workers to include the value of personal calls made on cell phones as taxable income. Earlier in the month, the IRS had sought ideas on how to better enforce the law. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate to eliminate the law. Last year, a bill to eliminate the tax passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
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Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Programs
On June 25, the House Small Business Committee approved the Enhancing Small Business Research and Innovation Act (H.R. 2965). The Senate Small Business Committee has also approved legislation called the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act (S.1233). Together these bills reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Currently, federal agencies with research budgets of $100 million or more must contribute 2.5 percent of that budget to small business awarded technology development contracts. Under STTR, agencies that spend $1 billion or more annually in extramural research and development must contribute 0.3 percent to support shared proposals between small firms and nonprofit research organizations. Combined, both SBIR and STTR provide $2 billion in grants annually to small firms.
One of the more controversial elements of this reauthorization is that venture backed companies will now have greater access to SBIR/STTR program. The House bill contains no caps on allocation to these companies while the Senate version contains an 8 percent limit for federal agencies except for an 18 percent limit Health and Human Services. The House bill does include an SBIR funding ban for companies that employ more than 500 people or if one venture firm has the majority number of seats on its board. Also, a company cannot be majority owned by one venture firm. In addition, the Senate bill increases the SBIR set aside amount that agencies must withhold from their external research budgets while the House version does not alter the allocation. Both bills retain the set aside amount for STTR. The House Science and Technology Committee will now consider the House bill. The Senate bill is ready to be taken up on the full Senate floor.
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Energy and Climate Change Legislation
On June 26th the House narrowly passed a sweeping energy and climate change bill – H.R. 2454: American Clean Energy and Security Act – by a margin of 219 to 212 votes despite 44 Democrats voting against the measure. The bill is the nation’s first legislative mandate to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming. Friday’s vote came after an intense week of activity by the White House and Democratic leaders to garner enough support to ensure passage of the bill. The most widespread Democratic defections came from Representatives of districts in Southern states, most of which backed Senator John McCain (AZ) over then Senator Obama last November. The principal sponsors of the legislation, Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), spent the last two weeks negotiating compromises that allowed the bill to attract support not only from prominent Democrats linked to coal and rural interests –led by Congressman Rick Boucher and Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MI) – but also to draw a surprising amount of support from utility companies that typically oppose Democratic environmental initiatives.
Democrats have claimed that the bill will create millions of jobs, provide the impetus for curbing the nation’s appetite for foreign oil, and lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas output. Republican opponents of the measure have characterized the bill as a job-killing, tax-raising burden that will hurt the economy for years. Republican leaders were especially critical of the cap-and-trade program in the bill. President Obama also voiced concerns over a provision included in the House version of the bill that would impose a tariff in 2020 on imports from countries without systems for pricing or limiting carbon dioxide emissions, citing a need to maintain a level international playing field for trade during a period of economic recession. The measure will now be taken up by the Senate where Democrats are sure to face a virtually-certain Republican filibuster. The Senate Environment and Public Works committee is expected to report on its version of the bill when the Senate convenes after the Independence Day Recess, but it is unlikely that the measure will be sent to the floor until fall 2009. The timing for consideration and voting on the bill remain largely dependent on the ability of the White House and Democratic leaders to accomplish their health care agenda, which remains the administration’s top priority.
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Recently introduced legislation
For a listing of recent legislation sponsored by members of the Texas delegation, visit the Recent Legislation page of our Web Site.
To view Roll Call votes recently passed legislation, click here: (House, Senate)
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