OpenCongress Blog

Blog Feed Comments Feed More RSS Feeds

Supercommittee Meeting Secretly

September 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The "public access and transparency" rules that the deficit supercommittee adopted when they first convened contain a major loophole. If they want to block the media and the public out of their meetings, all they have to do is vote to do so and they can operate in total secrecy. Not surprisingly, invoking that loophole seems to have become their standard operating procedure.

Read Full Article Comments (6)
 

Things Are Not As They Seem

September 27, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

On January 1, 2013, a perfect storm of major federal policy shifts are set to occur. The Bush tax rates are scheduled to expire, raising taxes on all income earners. The debt-ceiling trigger -- assuming the supercommittee gridlocks -- would go into effect, causing massive cuts to government across the board. And a host of other tax credits important to businesses and the middle class are scheduled to expire as well. It's no coincidence that all of this is happening right after the 2012 elections. It's designed, on some level, to facilitate a grand bargain to extend the status quo that can be passed by an unaccountable lame-duck Congress (and possibly President), with the maximum amount of time before voters will get another chance to weigh in.

Ryan Grim has a fantastic piece outlining how things may go down:

Read Full Article Submit a Comment
 

The Trigger

August 24, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As has been the fate of every other bipartisan congressional sub-group that has met recently to talk about cutting deficits, the most likely outcome for the supercommittee is gridlock. The supercommittee is split evenly between the parties, and the members that have been chosen are probably too partisan to achieve a grand bargain on taxes and spending that can win a majority vote. If gridlock occurs, an automatic spending cut trigger that Congress created in the debt ceiling bill will go into effect. Let's take a look at how that would work.

Read Full Article Comments (27)
 

A Bipartisan Attack on Democracy

August 18, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The supercommittee on deficit reduction that Congress created in the debt ceiling bill is an absurdly anti-democratic institution. The vast majority of Americans do not have a representative serving on it, yet it's responsible for making enormous decisions about the allocation of public resources that will profoundly effect every American for decades to come. Furthermore, Congress gave it special powers that no other member or committee in Congress enjoys. Their proposal will be guaranteed a vote in both chambers of Congress, no amendments, points of order, or motions to reconsider will be allowed, and it will not be susceptible to filibusters in the Senate. That's right, the Senate couldn't reform filibuster rules at the beginning of the session because doing so would violate minority rights, but they still managed to change them for the supercommittee. But that's not all. The 12 members that have been chosen to serve on the supercommittee appear to have been picked in order to limit electoral accountability as well.

Read Full Article Comments (8)
 

The deficit reduction supercommittee that was created by the debt ceiling bill is going to have an extraordinary amount of power. All areas of federal spending and revenues will be on the table when they meet, and whatever proposal they come up with will be guaranteed a vote in both chambers of Congress with no amendments and no filibusters allowed. Now that the 12 supercommittee members have been named, here's a look at some of their key votes on budget, spending and tax legislation over the past few years, as well as some information on their party loyalty.

Read Full Article Comments (8)
 

A Supercommittee for Jobs

August 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

We saw during the debt ceiling standoff that the political-party-driven, filibuster-choked Congress is basically incapable of passing deficit reduction legislation. That's why they created the "joint select committee on deficit reduction" (a.k.a. the "Super Congress") and established special rules and a spending-cut trigger that make their proposal more likely to pass. But Congress has been equally ineffective when it comes to addressing another important problem plaguing the economy -- unemployment. Even very mild, traditionally bipartisan job creation plans are being caught up in the gridlock and killed. So, if Congress actually wants to fix unemployment, why not create a "joint select committee on job creation" and give them special powers just like the deficit committee? That's exactly what Rep. John Larson [D, CT] is suggesting.

Read Full Article Comments (5)
 

Good luck with that pivot

August 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

With the debt ceiling debate over for now, the Obama Administration is promising a "pivot to jobs." Given that the trillions in cuts in the debt bill are going to cause higher rates of unemployment than what we would have had otherwiset, shifting to job creation makes sense. But the Administration can't create jobs on their own, they need legislation from Congress. Given Congress' recent history with handling jobs bills, don't be surprised if the pivot doesn't result in anything but bitter feelings.

Read Full Article Comments (8)
 

'Super Congress' Must Be Open and Transparent

August 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The debt ceiling bill that was signed into law yesterday shunts off much of the dirty work of deciding exactly what to programs to cut or whose taxes to increase to a new "joint select committee on deficit reduction," a.k.a the "Super Congress." Whatever the Super Congress comes up with will be brought to the Senate and House for votes under expedited rules that bar amendments and limit filibusters. And the bill contains an enforcement mechanism designed to persuade members to vote for the Super Congress' plan -- if it fails, massive cuts to two sacred cows, Medicare and the Defense Department, would automatically take effect.

