Congressional chambers will echo with talk of Iraq (The Hill) as lawmakers return from recess this week, but Congress’ agenda is likely to be crowded with other tough foreign policy issues as well. Legislation on domestic surveillance and energy security will pose particular challenges, with Republicans and Democrats facing internal party rifts on both issues. The biggest internecine battle, reports the Washington Post, is expected to be over warrantless wiretapping.
Leaders of the Democratic-majority Congress received an earful from liberal members of their party after moderate House and Senate Democrats helped approve the Protect America Act before the break. The legislation expanded warrantless eavesdropping on suspected terrorists contacting sources in the United States through Internet and phone communications. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to quickly revisit the measure, which expires in six months. Separately, senior Democratic lawmakers want to probe possible wrongdoing by the office of outgoing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in initiating the surveillance program, a matter the Justice Department's inspector general (IHT) says he will investigate. Democrats are also expected to push for closing the prison for “war on terror” detainees in Guantanamo Bay, as well as to press for Congress to approve giving terrorist suspects the right to court trials. Top Bush administration officials have said they would like to close the prison, but the issue is complicated by the difficulty in resettling inmates in their countries of origin, says State Department Legal Counsel John Bellinger.
Democrats also face challenges in advancing their first big legislative initiative on energy. The House has approved (IHT) a bill requiring most utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. A Senate bill does not include such a measure but does require increased fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, a requirement left out of the House bill after some opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike. Fuel-efficiency standards are likely to emerge as a chief item of debate this fall. A powerful lawmaker whose support will be needed for such a measure is Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell also expects to be in the thick of debate over controversial comprehensive climate-change legislation. He is reportedly drafting a bill that would remove the popular mortgage interest deduction on “McMansions,” or homes over three thousand square feet, which Dingell says is crucial (WashPost) to reducing carbon emissions by up to 80 percent by 2050.
Battle lines are forming around trade issues as well. Congressional Democrats have pressed to include labor and environmental standards in already negotiated agreements for Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. So far, Peru seems the only one with a chance of passing (Reuters) in the near future amid stiffening trade winds in Congress. Also up for debate is an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which expires September 30. Experts like Robert J. LaLonde have argued that TAA, which aims to aid workers displaced by trade, does too little to help those affected. He urges a new approach that boosts supplemental pay to workers facing a long-term reduction in wages. But some see the administration’s failure to win extension of its ability to negotiate fast-track trade deals as proof that TAA is not effective, and robust changes may prove difficult.