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Legislative Updates: October 2011


Capitol Call

"Dysfunction, Rancor Abound" roared a headline in a recent issue of Roll Call, the venerable Capitol Hill newspaper, summing up what is going on in Congress these days. The article inferred that no one in Congress can get their act together enough to accomplish anything of significance. As evidence, it cites the amount of legislation passed by Congress: "From January 1 to September 30 last year, the House passed 752 measures, while the Senate passed 440. The president signed 115 measures into law. During the same period this year, the House has passed 247 measures, compared with the Senate's 265. A mere 35 bills have been signed into law."

There are many reasons why Congress passed so many bills last year and so few this year, starting with the fact that Democrats controlled both bodies in 2010 and the Republicans control the House this year. According to the Roll Call article, the Republican-led House has also drastically reduced the amount of resolutions and small bills that honor various groups, which has naturally reduced the overall number of bills passed. Plus, the majority Republican caucus is especially philosophically diverse, so its leaders sometimes are unable to find the votes to pass a bill that may actually be considered by the Democratic-controlled Senate. It seems that they just can’t play well together.

Some speculate that Senate Democrats don't want to take hard votes that might upset some constituents, so they are delaying action on the more controversial issues until after the 2012 elections. The problem also lies in the fact that both bodies have several times intentionally voted on legislation that the other body has already publicly stated it will not consider. Of course, they are independent bodies and are free to debate and vote on whatever they want, but it is becoming evident that those in Congress are reaching increasing levels of intransigence and, not coincidentally, historically low public approval ratings.

Annoyed Washington-watchers could be forgiven for wanting them to just go to their rooms until they can play nice.

The nominations of Luis Aguilar and Daniel Gallagher to serve as SEC Commissioners and Mark Wetjen to serve as a CFTC Commissioner were reportedly "hotlined" last month by the Senate. Hotlining is a process in which the leaders of both parties ask their members, via a phone message (the "hotline"), whether they object to a particular nomination. If no one objects, the nomination is usually then agreed to by unanimous consent. If a senator objects, then the nomination is not considered. Since the three gentlemen's' nominations were not agreed to by voice vote last month, it is reasonable to infer that one or more senators objected to one or all of the nominations. Unfortunately, it is not known who objected, why they objected, or if and when the nominations will clear the Senate.

In committee news, last month's reported "imminent" markup of unspecified derivatives legislation by the House Agriculture Committee never materialized in September. Instead, the Committee has scheduled an October 12 hearing to debate the still-unspecified legislation. The House Financial Services Committee will follow suit with an October 14 hearing on "derivatives legislative proposals." After that, the final product hashed out between the two committees will be considered and likely passed by the House sometime in the next few weeks. As for its fate in the Senate…well…see the above paragraphs.

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