The Super Congress appears to be designed so that just a handful of lawmakers, who will probably be selected from very safe districts, have to make decisions about which constituents will bear the burdens of austerity. The vast majority of Congress will only have to take an up-or-down vote, and with the threat of cuts to seniors' health care and precious jobs in teh defense industry, even if they vote for the Super Congress plan they'll be able to tell constituents that they voted for the less bad of two bad options.

Read Full Article Comments (18)
 

How They Voted on the Debt Bill

August 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House of Representatives last night passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending by a vote of 269-161. Most Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while Democrats were split evenly, 95 in favor and 95 against. To find out who your Rep. is and see how they voted, plug your info into our zipcode lookup tool. Then, once you are shown their name, visit the roll call pageand do a page-find for their name to see how they voted.

Read Full Article Comments (5)
 

The bill was negotiated entirely behind closed doors, and with no solid proposal until now there'e been no chance for meaningful public review. We've been urged by the President to support "compromise," but we've been locked out of seeing what we were actually being asked to get behind. When you look at which deficit-reduction proposals the public actually supports, it makes sense why this was done so secretively. All of the proposals that are supported by a bipartisan majority of Americans -- e.g. raising taxes on the rich, limiting corporate tax deductions -- were taken off the table long before the real negotiations even began. The "compromise" we were asked to lobby our members of Congress on, but not allowed to see, was between a bunch of stuff that's only popular with the Very Serious People in Washington.

Read Full Article Comments (14)
 

Released this week, OpenCongress version 3 features Contact-Congress: the easiest way to send an email to all your members of Congress. Now, you can write a letter to your senators and representative on one webpage, set it to public or private, send it immediately over email, and then track your correspondence in a transparent public forum.

Here's a quick-fast summary of the state of the debt ceiling debate: on Friday afternoon, the House passed the GOP leadership's bill (as an amendment to S. 267), 218-210; this afternoon (Sat.), the House rejected Sen. Reid's Democratic version of the debt ceiling bill (as H.R. 2693, sponsored by Republican Rep. Dreier in the House for parliamentary reasons), 173-246; and while the Senate was projected to vote on Sen. Reid's bill around 1am Sunday, Talking Points Memo and others are reporting the vote has been postponed by Senate Dem Leadership until Sunday afternoon.

So write your members of Congress and let them know what you think about H.R. 2693, the Senate Democratic debt ceiling bill. It's easy-to-use: find out who represents you in Congress simply by entering your street address and send them an email now. Using OC's custom Message Builder, you can bring over the helpful OC bill summary, as well as the most-commented sections of bill text, and add personal stories for a more compelling communication. Click through for the latest in the debt ceiling debate and simple how-to's on sharing your correspondence with other constituents in your area using MyOC Groups.

Read Full Article Comments (11)
 

Read the Reid Debt Bill -- Vote This Afternoon

July 30, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House is scheduled this afternoon to vote on Senate Majority Harry Reid's debt ceiling bill, which you can find here:

H.R.2693 -- Budget Control Act of 2011

The full text is here. It's a good read. I promise.

Because of the procedure under which the Reid bill is being taken up, it's guaranteed to fail. Rep. Dreier, the House Rules Committee Chair, has put the bill on the suspensions calendar, which means there will be no amendments allowed, no motions to recommit, and a 2/3rds majority required for passage. The suspensions calendar is typically reserved for non-controversial stuff that is going to pass easily, like naming post offices and honoring sports teams. It's a way to save time on routine matters -- not really a good way to vote on cutting trillions in social spending. This isn't going to get a 2/3rds majority, and Dreier knows that.

Read Full Article Comments (16)
 

House Passes Debt Ceiling Bill

July 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After failing Thursday night, Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8] brought his debt ceiling bill back to the floor Friday afternoon with an amendment appealing to far-right Republicans, and passed it. The final vote was 218-210, with zero Democrats voting in favor and 22 Republicans voting "no." The bill now goes to the Senate where it is expected to be rejected later this evening. Click through and the read the full post for what happens next with the debt debate. 

Read Full Article Comments (13)
 

After five hours of twisting arms and trying to persuade conservatives into voting "yes" with offerings of pizza, at 10 p.m. Thursday evening House Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8] pulled his debt ceiling bill from the House floor. The bill has been sent back to the Rules Committee for tweaks and will most likely be brought to the floor again on Friday for a second vote attempt. In its current form the bill does not have the 216 votes it needs to pass.

Read Full Article Comments (5)
 

The Boehner Plan

July 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As usual, when Congress does something that's actually important, they do it the least transparent way possible. This time around it's the Boehner debt plan, which calls for trillions in cuts to social spending and a "super Congress" for reforming taxes and entitlements in exchange for allowing President Obama to raise the debt ceiling through the end of the year. It's a plan that was negotiated 100% behind closed doors, and it's not being introduced through the regular legislative order, thereby hindering the public's ability to read it and contact their elected officials with feedback.

Read Full Article Comments (10)