Congress Watch: Energy and Farming

After a two-week Thanksgiving break, Congress will be back in action—or inaction—this week with a full agenda on its plate.

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After a two-week Thanksgiving break, Congress will be back in action—or inaction—this week with a full agenda on its plate.

Energy. Legislators hammered out some details during the recess, and now Congress will be aflutter discussing comprehensive energy legislation that could raise fuel economy standards for the first time in decades and add ethanol and other alternatives to fuel tanks across the country. Particulars are still being worked out, including whether power companies should have to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Farming. The Senate will again tackle the farm bill. Passage of the hefty piece of legislation was stalled as senators bickered over amendments before the break. One such amendment, sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar, would discontinue subsidizing farmers' crops altogether and instead boost crop insurance.

Now that they're back, it seems the fighting could continue for some time. So long that some House Republicans are already advocating extending the existing legislation for one or two more years. Farmers have yet to support this move but are growing anxious.

Money. President Bush sternly warned Congress this morning that they needed to pass the remaining 11 spending bills to fund the federal government and the Iraq war, without any troop withdrawal provisions, before they leave Washington again in two weeks for another break.

"That's not really a lot of time to squeeze in nearly a year's worth of unfinished business," Bush said.  In fairness, Congress passed two of the large spending bills, but the president vetoed one of them. Bush also asked Congress to address the alternative minimum tax, a tax originally enacted in 1969 to force wealthy Americans to pay a fair share of taxes. It has not been adjusted for inflation, meaning that millions of middle-class taxpayers now face it.

The president was already vexed by the Senate's move to block him from making recess appointments over the break. Every few days a senator would come into the chamber, bang a gavel, wait about 30 seconds, and then bang the gavel again. This technically meant that the Senate was in session and not in recess during the break.

"If 30 seconds is a full day, no wonder Congress has got a lot of work to do," Bush said this morning in the Rose Garden.

—Nikki Schwab