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Washington Week

May 21, 2011 - 6:00pm

The House comes off a one-week recess to begin working on expiring authorization bills that have been extended in a patchwork fashion since Congress was controlled by the Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid reign of the last few years.

The House will have to extend authorization for the intelligence agency by the end of May or pass a short-term extension. It will also have to pass the Federal Aviation Administration authorization before the end of May or this, too, will need yet another short-term extension. This agency has been working off of almost 20 short-term extensions since the 2008 calendar year. This bill hopes to modernize our nations aging air traffic-control system.

The House also needs to pass the Patriot Act by months end to extend those security provisions until June 1, 2015. The agencies included in this bill have been working off of a 90-day extension. While it seems to this writer that Congress has been kicking the can down the road on much of its legislative responsibility, I would hope that partisan differences can be parked long enough for Congress to pass bills that serve to keep us safe.

In addition to the expiring authorization bills mentioned above, the House will also consider the Department of Defense authorization bill, HR 1540. This bill has traditionally been one of the only authorization bills that Congress enacts going back 30-plus years.

Members will also consider HR 1216, a bill to repeal a provision contained in the Obamacare bill that permits the mandatory funding for graduate medical education. The House also hopes to pass HR 1745, which is a reform of the unemployment insurance benefits and helps with re-employment services as a condition of benefit receipt. This bill aims to promote jobs for the unemployed.

Meanwhile, the Senate is also trying to wrap up its work to take a week-long recess by close of business Friday in honor of Memorial Day. Senators will beconducting a procedural vote at 5 p.m. Monday. If 60 senators agree to begin the debate, the Senate will be able to proceed to the consideration by midweek with the offering of amendments. Otherwise, look for that chamber to pass another extension of the expiring provisions.

While the Senate knew that the current 90-day extension of the Patriot Act is coming close to expiring, senators spent last week debating a politically charged campaign-oriented bill. This bill dealt with the tax provisions afforded to top corporations and enjoyed by the top five oil companies. This agenda-oriented bill needed 60 votes to advance.

Much of last week, Hill press reports were peppered with statements by various senators saying they would not support the idea of canceling the tax provisions for the oil companies. Notwithstanding the need to pass expiring authorization bills, the Senate spent the week debating S 940, a bill to close big oil tax loopholes. This bill failed to garner the needed 60 votes to move it forward. The vote was 52-48.

Stay tuned to see if Congress is successful in enacting the various expiring authorization bills needed to keep our citizens and country safe. If not, look for Congress to kick the can down the road with the passage of short-term extensions. After all, Memorial Day picnics are calling our members of Congress.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of

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