February 18, 2011
FY 2011 Budget Bill
The House is still debating H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government for the remaining seven months of Fiscal Year 2011. Hundreds of amendments were offered and, at this writing, final passage is not expected until possibly some time tomorrow. Unfortunately, I do expect H.R. 1 to pass although I will be voting NO.
Many worthwhile programs have been cut and many more completely eliminated. The Republicans' goal is to eliminate $100 billion in funding for this fiscal year alone. The battle over FY 2012 funding is expected to be just as heated and the proposed cuts just as deep.
On Tuesday I highlighted the impact that H.R. 1 would have on some vital programs. I wish I could tell you that we were successful in restoring funding for all of those programs but that is not going to be the case.
I consider myself a fiscal conservative and I believe that we must address our staggering federal deficit. That is why I opposed tax cuts for millionaires in December. We couldn't afford them last year, and many of the cuts included in this CR illustrate exactly why those tax cuts for the rich shouldn't have passed.
Once H.R. 1 passes the House it will go to the Senate, where it will face a much more difficult path. President Obama has already indicated that he would veto the House's CR so I still remain hopeful that some of the more painful cuts will be adjusted.
I am not opposed to all programming reductions. There are many cuts we can and should make that will not cause so much pain for so many. For example, the CR doesn't touch defense spending. In January, Secretary Gates himself proposed $78 billion in cuts to the Defense Department. Additionally, I also support cuts to farm subsidies, eliminating tax breaks for oil companies, and instituting certain medical malpractice reforms. I would also consider an across-the-board approach that would spread the pain, not heap it unfairly on the people who rely on many of the programs identified for cuts. I will report back next week on the outcome of the debate over H.R. 1.
This week I re-introduced the Baggage Fee Fairness Act, which would require airlines to refund baggage fees if luggage is lost, damaged or delayed in reaching its destination. Many airlines now charge a fee for checked luggage. It is a simple matter of fairness to refund that fee to consumers if the airline has not fulfilled its commitment to transport the luggage to its intended destination in a timely fashion and without damage. It would require a refund no later than 30 days after the arrival of a passenger's flight. My legislation would also require more prominent disclosure of baggage fees when consumers obtain ticket price information on the internet or over the phone. Consumers often receive an unpleasant surprise when checking their bags at the airport when the ticket they thought was the best value didn't include the cost of luggage and they must pay additional fees. In the interest of transparency and competition all fees should be readily available when researching ticket prices. My legislation is currently in committee and I will work to advance it.
This week the Financial Services Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held its first hearing of the year. I serve as Ranking Member on the subcommittee. The hearing focused on Fannie Mae, and legal fees that were paid to defend former executives accused of accounting transgressions. When the federal government took over Fannie Mae, taxpayers essentially became responsible for the legal bills. This protection was part of employment contracts negotiated before the government stepped in. Millions in legal fees have been paid and the subcommittee is concerned about the amount of taxpayer money being spent. While these types of contracts are typical for corporations, it seems to me that $160 million in taxpayer funded legal fees is unreasonable. The subcommittee will continue reviewing this matter and exploring ways to address this. I feel strongly that Fannie Mae and its regulator; the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA), should be doing everything in their power to prevent the use of taxpayer money for legal fees to defend these executives.
What's Up Next Week
The House will adjourn after completing consideration of H.R. 1. A District Work period is scheduled for next week.