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Boom Years for Congress

December 27, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Between 1984 and 2009, the average net worth of American families has decreased by about .7 percent. But for the folks in Washington that we elect year after year to make laws for us and spend our money, these past few decades haven't been so bad. Over the same time period that average Americans experienced a slight decrease in their net worth, members of Congress, on average, have enjoyed a increase in their worth of about 159 percent.

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60 More Days of the Same

December 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

So, House Republicans have completed their cave in and agreed unanimously to the Senate's two month extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance, and other policies that were scheduled to expire on December 31st. There's a lot of buzz about how this is good for Obama on the political level, but let's be clear -- all this agreement does is extend the status quo. Nothing in this bill would provide new stimulus to boost the economy or create jobs. And it will only last for 60 days, after which point the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment insurance benefits are at serious risk of being reduced.

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As grassroots opposition to the internet censorship bills known as SOPA and PIPA continues to build, the entertainment industry and their allies in Congress are scrambling to move them forward as quickly as possible. Here's an update on where things stand at the moment and what to expect when Congress comes back from the holiday recess.

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As 2011 ends, the first session of the 112th U.S. Congress stumbles to a bad-faith curtain. The third branch of federal government in our representative democracy, Congress is down to a new record-low 11% approval rating, as per Gallup News this week. "This earns Congress a 17% yearly average for 2011, the lowest annual congressional approval rating in Gallup history," they report. USA #1 - we've hit a new bottom! These are the despised, fallible elected officials who write legislation shaping our laws, public policy priorities, & federal budget.

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House GOP Paints Itself Into a Corner on Payroll Taxes

December 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Having voted 89-10 to approve an extension of payroll tax cuts, unemployment benefits and dome other policies that are scheduled to expire on January 1st, the Senate has recessed for the year and gone home for the holiday recess. All that the House has to do to make the bill officially ready to be signed into law is hold a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate's bipartisan bill. But during a 3 a.m. meeting of the House Rules Committee last night, the Republican majority devised a different plan -- twist the voting procedure so that the Senate's bill can be rejected while allowing the Republicans to save face by technically voting "aye."

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SOPA Mark-up Delayed as Support Continues to Crumble

December 16, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The fight to kill SOPA, which has been waged through exactly the kinds of online social networks that would be most at risk of being blacklisted under the bill, is itself a perfect example of why SOPA must be killed. Whereas traditional, corporate-owned media tends to be biased towards the preservation of social divisions that benefit those in power, online peer-to-peer networks have the ability to facilitate the kind of grassroots, cross-partisan coalitions that can make a difference on matters of fundamental rights like the freedom of speech online.

 

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During today's mark-up of the "Stop Online Piracy Act," a bill that would establish the first internet censorship system in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee rejected a key amendment that would have removed provisions from the bill that call for entire sites to be blacklisted from the internet via DNS blocking, the same system used in the Great Firewall of China.

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SOPA Goes Through Staged Compromise, Still Censorship

December 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The notorious internet censorship bill known as SOPA is going to mark-up in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, and ahead of the meeting the committee chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith [R, TX], has pulled a neat little trick. Smith has come out with a manager's amendment that eliminates the most insanely unconstitutional elements of the bill, leaving behind an expansive censorship system for the government and the entertainment industry that is meant to seem reasonable by contrast.

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After a full weekend of secret meetings, negotiators on the Defense Authorization bill conference committee have drafted a final version that retains the authority for the military to indefinitely maintain terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens, without charge or trial while attempting to address the concerns of the President that prompted a veto threat. The final bill is set to be approved by the House and the Senate this week.

 

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For months, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been talking about the need to come together on a plan to extend several policies that will expire at the end of the year. But with just a handful of days left before the holiday break, the two sides are only growing further apart on how to get it done.

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With the House having voted 406-17 to "close" portions of the meetings and avoid public scrutiny, members from both chambers and both parties are meeting in a secretive conference committee to work on reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. On the military detention provision, their main task is going to be to find a solution that can pass both chambers (again) and not draw a veto from President Obama.

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Following last month's 60 Minutes expose on insider trading by Congress, the House Financial Service Committee Act is holding a mark-up this morning of the STOCK Act, which seeks to end the practice of members of Congress trading stocks based on nonpublic information. Under current law, insider trading laws are hardly ever enforced for members of Congress, and we've known for some time that members' investments consistently outperform the market by a significant amount. Legislation to stop congressional insider trading has been pending in the House and Senate for 6 years, and only now is the bill starting to move forward.

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Third Time's a Charm?

December 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Democrats have released details of their third attempt to get Republicans on board for two major pieces of the Obama jobs bill -- extending the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment insurance for another year, . According to a press release from Sen. Robert Casey [D, PA], the new proposal would reduce the overall cost of the plan by about $80 billion by letting payroll tax holiday expire for employers' contributions. Workers would still get a 50 percent reduction in the amount of payroll taxes they would have to pay normally.

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OpenGovernment.org blog post on VoxPopuLII

December 5, 2011 - by David Moore

I'm pleased to have been asked to contribute a blog post on our work with OpenGovernment.org to VoxPopuLII, a legal research blog. Published today. Topics include the following: visceral contemporary public distrust of government; improved policy outcomes through deliberative democracy; mitigating systemic corruption through radical transparency; how researchers can use OpenGovernment to find & cite official bill text & legislative actions; OG's #opengov data partners & NGO allies; and our vision of making civic engagement as easy as using your favorite social networking service. Hope you'll read the post, click through for more info about it and a preview of what I think is its most share-able content.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

December 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After a pair of failing votes last week -- one on a Democratic plan and one on a Republican plan -- the Senate will pick up will they left off on trying to extend several programs that are set to expire at the end of the month, including the payroll tax holiday, extended unemployment insurance, and more. Both Republicans and Democrats say they want to extend the programs, but they disagree about how to pay for them. According to Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND], the Democrats are will be introducing a new plan today to be voted on in the first half of this week. No info on the details yet, but Conrad says it "will be paid for in a way that's credible and serious."

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