Hoyer Sets a Busy House Schedule

Posted April 30, 2008 at 1:35pm

Fending off GOP accusations of setting up a “no-work schedule” for the last month, House Democratic leaders are lining up a staggering amount of legislation to complete in the three weeks leading up to the Memorial Day recess.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday cited a plentiful mix of high-profile bills to expect on the floor in the coming weeks. These include a housing stimulus package, the Iraq War supplemental bill, the defense authorization bill, contentious electronic surveillance legislation, the budget conference report, the intelligence authorization bill and conference reports pertaining to farm subsidies, consumer product safety and higher education.

“I reject the Republican premise that we’re not doing a lot of work,” Hoyer told reporters.

Specifically, the Democrat said to expect the supplemental bill, the housing package and the budget conference report on the floor next week.

The path forward on the supplemental still remains unclear, but there have been “a lot of decisions that have been made,” Hoyer said.

Legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has stalled for months over provisions relating to immunity for telecommunications companies, is also still on track for passage by Memorial Day, Hoyer said.

The Majority Leader said he is optimistic that the House and Senate can work out a FISA deal with the White House in the coming weeks. What has changed is that the White House “has been willing to talk,” he said. “I think all the parties want to get something done.”

Hoyer said the farm bill conference report may or may not come up next week, and to expect the defense authorization bill on the floor during the third week of May.

On Tuesday, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) slammed Democrats for a lack of meaningful legislation on the floor for the past four weeks.

It is as if “almost everything” that is taken up under a rule should have been put on the suspension calendar, while more complicated legislation is being pushed through on suspension, he said. “There’s a lack of respect for the process when you vote on things this way.” An aide to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) responded with frustration that Democrats are talking up a “flurry of legislation before Memorial Day” when, for the past few weeks, “this House has done practically nothing.” The aide pointed to a mix of bills with bipartisan support that could pass this week if they were not “being blocked by the Democratic leadership.” According to the aide, these include the Senate-passed FISA bill, the Colombia free-trade agreement, an immigration enforcement bill being offered by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and legislation seeking an earmark freeze. “Why are Democratic leaders padding the schedule this week and promising to do better in the future, rather than working with Republicans to get things done for the American people right now?” asked the aide.

Hoyer countered that negotiations on conference reports for the budget and for the farm bill have taken longer than expected, which has at least contributed to slowed progress on the floor.

“We’re doing a lot,” he insisted. Legislation being taken up on the floor this week includes a bill to ensure integrity in contracting in Iraq, which Hoyer described as important. But Hoyer did concede it is unlikely that a second economic stimulus package will be completed by Memorial Day. Democratic leaders are continuing discussions about what elements to include in the measure, such as money for food stamps, extended unemployment benefits and infrastructure. But asked if the package could be done in the next three weeks, the Majority leader said, “Frankly, the honest answer is no.”