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Spencer Bachus (AP/Photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari, file)

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Congress | After six months of big bills and 'overhauls,' Congress takes a break for our country's birthday

WASHINGTON-Congress starts a weeklong recess this weekend. But many Americans might be wishing that the legislative hiatus would last longer. (Don't worry; congressional lawmakers shutter the Capitol doors for a month in August.)

It seems that the 111th Congress cannot resist tackling sweeping legislation with the word "overhaul" in its references.

Even as the healthcare overhaul law's first tax took effect July 1 (a 10 percent tax added to the cost of tanning services), Capitol Hill continues to push thousand-page-plus bills.

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The latest to pass the House is a 2,300-page financial overhaul measure that marks the biggest restructuring of financial sector regulation since the Great Depression. With the House's 237 to 192 vote Wednesday, Democrats (and four Republicans who voted for the bill) moved one step closer to unleashing an army of regulators on Wall Street.

New agencies-such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Financial Services Oversight Council-would monitor consumer lending, new financial products, and the trading of securities known as derivatives.

Calling it "the financial services equivalent of Obamacare," Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., led the floor debate against the measure.

"This bill is a massive intrusion of federal government into the lives of every American," he said. "It will move us further toward a managed economy, with the federal government making decisions that have been and should stay in the hands of individuals and private businesses."

But the goal of having President Obama sign this bill into law before the Independence Day recess hit a snag in the Senate, just like the speed bumps faced by the healthcare bill during its long trek through Congress.

The Senate margins are so tight that the death this week of longtime Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a final Senate vote until the week of July 12.

With the Senate slowdown, moderates from both parties pounced, going public with their opposition to some of the bill's elements. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., one of the few Republicans who may vote for the measure, successfully lobbied for the removal of a $19 billion bank fee. Senators like Brown argued that this fee, designed to offset the bill's cost, would ultimately be passed on to consumers.

Top Democrats relented, and now the bill's $20 billion-plus price tag will be partially offset by an earlier end to the government's bank bailout program, known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The leftover money from TARP, an object of scorn among Tea Party groups, will go toward the regulatory bill.

But even as financial reform slogs its way through the Senate, President Obama pressured congressional Republicans this week to take on another big ticket item: immigration reform.

"I'm ready to move, the majority of Democrats are ready to move, and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move," Obama said in a speech Thursday at American University in Washington. His first speech devoted solely to the immigration issue came just one day after the House passed the financial regulation measure.

Republicans returned to similar talking points in their rejection of Obama's immigration push.

"Instead of trying to pass a comprehensive immigration bill like the one in 2007 that fell of its own weight-because Congress doesn't do comprehensive well-the president should work with Congress on a step-by-step approach that starts with securing the border," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Alexander, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, used similar "the government doesn't do big well" arguments during the spring fight to stop healthcare reform.

It seems that one area where Democrats agree with Alexander is in passing an annual budget. In the midst of healthcare, climate change, financial regulation, and immigration reform, Democrats quietly acknowledged that they likely would not pass an annual budget. This would mark the first time a budget has not been passed since the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

Looking ahead to this November's mid-term elections, where the battle over control of Congress promises to be tight, Democrats have decided they do not want votes (or floor debates) on a post-healthcare overhaul budget that likely would cause sticker shock for most voters. Instead, Democrats will try to pass a symbolic budget resolution calling for a discretionary spending cap. Democrats will likely use this benign resolution on the fall campaign trail. Likewise, expect Republicans to bash the no budget move.

Are Americans getting tired of Washington's continued love affair with the big bill? A new poll suggests . . . maybe. The latest Gallop poll reveals that Republicans have increased their lead among independent voters. They now lead Democrats by 12 points-46 percent to 32 percent-among the key-voting bloc of independents.


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