Monday, December 07, 2009

Congress neglecting its main job

By spending all their time debating health care, the Senate is just adding to the delays in getting the rest of their necessary business done. We have the remaining appropriations bills since they've only passed 5 of the 12 necessary bills. So we're operating under temporary provisions. And that's not all. So what they'll end up doing is rolling all these leftover bills into one ginormous omnibus bills. These huge omnibus bills become vehicles for all sorts of pork stuffed in that no one can find and for which there is no opportunity to strip out the most egregious stuff.
Among other must-do items:

-The House voted last week to keep the current top rate for the estate tax at 45 percent for estates larger than $3.5 million. Without Senate action, the tax would disappear in 2010 but return in 2011 at a higher rate of 55 percent for estates over $1 million. Even so, the Senate might not act on it until early next year.

-There are 30 tax breaks, mainly aimed at helping businesses, that expire at the end of the year and must be renewed. The House probably will vote on them this week. Also ending is a program giving products from some 130 developing countries duty-free entry into the United States.

-Three provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act expire at the end of the year. Some Democrats want to make changes to better ensure that government surveillance doesn't violate privacy rights.

-The government could have to quit borrowing money if Congress doesn't act within the next few weeks to raise the debt ceiling, currently at $12.1 trillion. Fiscal conservatives from both sides are balking at a vote unless they get assurances the administration is taking deficit-cutting steps.

-The House acted in November to shield doctors from a 21 percent reduction in Medicare payments next month, a measure brought up almost every year because of a glitch in the reimbursement formula. But with a price tag of more than $200 billion and a distracted Senate, it's not clear what will happen next.

-Lawmakers have tried for several years to revamp the law governing the Federal Aviation Administration to promote airport safety, modernize air traffic control systems and ensure passenger rights. They'll probably have to settle for another three-month extension of the old law.

-Another candidate for an omnibus package is a still-unwritten jobs bill that could include such measures as promotion of green energy, infrastructure spending or hiring-related tax credits. The House could vote on a separate bill in coming weeks but again, action on it is more likely after New Year's.

Putting off some of these issues until next year - under the presumption that the health care debate will finally be over - has its own problems. Waiting in line to consume the time and attention of Congress are President Barack Obama's other major initiatives: overhauling the financial regulatory system, passing clean energy legislation and paying for his 30,000-troop expansion of the war in Afghanistan.