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This Week In Congress - February 5, 2010

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SCRIPT:

I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...

The week began with considerable anticipation for the big reveal of President Obama’s… budget.

Need help finding it? It’s down there at the bottom of a really deep hole. Joe Minarik is with the Committee for Economic Development and a former chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget. Minarik sees the budget through the lens of a dilemma; so what would an expert economist do?

MINARIK: You would say that we need the federal government to stimulate the economy in the short run and then to pivot and to begin to bring the deficit down a couple of years out.

OK--so what’s the problem?

MINARIK: Uh, that is a very difficult message to explain. It is politically extremely risky to take that kind of a nuanced sophisticated approach to economic policy. The unfortunate part of the story is that that is something that is absolutely necessary at this time.

Congress spent much of the week dissecting the implications of the new budget. It’s the opening bell for what will be months of arguing over painful cuts, made all the more so by the fact that the biggest line items are off-limits. Florida Senator Bill Nelson took solace in a familiar mantra:

NELSON: The President proposes. Congress disposes.

Speaking of battles...This week the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to talk about the future of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Afterward, said committee chairman Carl Levin:

LEVIN: It was a good week because the military leadership came out against continuing this discriminatory policy. It had a big impact around the country.

Less of an impact, perhaps, on Republican committee member Senator Jeff Sessions. Before the hearing, Sessions said he’s reluctant to mess with the military’s long stand against serving-while-gay, but he wanted to hear from the military commanders. ("And I’d like to hear what they think.") After the hearing, he said he wasn’t convinced these commanders should be allowed to speak for the military.

SESSIONS: And we should be sure we listen to the people in the ranks that have different opinion and they should in no way be intimated in expressing their views.

In the meantime, the Pentagon plans to do its first in-depth study on the issue.

On Thursday a couple of Democrats got their outrage on… Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Jim Webb of Virginia introduced a bill aimed at reclaiming a chunk of this year’s Wall Street bonus boom.

BOXER: It would affect top earners at companies that received more than $5 billion in TARP funds. And any bonus payment over $400,000 would be subject to a 50-percent tax.

WEBB: All we’re saying is, on a one-shot deal, they should share the benefit of that bonus with the taxpayers who bailed them out.

Republican critics of the approach say it’s a populist vote-getter at best...an expression of class warfare at worst. Boxer says it’s about fairness.

BOXER: It’s symbolic but it’s also real. We estimate we could see about $10B into the Treasury at a time when we’re looking hard for deficit reduction. And that’s what this money would go for--deficit reduction.

The one-year bonus tax would apply only to firms that were bailed out to the tune of five billion dollars or more.

When Congress returns to the Hill next week--assuming anyone can locate the big white dome poking out from under all the snow--Newly-sworn in Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown starts his first official week in the Senate… which is expected to move forward on a jobs bill. Also up for consideration: Guantanamo detainee transfer policy.

That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.

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