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Stimulus Fixes for Transportation and Bankruptcy Get Traction in House

by TW Collins

by TW Collins

Even as the right wing commentators excoriate the stimulus bill and prepare to bitter end oppose it – so much for a spirit of Compromise – events on the Democratic side of the aisle are moving quickly.

When a bill is still in committee and being "marked up" everything is fluid, things like the Simpson amendment to get more Congressional oversight, race through to the bill.

When mark up ends, as it did for the Stimulus bill this week, change becomes harder to come by: a member must submit an amendment, get the Rules Committee to allow it to be brought to the floor, and then win a vote of the house. There are some procedural end runs to this, but in general, the Rules Committee acts as the traffic cop to the floor, and will only move if there is some high ranking support for an amendment, or if the leadership knows that while it will fail, there are too many supporters to bury it entirely.

Two areas where the marked up bill falls well short of the public’s expectations are in transportation and mortgage renegotiation. 94% of Americans are concerned about the nation’s infrastructure, and even hard right wing commentators admit the depth of mortgage desperation.

Both ideas have broad bi-partisan support in one form or another. Several Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. DeFazio of Oregon, have been angered by what they see as road blocks to getting funding in the bill. Two amendments in particular are being expected. One from DeFazio, a key member of Transportation, would restore 2 billion of the 23 billion shorn away from the bill since it was introduced. Jerry Nadler has asked for a direct meeting with Obama to increase the size and spending scale of the bill, and to green it’s provisions, arguing the bill is too small by standard measures, and that more money could be spent effectively. The amount of infrastructure spending directly in the bill, has been the target of criticism from Republican Senators, such as Shelby of Alabama, as well as from Democratic lawmakers.

On the mortgage renegotiation side, there is support from members of the banking committee, and from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Proposals to do mortgage renegotiation have come from executive branch members, following on the model pursued by Bair over at FDIC. However, no one has taken ownership of this. Sources on the Hill have said that critical to making the amendment happen would be the support of Rep. Brad Miller, and Rep. Barney Frank, even if another member actually offered the amendment, the word was that the Rules Committee would be "no go" without cover.

The Senate has yet to take up the measure, since as an appropriations bill it has to begin in the House. Republicans are focusing their ability to derail the bill entirely, and thus force larding the bill with yet more ineffective revenue reductions, in the Senate, where they need to maintain caucus discipline. Observers are watching for smoke signals from Snow of Maine, because she is seen as one of the votes that the Democratic majority would need to get to invoke cloture and allow any bill to move forward. Senator John McCain has already come out against the current form of the bill.

In the end the political question is whether the desire for tax cuts, and keeping the bill in the size range that President Obama dictated – that is 825 Billion over two years – trumps the very wide spread desire to get more money flowing faster. Dozens of local news papers have trumpeted how much their state would get, and "toe-tagging"  – as one staffer put it to me, that’s the process of not ear marking in the bill, but creating a decision process which is a foregone conclusion at the other end – is already exerting pressure to up the projects part of the bill. In no small part, this is because many localities fear that any money given to states will be used to plug budget gaps without raising taxes or fees, rather than engaging in new construction.

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