Congress Spars on Gas Prices, Immigration Bill

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Congress returns from spring break in a contentious mood. Debates include immigration legislation, rising gas prices and lobbying reform. Up next: a debate over how much to emphasize English in American life.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Congress got back to work this week following the spring recess, and by all accounts they're off to a pretty wild start.

NPR's David Welna joins us to talk about a tumultuous week up there on Capitol Hill. David, thanks very much for being with us.

DAVID WELNA: Sure, hi Scott.

SIMON: A deal on immigration legislation stalled in the Senate just before the recess, but over the break increasing pressure on Senators back home to move ahead on a bill. What happened this week?

WELNA: Well, there's been a lot of talk, if not a whole lot of action. President Bush sort of got the ball rolling again this week by inviting Senators from both parties over to the White House on Tuesday to talk about the stalled compromise immigration bill. And the following day, something related to immigration actually did get done in the Senate, and that was almost two billion dollars in spending on border security was approved as part of the emergency spending bill for funding for the war in Iraq. And yesterday, Minority Leader Harry Reid promised he won't oppose voting on amendments to the immigration bill when it comes up again, so that impasse seems to be resolved. So I guess you could fairly say even though they still don't have an immigration bill, there has been some progress this week.

SIMON: A lot of Americans want to know what the House and Senate are going to do about rising gas prices.

WELNA: Well, I think they're going to point fingers of blame at each other if this past week's been any guide. Republicans say it's all the fault of Democrats that gas prices are high. They say Democrats have blocked energy bills for years that would've allowed for more oil drilling in places such as the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. And Senate Republicans even offered a hundred dollar gas relief check to all but the wealthiest taxpayers. And you know where that money would come from for those checks?

SIMON: No.

WELNA: Well, they come from projected revenues from drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, which is why Democrats are calling this a hundred-dollar bribe to open up Amwar.

SIMON: And finally a lot of talk about reform on Capitol Hill now that it's become a high crime area with so many congressmen and staff members and lobbyist getting indicted. Any response?

WELNA: Well, the Senate has passed its version of lobby reform. The House tried to do so this week. And when these scandals first broke, there were grand promises of we're going to really clean up things and there's going to be an overhaul of lobby rules. What they came out with this week was pretty, pretty mild, and that itself got into a big jam on Thursday and they left it for next week, but a lot of people say this is hardly the kind of lobby reform that we might've expected.

SIMON: So everything gets worked out next week?

WELNA: Well, not everything necessarily. I guess one thing we're going to have when we come back on Monday here is Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee, is going to introduce a Senate resolution giving senders, as he put it, an opportunity to remind the country why we sing our National Anthem in English. And so I think we're going to have a huge debate in the Senate next week on should we speak English in this country.

SIMON: NPR's David Welna, thanks very much.

WELNA: Sure, Scott.

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