WASHINGTON-Members of Congress returning in mid-April from Easter recess face a traffic jam of legislation awaiting passage-and pressure from the White House to pass it. Democrats want to turn the momentum they feel from the passage of healthcare reform into more legislative successes before the end of the year. Passing certain measures could help Democrats in the November elections, too.
During President Obama's January State of the Union address, he delivered a stern condemnation of a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance and urged Congress to pass legislation to counter the decision. The court's Citizens United decision allows corporations to spend money in favor of candidates or political issues-but corporations are still forbidden from directly contributing to a campaign. A majority of Americans, according to various polls, opposed at least the principle of an expanded role of corporations in elections. Democrats undoubtedly see political opportunity in passing campaign finance laws to counter the court's decision.
Almost two years have passed since the financial crisis hit full force, and the Senate has just finished sweating out a financial regulation bill, which initially had input from one Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. The lead Democrat on the issue, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, bypassed Corker in final negotiations over the bill as it became clear that Senate Republicans would oppose the bill. Corker called the Republican strategy an "error" because he believes the measure will become law and find popular support. Wall Street is an easy target in a hurting economy and an election year. The Senate could vote on the measure in coming weeks, and since the House has already passed its own version, the country could see new financial regulations by the summer.
A bevy of groups have held rallies in Washington calling for immigration reform-something President Bush attempted without success-but the issue probably won't appear on the top of the congressional agenda this year. An election year is no time to be passing something as controversial and with so little political payback as immigration reform. President Obama said recently that his commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform is "unwavering."
News articles have marked the death of climate change legislation-"cap-and-trade"-numerous times, but it's one issue that doesn't appear to be going away. The cap-and-trade tool itself, in which companies would pay a tax on their emissions, is defunct in Congress, but other measures to address emissions and energy are still alive and kicking. All eyes are on the Senate, since the House passed a cap-and-trade bill last summer. Forty-four Democrats voted against the House bill, so if Congress has any chance of passing a final bill into law, it would have to be substantially different and the vote will need to happen before November elections, when Democrats could lose a number of seats.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have been scheming up their own bill, which they plan to release in coming weeks. Their collaboration, dubbed "KLG," is perhaps the measure that has the most possibility of passing at this point. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have also introduced a bill regulating emissions that could gain bipartisan support in the Senate.
The unspoken worry is that if Congress does nothing to address climate change, the administration will take action on its own, giving the Environmental Protection Agency a long leash to impose regulations. By next year the EPA will begin requiring the country's largest emitters to buy permits for their greenhouse gases. The KLG bill would replace the EPA's regulating authority on that issue. President Obama has lately also announced plans to expand nuclear energy and offshore drilling.