After taking a week off, Congress returns to work, with GOP members divided with President Bush on some issues and among themselves on others. Following Hurricane Katrina, the federal government offered more than $60 billion to the Gulf Coast, and Bush gave a speech last month in which he laid out what sounded like billions more in spending for that area. But GOP fiscal conservatives, long unhappy about the increasing levels of federal spending over the last several years, have instead seized the upper hand, insisting that the high spending on Katrina means the government needs to cut back everywhere else. "What people are saying is that our spending is getting out of hand," said House Republican Jack Kingston, who represents an area of southeastern Georgia. Congress already approved around $35 billion in cuts for programs like Medicaid and farm subsidies earlier this year, but House Republicans will this week explore raising that amount to $50 billion. They are also considering budget cuts of 1%, 2% or 5% that would affect programs throughout the federal government, drawing the concern of GOP moderates in the House and Senate, as well as Democrats. Many of the Democratic operatives who successfully organized against Bush's Social Security personal accounts plan earlier this year are now organizing events and sending reporters endless e-mails to oppose the spending cuts.
Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress, worried about wasteful spending, will continue their debate with the Bush administration over how to handle the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sen. Tom Coburn has asked Bush to appoint a CFO to monitor Katrina spending, Sen. Judd Gregg continues to call for a separate government agency to oversee Gulf Coast reconstruction and Sen. Chuck Grassley wants to create special Medicaid funding for Katrina victims. The administration has declined to support any of these proposals.
And of course, the most divisive issue, the Harriet Miers nomination, now enters its third week. Manny Miranda, a conservative activist and former GOP Senate aide, predicts more conservative groups will declare their opposition to her this week. But in the Senate, which will ultimately decide the nomination's fate, Miers will have a couple of opportunities to build support for herself. After a series of meetings two weeks ago that left many GOP senators underwhelmed, Miers will be back on Capitol Hill this week. The nominee is also expected to return a 12-page questionnaire this week that the Senate gave her last week, which included questions on her views on "judicial activism," cases she's worked on constitutional issues and whether she was asked or made promises to people on how she would vote on the Court before her nomination. Both Bush and Texas Senator John Cornyn will hold events with former Texas Supreme Court justices who will announce their support for Miers. And while Democrats have mostly been content to watch the Republican intramural fight, Senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein will meet with the nominee on Monday. Feinstein's impressions will be particularly important, as she is the only woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee and will closely examine Miers' views on abortion.
While Miers and Rove get most of the attention, a
number of other issues are on the agenda in Washington this week: