This Week in Washington. This Week in Washington. President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan over the weekend to evaluate the current military operations and meet with Afghan President Karzai. He will return to Washington this week and host the second annual White House Seder. Congress has recessed for the holidays. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week.
Congress writes to Clinton regarding 'unbreakable' U.S.-Israel bond. About 330 Representatives and half the Members of the Senate wrote to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressing "the unbreakable bond that exists between the United States and the State of Israel". The letters were sent in the wake of recent tensions between the Administration and the Israeli government over the approval of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem during Vice President Biden's visit to Israel. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with several Members of Congress including the leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate. To read the full text of the House Letter, click here. To read the full text of the Senate letter, click here.
Housing. On March 26, the Obama administration announced several new policies in an expansion of the government's response to the foreclosure crisis. These measures are designed to ease the burden on those heavily affected by the recession, such as the unemployed. The administration does not contend that these policies will stop the home foreclosure crisis. Rather, this new program in concert with other policies should ease the impact on families facing foreclosure. For details on programs that will be enacted between now and the fall please go to this website.
Unemployment Insurance. The Senate adjourned last Friday, after failing to pass a 30-day extension (H.R. 4213) of unemployment insurance and COBRA (a health insurance subsidy for the unemployed). These benefits will expire on April 5th while Congress is on recess. The 30-day extension was necessary prevent more than 200,000 unemployed workers from losing these vital benefits. State unemployment aid generally runs ends after six month making those jobless for extended periods of time dependent on federal benefits. A cloture vote (to end debate) is now scheduled to take place on April 12 the first day when Congress returns. Under Senate rules, debate could continue another two days before proceeding to a vote. Since the House has already passed this extension, H.R. 4213 would go directly to the President for his signature if the Senate adopts the measure unchanged. In a final act before Senators left for a two week recess, Senator Reid (NV-D) allowed debate on the issue to remain open until March 31st. While it is highly unlikely, Senator Reid preserved the possibility to can call the Senate back into session to vote on the extension.
Healthcare. On March 23rd President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) in to law. The House (226-207) and the Senate (56-34) then passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872), a smaller measure that contains improvements to the health care law. President Obama is expected to sign the final piece of the health care package in to law on Tuesday, March 30th.
Education. Alongside the Healthcare provisions, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872) made significant changes to the federal student loan program. This legislation would expand the direct student loan program and end parallel program of private federally guaranteed loans. This is expected to save $61 billion dollars which will be redirected to increased Pell Grants and funds for community colleges.
Child Nutrition. On Wednesday, March 24th the Senate Agriculture Committee marked-up Senator Lincoln's (AR-D), Chair of the Agriculture Committee, Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, reauthorizing the child nutrition programs. The committee unanimously passed the bill. JCPA's statement on this legislation can be found here.