This week the Senate will focus on its annual chore of deciding how much to spend and how much to cut from government agencies and programs for next year. And while the President has urged fiscal restraint by calling for substantial cuts in Medicare & Medicaid, the Senate has effectively abandoned his requests (fearing such a move would prove to be an unpopular election year strategy). But as part of its budget bill, the GOP leadership has renewed an effort to open part of Alaska's wildlife refuge to oil drilling, a Bush priority.
The Senate must also address the onerous task of raising the nation's debt ceiling limit by about $780 billion, thereby allowing the country to borrow more money and avoid defaulting on its loans. The all but mandatory vote has to happen by Friday, before the Senate starts another week-long recess next week. It will be a difficult, but necessary evil for Republicans who have been roundly criticized by Democrats for the country's ballooning deficit.
The high cost of gasoline is back before the Senate on Tuesday when the Judiciary Committee brings in the CEOs of the five largest oil companies. At issue is whether the consolidation of the energy industry is raising prices at the pump.
In other hearings of interest, the Foreign Relations Committee addresses the challenges in the Middle East following Hamas' election victory; and the Government Affairs subcommittee tackles the GAO's annual list that identifies the federal programs that are ineffective and high-risk for waste, fraud, and abuse. Both are on Wednesday.