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This Week In Congress

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By Elizabeth Wynne Johnson

Monday came and went without a Senate vote to extend unemployment benefits.

On Tuesday, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer gaveled the Senate environment committee to order--more precisely, the Democratic half of the committee. Republicans had decided to boycott the markup of Boxer's climate change bill.

Senator George Voinovich of Ohio led the show of no-faith, saying lawmakers should wait an extra five weeks for a so-called "completed" economic assessment.

"We had the EPA here and they showed us the truth," says Boxer. Boxer points to years of study on the effects of carbon emissions, already yielding thousands of pages of data and countless Congressional hearings.

"When you face a situation where there's an issue that is not real, you have to be honest and say it," says Boxer. "They don't have a real issue."

Captain Boxer vowed to continue the voyage of the U.S.S. Climate Bill Markup, with or without Republicans on board. And indeed the Dems-only committee voted to pass the bill on to its next port in the storm.

Meanwhile, Tuesday came and went without a Senate vote to extend unemployment benefits.

There was, however, an election. The following morning, there was a predictable partisan pattern to the patter. Congressman and GOP leader Eric Cantor said people voted in favor of Republican ideas.

"The vote also represented a rejection of the economic policies being pursued here in Congress and by the White House," says Cantor. "And frankly for a better way."

Democrats like Tom Perriello warned against reading too much into the Party's losses. The GOP has Perriello's seat very much in its sights for the mid-term Congressional elections.

"I don't think this has any implications from next year," says Perriello. "I think people in my district, they appreciate hard work, they appreciate results and that's what we are trying to do and focus on."

In the meantime he's raised more than $700,000 dollars for that campaign. On Wednesday, the Senate actually voted on a bill to extend unemployment benefits. It passed unanimously.

House Democrats, on the other had, remained a long way from unanimity on health care. Henry Cuellar represents a Texas district with one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country. More than 30 percent. He's not yet convinced this particular health care bill is the right way to help them.

"You don't just give everything away, you have to make sure you have a system that works well," says Cuellar.

Even as some Dems climb on board, others stand ready to jump ship. Fiscal conservatives like Allen Boyd of Florida have major doubts this trillion-dollar plan will dramatically cut health care costs over the long run.

"If you can't reduce or put something in the bill which bends that cost curve reduces that number or gives some hope of lowering those costs, then I won't support it," says Boyd. "And I don't think we are there yet. I think we have a ways to go."

Leadership announced plans to vote on the bill this Saturday. Could this weekend come and go without a vote on the health care bill? Stay tuned.

House Minority Leader John Boehner unveiled the Republicans' alternative plan: "our approach is a step-by-step approach to make the current system work better."

It would allow private companies sell insurance across state lines. It would not stop companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Next week, the House will either be home recovering from a health care bill hangover, or members will be continuing the legislative bender for another few days. The Senate convenes Monday to debate spending plans for military construction. A Health subcommittee panel will take up the matter of paid sick days for people with the H1N1 flu virus.

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