Congress Is Back, And The Work Has Piled Up Lawmakers will get back to work on Capitol Hill this week after a two-week spring break. Just before leaving town, Congress passed the House and Senate versions of President Barack Obama's proposed budget. Now, the two chambers must work out a final version. And they'll be dealing with a whole slew of developments that occurred while the members were away.
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Congress Is Back, And The Work Has Piled Up

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Congress Is Back, And The Work Has Piled Up

Congress Is Back, And The Work Has Piled Up

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer in for Liane Hansen.

Lawmakers are coming back to work on Capitol Hill after a two-week spring break. Just before leaving town, Congress passed the House and Senate versions of President Barack Obama's proposed budget. Now the two chambers must work out the final version, and they'll be dealing with a whole slew of developments that occurred while members were away.

Joining me to talk about what's in store is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. David, welcome.

DAVID WELNA: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, if members of Congress were to get one of those old pink phone message forms that says, while you were out, what would be on it?

WELNA: Well, you'd have to cram quite a bit onto it, just as many other presidents have done. President Obama waited until lawmakers had gone home to spring several things that might have stirred things up on the Hill. One of them was a request for $83 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The funding that President Bush had requested for those wars essentially ran out in March and none had been budgeted for this year. So this is outside of the budget that Congress has been debating. And I don't think he's going to have a lot of problem getting that money, but he's probably going to catch some flack from anti-war Democrats in Congress. Republicans, I think, will generally support that request.

Another thing that came out was that Defense Secretary Gates wants to cut back on major weapons programs, and that includes cutting down on the number of the advanced fighters, F-22s, sort of canning the new presidential helicopter that was being built, a Navy destroyer, a new Air Force bomber. And this, in some ways, is sort of declaring war on the Defense appropriators. These big weapons' programs account for a lot of jobs in many, many states. And I think he's got a fight on his hands trying to cut back on those programs.

WERTHEIMER: And the Environmental Protection Agency, David, issued some findings that may be some sort of a forcing mechanism for the Congress to deal with global warming.

WELNA: That's right. They found that there are six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, that can endanger human health and welfare. And that gives them the authority under the Clean Air Act to actually regulate those gases. And if Congress doesn't come up with some plan on its own to control those gases, then the EPA could go ahead and do this. So this puts a lot of pressure on lawmakers to do something.

WERTHEIMER: We don't have too much time, David, but could you just talk about the new revelations about government eavesdropping?

WELNA: Right. You know, under rules that Congress passed last year, a review of the domestic electronic surveillances being carried out by the National Security Agency found there had been improper spying done on Americans' phone calls and emails. And such surveillance was even considered for a member of Congress. All this was revealed this week by The New York Times. But, in fact, some members of Congress say that they'd been told about such breaches as early as February, and now they're finally going to hold some closed-door hearings on just what happened.

WERTHEIMER: And, David, at this weekend's Summit of the Americas, President Obama raised the idea of opening relations with Cuba. What do you think Congress is going to think about that?

WELNA: Well, you know, the president called for what he described as a new beginning with Cuba. And I think a lot of members of Congress would second him on that. There's a widespread feeling that sanctions on Cuba have done very little to change things there. And when President Obama lifted all restrictions during this break on travel to Cuba by people who have relatives there, as well as on sending them money, he immediately got praise from a number of lawmakers. But they said that more steps have to be taken.

And already there's pending legislation in Congress to lift all travel restrictions, not just for Cuban-Americans, but for anyone who wants to go to Cuba, and it has the backing of some Republicans, as well as many Democrats.

WERTHEIMER: NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. Thank you very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Linda.

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