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The Week Ahead in Congress

February 28, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

After a week of recess, Congress has come back into session with a relatively light schedule. The House has scheduled votes on a handful of non-controvesrial "suspension" bills, a bill to repeal some new Department of Education program integrity rules for colleges and universities, and a bill to pre-empt state environmental laws for a river in California. Meanwhile, the Senate may or may not resume working on the transportation authorization bill.

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Dems Re-Intro Super PAC Disclosure Bill

February 21, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

One of the best ways to understand why Congress does what it does is to follow the money. Take a look at which corporations and unions are donating to members of Congress who support their pet bills and you can start to see the networks of influence that partly control what legislation gets considered and how senators and representatives vote. Unfortunately, in our post-Citizens United v. F.E.C. world, following the money is becoming much more difficult. In the 2012 presidential contest, Super PACs, which do not have to publicly disclose where all of their money comes from, have officially overtaken candidate campaigns in election fundraising and spending. Any semblance of separation between Super PACs and campaigns has completely disappeared as well, meaning that the traditional, regulated and disclosed candidate campaign has basically been replaced by the unlimited, secretive Super PAC.

 

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Help OpenCongress Fundraise (Not-For-Profit)

February 16, 2012 - by David Moore

The U.S. Congress is a baffling, closed-off institution. OpenCongress works every day to make its workings more accessible

Help us keep OpenCongress alive as a free & open-source public resource.

OpenCongress will launch a new fundraising drive next month and we need some volunteer web development time to make it happen. Click through to see how you can help. 

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Unemployment Insurance Cuts in the Latest Deal

February 15, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

It’s not official yet, but it appears that Democrats and Republicans in Congress are on the verge of striking a deal on extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance benefits. While the payroll tax holiday would be continued in its current form under the deal, the policies governing extended unemployment insurance for the would change significantly. Under the deal, long-term unemployed workers in most states would see their maximum length of benefits restricted, and they may face new drug testing and job retraining requirements to continue receiving benefits. Here are the details of the the deal as it currently stands, according to an outline obtained by CNN:

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One of the things that became clear in Congress’ push to pass Hollywood’s web censorship bills is that powerful corporations and the federal government do not want the rule of law to apply on the internet. The attitude that our basic freedoms and legal protections are somehow not valid on the internet is partly just the kind of reaction you would expect from entrenched powers whenever new technologies emerge, but it’s also a response to the particular peer-to-peer features of the internet that threaten to make their key sources of power -- control of information flow -- less relevant.

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Last month’s flurry of Stop-PIPA & Stop-SOPA online protests were an apex of activity for OpenCongress. Not only was January 18th, 2012 the single-highest day of traffic on OC since our launch in February 2007, but also the stop-PIPA action was in many ways the height of user engagement with active legislation in the U.S. Congress. The huge “Internet blackout” event on January 18th was OC’s single largest day of traffic, with over 250,000 visits and more than half a million pageviews (and likely would have been much higher if we could afford more servers and cloud-scaling ability to handle the traffic rush).

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Senate Passes FAA Bill With Anti-Union Language

February 7, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

By a vote of 75-20, the Senate has given final passage to a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would make it tougher for transportation workers to unionize. Under the bill, the National Mediation Board -- the agency that manages labor issues for the railroad and airline industries -- would not be allowed to call for an union election unless at least 50 percent of the employees of a company sign authorization cards requesting an election.

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House Getting Creative With the Earmark Moratorium

February 6, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

House Republicans are starting to find ways around the earmark moratorium they voted for last year. The latest example, according to the New York Times, comes in the form of the 2012 Army Corps of Engineers budget. Instead of the $533 million worth of earmarks they included in 2010, the 2012 budget sets aside $507 in 26 slush funds, along withe a set of guidelines for making sure the money goes to Congress' favorite pet projects.

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Liberate OpenGovData Now

February 1, 2012 - by David Moore

It's 2012 - we don't have hover skateboards, and we don't have #opengov. We could have the latter, at least, in the here and now, benefiting every American, if the systemically corrupt U.S. Congress was capable of reforming itself (which it is currently, unfortunately, not). (Right, '80's movie art, w/ connotations of liberation by force and yet a certain datedness... it's past time.) 

I'm writing this on the train from NYC to D.C., en route to the Conference on Legislative Data & Transparency to be held Thursday, Feb. 2nd, 9am - 5pm ET - agenda here, webcast live here, micro-publishing updates here.

This shouldn't be a negotiation - rather, I'm here to call for liberation of public legislative data via bulk access and moving towards an open API for THOMAS. Then proceeding aggressively to API enhancements for Congressional offices to continually engage with constituent communications - for a living, breathing deliberative democracy - aided by open technology.

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The undue influence of corporate money in public policy is at the root of nearly all the major problems facing the U.S. right now, and in the wake of the Citizens United decision it's only going to get worse. That's why it was good to hear President Obama call out the "corrosive influence of money in politics" during his State of the Union speech. Unfortunately, his primary call to action doesn't even address the real issue.

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