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This Week In Congress - July 16, 2010

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

Lawmakers returned to Washington to a heaping plateful of priorities, and just 20 working days before they leave town again for the August recess. One of those priorities: the unemployment benefits that continue to lapse for millions of people now chronically-unemployed. With the recent death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Democrats lost not just a colleague, but a vote. One of the 60 votes they need to move the benefits extension, or any bill, forward.

UDALL: Just a few years ago we would cut taxes and put a Medicare benefit in place and start a war in Iraq and not be concerned about paying for it.

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado.

UDALL: When it comes to the needs of hard working Americans who have lost their jobs, we can’t find a way to cover them? It does not make sense to me.

LEMIEUX: I want unemployment benefits for Floridians, but we don’t need to put another $30 billion of debt on our children and grandchildren.

That’s Senator George LeMieux, Republican of Florida.

At this point, the contours of the ‘stimulative-spending versus fiscal-conservative’ positions are well defined, excruciatingly familiar, and about to become ossified by the effects of a midterm campaign season. The next step for Democratic leaders? Getting someone to fill Byrd’s seat, for one.

How about some news of cooperation and cross-party unity for a change? This week, Senators darn-near grabbed hands and sang Kumbaya over a compromise on the future of NASA and human space flight.

NELSON: It’s somewhat of a miracle that we have been able to achieve the unanimity in this consensus. It’s a miracle but I believe in miracles.

After months of heated debate, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and the rest of the Senate Commerce and Science Committee unanimously approved a plan that will extend the shuttle program for another year. The compromise invests more than $1 billion in commercial space projects, but it doesn’t rely on the private sector as much as the President wanted. Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison rarely agrees with Democrats, but in this case...

HUTCHISON: I think we have created a balance in which commercial is going to be very important. And it will be transitional. Down the road perhaps, commercial will have the capabilities to take over the main components of space exploration, but we are not there yet.

The common ground in outer space...not surprisingly...JOBS.

Speaking of things that took months of debate: On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill aimed at reforming the financial regulatory system. In its final form, the Wall Street overhaul reworks bank oversight, tightens rules for high-risk financial instruments and creates an agency devoted to "consumer protection."

What, no rousing chorus of "kumbaya?" What Senators did instead was immediately break into solos, singing the virtues of their own contributions. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado insisted on language to ensure that returned bailout funds will go toward paying down the deficit.

BENNET: My amendment, the Pay It Back Act, said that money should be used dollar for dollar to reduce our deficit, because we borrowed it from our kids. When the President signs this bill that will be the law of the land.

On a bill this big, it pays to say "Hey, I made it better." Perhaps more than it pays to celebrate the whole, lumpy, imperfect thing.

Next week, on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on whether to advance Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to the full Senate for confirmation. Also on Tuesday, 36-year-old Carte Goodwin will be sworn in to complete the term of the late Senator Byrd.

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

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