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December 1, 2007

Congress Next Week, Beyond

CQ: The Week Ahead: House Could Consider Energy Measure, Senate Back to Farm Bill
Next week's legislative schedule remains in flux as Congress returns, with House action possible on an intelligence authorization conference report and a new energy package while the Senate could consider electronic surveillance legislation and resume work on the farm bill.
A tentative deal on a new energy package would strengthen fuel economy standards and mandate billions of gallons of ethanol and other biofuels to be incorporated into gasoline over the next 13 years. The agreement, if finalized, would resolve major discrepancies between two energy measures (HR 6 and HR 3221) that have already passed each chamber this year. If the measure makes it to the House floor by midweek, it could set up action in the Senate by the end of next week.

House floor action is also possible on the intelligence authorization bill (HR 2082), provided that the remaining obstacle — the naming of House conferees — occurs next week. Negotiations have all but wrapped up on the House and Senate versions of the measure, ensuring quick action once a conference agreement is formalized. The annual intelligence authorization bill covers the nation’s 16 spy agencies and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and provides Congress an outlet to make policy prescriptions for the intelligence community.

The Senate next week could take up a bill (S 2248) to overhaul the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA, PL 95-511). One of the major battles is expected to be over the inclusion of language that would provide retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies accused of cooperating in warrantless surveillance by the federal government. The bill is intended to replace a temporary measure that Congress cleared just before the August recess (PL 110-55). That law, set to expire in February, permits the administration to conduct warrantless surveillance of any targets located abroad, even if they are communicating with individuals in the United States. Like the House-passed measure (HR 3773), the legislation approved by the Judiciary panel does not contain immunity provisions for telecommunications companies. However, the Intelligence Committee approved a version in October with the retroactive immunity included. When the bill reaches the floor, the Judiciary Committee’s substitute could take the form of an amendment. The White House has threatened to veto legislation that does not grant retroactive immunity.

The Senate also could turn its attention back the 2007 farm bill (HR 2419) next week. Action on the five-year authorization stalled before the two-week Thanksgiving recess as senators were unable to reach an agreement on a long list of amendments and a time frame for debate. The White House has threatened to veto the $283 billion legislation.

Energy, Intelligence Bills on Next Week's Congressional Agenda
The House next week is likely to consider a new energy package that would strengthen fuel economy standards for the first time in three decades.

Congress Returns to Washington With Key Priorities Unfinished
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) urged Congress to complete work on key priorities on behalf of the American people before the upcoming Christmas break, echoing the call by President Bush today in his Saturday radio address.

2008 Taxes

Taxpayers Await End to Standoff Over AMT Fix
Millions of American taxpayers have a stake in decisions Congress must make in the next few weeks about maintaining various tax breaks that expire at the end of this year.

12/1/2007 Update:
IRS Board Warns - $70 Billion in Refunds Delayed!
The Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board sent a letter this week to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) expressing a "grave concern" about the Senate deadlock on the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Looking Back - Past Activity

Business Groups Seek Clarification of New Lobbying Law
Three trade groups asked Congress Wednesday for clarification of a major lobbying overhaul they complained would require naming members that previously remained anonymous. But advocates of the law (PL 110-81), which was enacted in mid-September, argued that the goal was to make public the names of individual companies pushing for legislation, rather than allowing them to hide behind umbrella organizations.

Looking Ahead - January 2008

As the Senate looks to take up the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (S. 1200) early next year, Senator David Vitter plans on introducing a pro-life amendment very similar to the Hyde Amendment that would prohibit taxpayer money via the Indian Health Service from being used for abortion.

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