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Busy day on Capitol Hill

After a long and sometimes tumultuous journey to the desk of President George W. Bush, yesterday the sweeping housing rescue bill finally became a law.

In addition to helping struggling mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from going under, the measure will, among other things: allow some subprime borrowers to have the terms of the their mortgages changed to a fixed, 30-year loan; provides funds to fix up foreclosed properties in hard-hit areas in an effort to prevent neighborhood property value loss; gives help for some struggling first-time homebuyers; and fund preforeclosure counseling.

Meanwhile, yesterday Congress moved on some other closely-watched bills (Yes, they are only bills, and they’re sitting there on Capitol Hill):

The House passed a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products. FDA officials have voiced opposition to the measure, saying that the agency doesn’t have the resources for such a task, and the White House has criticized the measure as well, saying that regulation of cigarettes would give a false imprimatur that some cigarettes are safe.

But lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, a sponsor of a companion bill in the Senate which is also supported by presidential candidates Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, said the law is necessary. “Senator Kennedy believes strongly that this is the most important thing Congress can do to prevent youth smoking and save kids from a lifetime of addiction and early death,” said Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee yesterday.

The House also passed a bill that would ban lead and other dangerous chemicals from items such as jewelry and rubber ducks that could end up in kids’ mouths. The move came after worldwide recalls of many children’s’ products which were found to contain lead last year.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the version of the bill passed by the House “moved in our direction a little bit on some of the issues that we were concerned about” in earlier drafts, some questions may still remain.

House lawmakers also found time to cite former White House advisor Karl Rove in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about Justice Department goings on. Rove joins former White House counsel Harriet Miers and chief of staff Josh Bolten, who were cited with contempt charges earlier. The Justice Department has declined to institute charges against them. What happens now for Rove remains unclear.

Over on the Senate side, the energy bill stalled over a provision on offshore drilling. Next week begins a monthlong break for the lawmakers before election season starts, meaning the housing bill may be the last big piece of successful legislation by this Congress.

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