Congress Poised to Clear Economic Stimulus Package

February 12, 2009 06:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

End zone for economic stimulus proposals

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Both the House and Senate plan to vote on the economic stimulus package today, with some Democratic leadership concern about ensuring the attendance of enough Democratic senators. Because Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is not expected to return from Florida, Democrats need all other 57 Democratic senators present to vote for the measure — along with the three GOP moderates — to reach the 60 vote threshold.

The conference report itself was not filed until 10:30 p.m. ET last night, giving rise to Republican and other complaints that a measure that spends nearly trillion dollars should have several days for members to review.

Some items of note in the economic package, many of which are not getting much public attention:

-- Debt Limit Increase: The agreement increases the federal debt limit by $789 billion — to $12.104 trillion from $11.315 trillion. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (PL 110-343) increased the debt limit last October by $700 billion, and followed an $800 billion increase three months prior.

-- Union Wages: The bill requires all employers that receive contracts under the agreement to pay their workers the prevailing union wage under Davis-Bacon laws.

-- Buy American Steel: The measure provides that iron and steel used in construction and repair projects funded under the agreement be produced in the U.S.— unless it violates obligations under World Trade Organization agreements. The House-passed version mandated that American steel be used in all projects, which caused a backlash in Europe and threats of retaliatory measures.

-- Expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA): The agreement expands current TAA to trade-affected services sector workers and workers affected by offshoring or outsourcing to all countries, including China or India. The measure increases training funds available to states by 160 percent, to $575 million a year, creates a new TAA program for trade-affected communities, allows for automatic TAA eligibility for workers suffering from import surges and unfair trade, makes training, healthcare and re-employment TAA benefits more accessible and flexible, and enhances benefits in the TAA for Firms and TAA for Farmers programs. The agreement also reauthorizes all TAA programs through Dec. 31, 2010.

-- Duty Refund Recollection: The agreement prohibits US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from demanding that US lumber, steel, and other companies repay duties that CBP collected on Canadian and Mexican imports, and then distributed to the companies between 2001 and 2005. The provision is estimated to cost $90 million over 10 years.

-- E-Verify Program: The agreement does not include the House provision that would have prohibited the government from contracting with employers that do not use the E-Verify program, an Internet-based program administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that allows employers to verify the employment eligibility of their hires.

-- Rural Business Loans: The Business and Industry (B&I) Loan Guarantee program guarantees loans made by eligible local lenders to businesses to benefit rural areas. The program typically guarantees losses of up to 80 percent of the original loan amount, which is normally limited to a maximum of $10 million per borrower. The guaranteed loans are for businesses in rural areas up to 50,000 population, and priority is given to applications for loans in rural communities of 25,000 or less. The measure appropriates $150 million for the program, which would guarantee $3 billion in loans.

Comments: Note the B&I program funding because that is an important program for the business of agriculture, including the energy sector.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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