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This Week in Congress - August 20, 2010

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

...was one where all the action was away from Capitol Hill.

In events, town hall meetings, press conferences and special appearances -- challengers and incumbents are spending the summer asking for votes.

It's an especially tough time for vulnerable freshman Democrats -- like Colorado's Betsy Markey and Maryland's Frank Kratovil.

KRATOVIL: “The biggest promise I said I was going to keep was being independent and I think I’ve done that.”

Like Kratovil -- Markey is running in a district that did not vote for President Obama. She's tailoring her platform accordingly.

MARKEY: “Spending within our means, looking at our long term structural deficits, supporting small businesses.”

But she has to contend with a difficult yes vote on health care reform -- a vote she says she doesn't regret.

MARKEY: “I also was very happy that any employer with 25 or fewer employees, they don’t have to provide insurance but if they do, they’re going to get a 35-percent tax credit off the cost of that premium.”

Kratovil voted against the health care overhaul but for the controversial 'cap and trade' bill.

KRATOVIL: “I supported the energy bill but I had an amendment that, in my view, was important to farmers.”

Democratic leaders are not taking any chances.

Majority Whip James Clyburn held a press conference at the Capitol touting what he would call some of this year's triumphs -- including new consumer protections.

CLYBURN: “Including the banning of unfair rate increases, abusive fees, and penalties that require credit card companies to reconsider the interest rate hikes they jammed in place before the law took effect.”

Yet, all many reporters wanted to talk about was President Obama's recent comments on the planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero -- where he framed the issue as one of religious freedom.

For days, pundits have been reacting and Republicans trying to capitalize on the comments.

CLYBURN: “I would not say he’s causing trouble. I think it’s the President of the United States articulating the Constitutional principles on which this country was founded and calling for tolerance.”

Despite all the campaigning, some legislative work did get done this week.

Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey held a subcommittee hearing on the Gulf spill, seafood safety and cleanup efforts.

MARKEY: “At least 1.3 million barrels still remain unaccounted for in the waters and marshes of the Gulf.”

Markey expressed strong concern about a recent Obama Administration report, which was optimistic about the pace of recovery and the amount of oil left.

The Congressman asked officials to release more information for independent scientists to review. And grilled government scientist Bill Lehr about the issue.

MARKEY: “What is the time frame for that to happen?”

LEHR: “Well it has been delayed by a week because I am having to come here. But we are trying to get it out within two months.”

MARKEY: “Two months? Yes. That’s not timely enough.”

Markey was also skeptical of seafood safety and government testing efforts.

MARKEY: “Can the FDA and NOAA state unequivocally that fish caught in the state waters are safe to eat?”

RESPONSE: “FDA has expressed confidence in the fish that are commercially marketed from the Gulf coast.”

That was Donald Kraemer with the Food and Drug Administration.

The hearing lasted several hours and included several witnesses.

But Markey was the only lawmaker present.

Apparently, others were too busy fighting for their jobs. That was This Week in Congress.

I’m Manuel Quinones, Capitol News Connection.

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