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This Week in Congress - April 3, 2010

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

Began with the first of three straight days of procedural non-starters in the Senate. Republicans – and one Democrat – held off repeated attempts to bring the financial reform bill to the floor. A few members of the Senate Banking Committee quietly continued to work across the aisle. According to Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, at least, there are some common goals here…

WARNER: We all agree no more taxpayer bailouts, we all agree more transparency and we all agree there ought to be some sense of fairness in our financial system and that consumers ought to know the financial products they are using or buying and mortgages have got some basic underlying protections to them.”

A funny thing happens on the way to specifics, though. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson was the only Democrat to oppose moving the financial reform debate to the floor.

NELSON: “I’m a stickler. I wanted to see the legislation before I decide to vote for cloture on it.”

Cloture… motion to proceed… procedural votes tend to be the reason that Senators wind up being tagged as being “for” something before they were “against” it…. Or, in Nelson’s case, the other way around.

NELSON: “Look. I’m looking to be in favor of the bill. I just want to make sure that it does in fact deal with the Wall Street issues and not overextend to deal with Main Street issues that are not part of the problem.”

Meanwhile, This Week In Carbon-based Energy Disasters…

On Tuesday, the Senate convened a hearing on the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 men. The Upper Big Branch mine had racked up citations for safety violations at an average rate of almost one per day every day of the last two years. Why didn’t the federal government enforce current law or use its authority to shut down parts of the operation? That’s what Iowa Senator Tom Harkin asked Joseph Main from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

MAIN-HARKIN: “It has never been used Senator. Why? Why that’s a good question well he can answer I can’t speak for past administrations but I can tell you this we are going to use it, well I sure hope so.”

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts wants the Massey Energy Company to face criminal penalties.

ROBERTS: “There were grown men here crying afraid that this mine was going to explode that’s been in the mining industry for years. We should put someone in jail whether it is section foreman mine foreman or the owner of the company who allowed something like that to happen.”

Soon enough, though, attention would shift from the tunnels beneath Appalachia to the waters off the Gulf Coast. Florida Senator Bill Nelson called for a joint hearing into the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The long-term effects on the environment, on off-shore energy projects and on the livelihoods of thousands of people have yet to be quantified. Closer to home, in Hill terms, a renewed push for comprehensive immigration reform this week pushed ahead of plans for the Senate to move forward on energy and climate legislation.

And late this week, Republicans and Democrats at last came to terms and a financial regulatory reform bill came to the Senate floor for debate. While across the Capitol in the House, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen celebrated the introduction of legislation aimed at rolling back the effects of the Supreme Court “Citizens United” ruling.

VAN HOLLEN: Nobody should be afraid of this bill unless they’ve got something to hide. If you’re trying to spend millions of dollars to influence voters without them knowing who you are, then you might not want to spend all that money.

The bill would require disclosure of campaign spending by corporations and other big special interests.

VAN HOLLEN: Should we really allow AIG to turn around, funnel that money through dummy corporations, and then try to defeat members of Congress who are trying to hold them accountable in passing Wall Street reform? I don’t think the American people would want that to happen.

That bill is set to have its first hearing in committee next week.

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

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