Congress Delays Recess to Finish Business

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Congress was supposed to be on its way home for an August recess but is staying put for at least one more day. President Bush is pressing for changes to the law affecting the electronic surveillance, and there are other issues of energy policy, children's health care, and more.


Congress was supposed to be on its way home for an August recess today, but it's tarried in Washington, D.C., for at least one more day. President Bush is pressing for changes of a law affecting the electronics surveillance he wants to do on suspected terrorists. And there are other issues of energy policy and a good deal more.

Our congressional correspondent - forgive me - Andrea Seabrook, joins us now. Andrea, still up, still operating? Long night?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANDREA SEABROOK: Actually, we did get some sleep last night. Things weren't quite as insane as we thought they might be.

SIMON: Ordinarily by August 4, you can see in Washington, D.C., a long line of Congress people with their belongings in little wheelbarrows, getting out of town for the August recess, but not today. What's holding up the usual stampede?

SEABROOK: No, the smell of jet fumes is in the air, but not quite, not quite yet. The Congress - the House has a whole list of issues to deal with - an energy bill full of conservation measures, a giant spending bill to fund the entire Department of Defense for next year, and it looks like the House will have to do a little bit more work on a measure to provide emergency transportation funds to Minnesota to help rebuild the I-35 bridge - all of these and not to mention FISA.

SIMON: Well, you just did. Where do things stand regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?

SEABROOK: This is the biggest piece of meat on the House plate today. Democratic leaders tried to pass their own version of the spying authorization bill yesterday, but they failed. The Senate passed a version that is very close to what the White House wants with a few changes.

Now, backing up here, President Bush wanted a permanent bill that would allow spy agencies' broad powers to listen in on telephone calls and other communications that come through to the United States, and he wanted to give discretion and authority over the program to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Well, the Senate is in a big fight with Gonzales and has threatened to charge him with perjury, in fact. And so this just didn't go well over there.

So Democrats added another name to the spying bill, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. He'll have control with Gonzales, plus the bill sunsets, that means it ends in six months. So that gives lawmakers time to write a sort of longer, a more permanent bill. The House is expected to bring up this version sometime today.

SIMON: And the House, for its part, wants to pass a bill or two on energy policy. What are those bills they're trying to do?

SEABROOK: They sure do. These are big - the big picture of these bills - new efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, incentives for gas stations to turn gas pumps to E85 ethanol pumps, more electricity from wind power and other renewable sources, tax breaks for, again, renewable energy sources.

The one thing that Republicans say these bills don't have in them is energy because they say that the bills don't produce anything. They don't lower prices at the pump and so on. Democrats retort that there's hardly a reason to provide incentives to drill more oil when gas prices are at record high. So really these Democratic-written energy bills are all about conservation.

SIMON: And there's what's called SCHIP, this is the state health insurance program for children. Two bills passed by the Senate and House, they're similar but not the same, and again, the president says that he would veto either one in any case.

SEABROOK: Yeah. President Bush really doesn't like the idea of the state - giving money to the states for them to pay for health insurance for needy children. He says it's, you know, a step to universal health care coverage in the United States for government control of health care coverage, and he's not shy about being an open-market private health insurance kind of guy. So the House and the Senate are working on these bills, and they've got, you know, some kinks to work out in the coming hours.

SIMON: So do you have a cot there in the broadcast booth, Andy(ph)?

SEABROOK: My booth is not big enough for a cot, Scott.

SIMON: That's right. I've seen that. Absolutely not - Mickey Rooney maybe could take a nap there but that's about it.


SIMON: Well, all right. Thanks very much. NPR's congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook speaking with us.

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