Thursday, September 16, 2010

Obama looks to jump-start Wall St,/health reforms

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration is pressing lawmakers to jump-start its signature healthcare and Wall Street reform efforts by including some of their elements in a spending bill that must pass in coming weeks, according to documents obtained by Reuters.

Reuters said on Wednesday, Sept 15 the administration has also asked Congress to continue economic stimulus efforts and add other initiatives costing tens of billions of dollars to the bill, which Congress needs to pass by Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown of government operations.

If successful, the tactic could allow Democrats to pass several items that have fallen victim to congressional gridlock before the Nov. 2 elections in which Republicans could win control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate.

Republicans say the move amounts to an end run around Congress by attaching controversial measures to noncontroversial legislation. They estimate the additional spending could total between $20 billion and $30 billion.

"We are concerned that the administration is proposing that the (bill) be used as a catch-all to carry expensive and controversial legislation that has not otherwise been able to garner the approval of Congress," Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee said in a letter.

Democratic aides cautioned that no final decisions had been made about what to include in the spending bill, which has yet to be unveiled to the public.

According to documents circulating on Capitol Hill, the administration is asking Congress to increase the budgets of the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission to allow them to begin staffing up to implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed in July.

The administration is also asking for $250 million to train more doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to handle the anticipated increase in patients who will be covered by the healthcare reform law passed in March.

Republicans have said they will try to repeal both bills if they win control of Congress.

The administration is also aiming to preserve several programs included in the 2009 economic stimulus package, another top target of Republicans.

White House officials call for money to preserve new jobs in the Social Security Administration created by the stimulus, funding for the Race to the Top education program and elevated levels of funding for the TANF welfare program for needy families. They are also seeking to extend the higher levels of college student aid contained in the stimulus.


Congress needs to pass the temporary spending bill before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1 because it has not completed work on any of the 12 regular spending bills that fund government operations.

The temporary spending bill, known as a "continuing resolution," typically funds government operations at their existing levels for several weeks or months while lawmakers finish work on the regular spending bills.

During that time, federal agencies like the Defense Department often must delay planned initiatives until lawmakers finish their work.

The Obama administration hopes to avoid that fate this year.

In past years, the temporary funding bill has often been relatively noncontroversial. A monthlong extension in 2009, for example, increased spending for veterans and gave the Census Bureau more money to prepare for its once-in-a-decade population count, adding roughly $640 million to the total cost.

In addition to money for the stimulus and the reform efforts, the administration also hopes this year's funding bill will include settlements for two decades-old court cases that have stalled in Congress.

Black farmers are awaiting $1.15 billion from a historic civil-rights settlement in February for being left out of farm-assistance programs due to racism, while American Indians are waiting for $3.4 billion to close out a class-action suit for mismanagement of trust funds.

The administration has also requested $5.5 billion for the Postal Service's retirement fund.

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