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The Tax Cut No One Noticed

October 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Did you notice that your federal tax bill was lower last year? If you're like most people, you didn't. But believe it or not, one of the first things Barack Obama and 111th Congress did when they took office in 2009 was pass an income tax cut for about 95% of U.S. tax payers. The New York Times reported yesterday on why this went so unnoticed:

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Remember that "controversial" procedure tactic known as budget reconciliation Senate Democrats used to break a Republican filibuster and pass an amendment to the health care reform bill? Well, the Democrats are setting themselves up to use budget reconciliation again next year. This time it won't be for helping people get health care, but for helping people get jobs. The Hill reports:

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The Budget Reconciliation Cycle Begins Anew

April 6, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Democrats' foresight to included health care reform instructions in the 2010 budget resolution was what really gave them the edge they needed to get their bill out of Congress and signed into law. When Congress comes back on April 12, the 2011 budget resolution will be one of the top items on their agenda. Jon Walker at FireDogLake, who calls reconciliation instructions the "best hope for progressive legislation," is starting to think about what reconciliation items the Dems might include in this year's budget bill.

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More than a year after Congress began their health care reform effort, it officially came to an end today as the Senate and House both gave final votes of approval to the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010. The bill amends the bigger health care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that President Obama signed into law earlier this week.

The Senate voted first this afternoon, passing the reconciliation bill on a 56-43 vote, with Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE], Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] and Sen. Mark Pry or [D, AR] crossing the aisle to vote with all Republicans agains it. The House followed suit later in the evening, voting 220-207 to agree to the bill and a few insignificant changes that were made to it in the Senate.

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The Senate stayed in session late into the night on Wednesday, voting over and over to reject dilatory Republican amendments to the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act and moving closer to a final vote on passage. The bill proposes a number of "fixes" to the new health care law, like increasing subsidies for helping people buy insurance and lowering tax penalties on those who don't, and includes unrelated legislation to reform the student loan industry. A full summary of the reconciliation bill can be read here.

By the time the Senate adjourned at 2:50 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, they had rejected 29 Republican amendments to the bill on everything from repealing the new health care bill to undoing Washington D.C.'s gay marriage law. But as it turns out, the situation the Democrats were working all night on Wednesday to avoid, having to send the bill back to the House for another vote, is unavoidable. This AP is reporting that the GOP has succesfully altered the bill by finding violations in the bill under the Byrd Rule.

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What Happened to the Senate?

March 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The U.S. Senate prides itself on being the world's greatest deliberative body. But if you turn on C-SPAN 2 right now, you'll see a Senate devolved into thoughtless obstruction and petty politicking. For the Senate as an institution, there is nothing "great" about what they are going to spend the rest of the night doing.

Since Monday, the Senate has been trying to get to an up-or-down vote on the Reconciliation Act of 2010, which makes a series of "fixes" to the new health care reform law and reforms the student loan industry. It's being considered under budget reconciliation rules, which limits debate time to 20 hours and denies the minority the ability to filibuster.

But, even though they can't filibuster, Senate Republicans are blocking the vote by forcing the Senate into an absurd process known as a "vote-a-rama." It's what happens when the time that is set aside for debate on a bill has ended, but there are still amendments pending that need to be voted on. The remaining amendments are brought up one by one and, without debate, voted on quickly and either adopted or rejected. No deliberation.

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GOP Takes Out Their HCR Frustration on Open Gov

March 23, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

We already know that the Republicans have vowed to be as uncooperative as possible during consideration of the budget reconciliation bill to amend the health care bill. This afternoon, while Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller was testifying at a Senate subcommittee hearing on "removing the shroud of secrecy: making government more transparent and accountable," Sen. Thomas Carper [D, DE] interrupted to say that the Republicans had put a hold on the hearing. Click through for the video, the testimony, and news coverage ::

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The budget reconciliation circus we've been blogging about for months begins in earnest today.

According to the Democrats' calendar, the Senate convenes at 2:15 p.m. ET and will immediately start debating the Reconciliation Act of 2010. The bill contains about 120 pages of fixes to the health care bill -- reconciling differences between the versions of health acre passed by the Senate and House -- plus some unrelated legislation to end a program that subsidizes student loan companies.  This is the bill that was passed by the House on Sunday night right after they passed health care reform.

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Obama's Health Care

March 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The health care bill that is going to be signed into law tomorrow requires all Members of Congress and congressional staffers to ditch their cushy Federal Employee Health Benefits insurance plans and buy insurance on the new health care exchanges. They would have the same insurance options available to them as everyone else in the individual insurance market. Sen. Charles Grassley [R, IA] wants to add a similar requirement for President Obama, Vice President Biden, the cabinet and top White House staff.

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Your Guide to the House Health Care Vote

March 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After more than 13 hours and 80 amendments later, the Rules Committee adjourned on Saturday night with a rule in place to allow the House of Representatives to debate and vote Sunday on the health care bill and the package of fixes in the reconciliation bill. As announced earlier in the day, there will be no "deem and pass" straegy employed. The health care bill and the reconciliation bill conatining the "fixes" will get straight up-or-down votes.

In total, it's expected that there will be seven votes held throughout the day. Two on the rule, two on budget points of order, one on a Republican motion to recommit, and one each on the two bills that will be voted on. All of the votes will require a simple majority of 216 "ayes" to pass. All the action is expected to start at about 1 p.m. ET. Here's your guide to Sunday's floor debate as the Democrats take this monumental step towards finalizing Congress and President Obama's health care reform effort.

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Setting the Rules

March 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The House Committee on Rules meets at 10 a.m. ET today to craft the "rule" that will govern the big health care vote that is scheduled for Sunday in the House. The biggest question they'll have to tackle will be whether to use a "self-executing rule," which would allow the Democrats to deem the health care bill to be passed in the House without requiring them to take a stand-alone vote on it.

Here's your update on what to watch on Saurday as health care reform moves closer to the finish line.

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Health Care Bill Summary: Follow the Endgame

March 18, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The 72 hour clock has begun to tick, all the materials for the final health care bill are online, a House vote is tentatively set for Sunday, President Obama has again postponed his Asia trip, and the votes are steadily flipping in the direction of getting this bill done and signed into law. Click through for a summary & links with everything you need to keep up as health care reform approaches the finish line.

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Health Care Reconciliation Bill Summary

March 18, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The full text of the Reconciliation Act of 2010 has been released, and we're hustling to covert it into HTML and get it online for easier digging, commenting and permalinking. We'll have that in a matter of hours. In the meantime, I recommend you read this summary as prepared by the House Rules Committee that describes in plain English how the bill would amend the Senate health care bill and how it would affect current law. Summary posted below the fold.

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After days of delay, the Congressional Budget Office has released their full scoring (.pdf) of the Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R.4872) that is designed to bridge the gap between the more conservative Senate version of the health care bill and the progressive House version. The reconciliation bill is designed to strike a balance between the two and, based on the numbers alone, it appears to achieve that, and it even supercedes the oher bills in a couple areas.

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160,000 Hours of C-SPAN

March 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

This is a dream come true!:

Researchers, political satirists and partisan mudslingers, take note: C-Span has uploaded virtually every minute of its video archives to the Internet.

The archives, at C-SpanVideo.org, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike. The network will formally announce the completion of the C-Span Video Library on Wednesday.

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