Capitol Hillbillies

House waters down curbs on Wall Street abuses

House Democrats head into the final stretch on a long-awaited Wall Street regulation bill with two crucial and contentious votes looming before they can declare victory on one of President Barack Obama’s legislative priorities.

The sweeping regulatory overhaul aims to address the myriad conditions that led to last year’s financial crisis.

Test votes during two days of debate indicate that Democratic support for the underlying legislation will hold in final passage. Prodded by moderates, however, nearly half the Democrats teamed up with Republicans late Thursday to loosen restrictions on derivatives and reject tougher regulations.

Black lawmakers to Obama: Put up or shut up

Rep. Barbara Lee

Long-silent black members of Congress are fed up with what they see as President Barack Obama’s failure to deliver on promises to the minority communities.

So they are stepping up efforts to make Obama put up or shut up.

And their frustration is starting to show.

Congress wants to question gate crashers

A congressional panel voted on Wednesday to subpoena a married couple who slipped into a White House dinner, making them the world’s most famous gate crashers and raising questions about security.

The subpoenas direct Tareq Salahi and his wife, Michaele Salahi, to appear on January 20 before the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

On back-to-back votes of 26-3 and 27-2, the committee authorized the subpoenas of the two in response to the Virginia couple’s refusal to come before the panel voluntarily last week.

Senate drops public option (maybe) from health plan

Sen. Harry ReidDemocrats in the Senate agreed Tuesday night to drop the controversial public option plan from health care reform legislation and replaced it with a privatized program with government oversight.

The deal, however, still allows creation of a government-run program if private companies cannot deliver what Uncle Sam wants.

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, under fire for what many consider lackluster leadership in the health care debate and other issues, hails the deal as a “breakthrough” and says deal will “overcome a real problem” Democrats had with the on-again, off-again public option.

But the deal, hailed by Democrats, still faces opposition from Republicans and possibly some Democrats so the debate may be far from over.

Public option watered down in Senate

Sen. Ben NelsonThey may still call it a “public plan,” but private insurers — not the government — would offer coverage under a compromise Democrats are considering to win Senate passage of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

The latest idea bears little resemblance to the original vision outlined by liberals, and embraced by Obama, during the 2008 presidential campaign. That called for the government to sell insurance to workers and their families in competition with industry giants like UnitedHealthcare.

Congress wants answers about Afghan war plan

Gen. Stanley McChrystalCongressional Democrats plan to give the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan a chance Tuesday to explain how he will use an emergency infusion of 30,000 U.S. forces and whether he will be able to assure lawmakers that these troops will begin to be brought home in 18 months.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is the star witness for a second round of congressional questioning since President Barack Obama announced the Afghanistan war surge last week. McChrystal had warned of failure without an addition of about 40,000 U.S. forces and, like other military leaders, he has made clear that the 18-month timeline is not a firm deadline to close out the war.

Abortion remains divisive issue on health care reform

Sen. Harry ReidBuoyed by a presidential pep talk and intense rounds of negotiations, Senate Democrats hope to move closer to embracing a major health care bill this week by tackling the nettlesome issue of abortion.

Anti-abortion lawmakers in both parties have insisted that taxpayer funds not be used to pay for abortions in government-run health programs. But some liberals say proposed restrictions go too far by barring federally subsidized health insurance plans from covering abortion even if the procedures were entirely paid for with customers’ premiums.

Gay-friendly legislation coming in Congress

Two of Congress’s three openly gay members said Saturday that the U.S. House is poised to pass bills to provide health coverage for the same-sex partners of gay federal workers and to protect all gay and transgender employees from job discrimination.

Speaking to an international conference of gay politicians in San Francisco, U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., said they expect a domestic partner benefits bill to come up for a vote by the end of the year and the employment bill to reach the floor early in 2010.

Senators target exessive insurance salaries

Democratic senators are taking aim at insurance industry executive pay as they jockey for advantage in a rare weekend session to debate President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Republicans are showcasing the bill’s cuts to Medicare, seeking to undermine support for the legislation among seniors and others as partisan debate rages over the sweeping remake of one-sixth of the nation’s economy.

Both sides were bracing for more grueling and unpredictable debates and negotiations Saturday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., racing the clock to complete action on the 2,000-plus page bill by Christmas.

Sen. Baucus recommended girlfriend for U.S. Atttorney

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was romantically involved with a former staffer when he recommended her earlier this year to become the next U.S. attorney for Montana, a spokesman said.

The Montana Democrat and his former state office director Melodee Hanes began their relationship in the summer of 2008 after Baucus separated from his wife, Ty Matsdorf told The Associated Press late Friday.

Baucus nominated Hanes for the U.S. attorney post in March. But she later withdrew, saying she had been presented with other opportunities she couldn’t pass up.