A few items have been wrapped up in the Senate this week, some of them final, necessary action, and a few just kicking the can down teh road a bit.
- A one-month patch to the Medicare doc fix, a short-term delay to a pending 23 percent cut in Medicare physician payments.
- Mary Landrieu finally lifted the hold she had on the appointment of Jack Lew to OMB, and his appointment was confirmed.
- A long-delayed settlement for minority farmers passed today under unanimous consent. The money will fund a settlment "between the Department of Agriculture and black farmers who claimed government discrimination." They also passed $3.4 billion to settle "complaints that the Department of the Interior mismanaged Native American money accounts."
- As partial relief to America's most vulnerable, they also passed an extension of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This gets a little complicated. They passed a one-year extension for the basic block grant program, which provides assistance to needy families, and two quarters worth of funding in supplemental grants. But they did not include further funding for the Emergency Contingency Fund, a job-subsidy measure from the stimulus bill that created 200,000 jobs for low-income workers. A somewhat mixed bag there, particularly considering the funding to continue TANF came from surpluses in the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program. Because you can't have surpluses in programs that help people, apparently. This does not, however, actually cut benefits for WIC participants.
In the House, this week saw mostly treading water with suspension bills, as they have been consigned to do since the passed the hundreds of bills they completed only to watch the Senate be the Senate and not act on the House's hard work. There was one key suspension vote that failed--a three-month extension of jobless benefits. They did uphold the President's veto of the flawed document notarizaton bill that would have made it much more difficult for mortgage holders to legally challenge foreclosure documents prepared in other states.
The Senate will probably pass a food safety bill early next week, before taking off for Thanksgiving. The chances that they will vote on a jobless benefits vote next week seem slim, which means the millions of people whose benefits expire at the end of the month will have to go through the now all-too familiar stress and uncertainty over losing this key source of income.
Post-Thanksgiving, the list is still very long, as could be the session: unemployment benefits and tax cuts, among them.