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Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME] is considered one of the Republicans that the Democrats have to get on board to overcome a GOP filibuster and pass the 2011 DoD Authorization bill that includes a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The vote will likely take place this evening, but discussions between Democrats and Collins have hit a wall because Collins wants time to hold an open debate on the bill. The Democrats have offered to allow 15 votes on amendment -- 10 from GOP and 5 from Dems -- but they don't want an open-ended debate because 1) they want to go home and 2) they don't want to allow people like Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK] and Sen. Jim DeMint [R, SC], who are infamous for proposing non-germane amendments, to crash the whole thing over an unrelated poison-pill on sex offenders or something.

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The Senate has a busy afternoon ahead of them. After they finish their morning impeachment trial of a federal judge, they'll move on to a series cloture votes on some fairly significant domestic policy bills that have been kicking around the Senate for the past several years. As a reminder, cloture is a procedural motion to defeat opposition to debating a bill, and it takes 60 votes to pass. It's basically a vote on preemptively defeating a threatened filibuster.

Today's votes are the Democrats' last chance to move these bills past the Republicans before they lose a handful of seats to them in the next session and finding 60 votes on this stuff becomes all but impossible. Let's have a look at what's on the schedule:

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President Obama on Monday announced the "framework" of a deal with congressional Republicans for dealing with the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts. It's a two-year deal, and it includes a bunch of other stuff, all at a cost about $900 billion. None of it is offset, so this will be a direct increase in the deficit. Let's take a look at the specifics of what's included:

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The Week Ahead

December 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Every Monday morning when Congress is in session I post the schedules for the week ahead in the Senate and the House, and I'll do that below with one big caveat: the real action in Congress this week while be the off-the-floor, behind-the-scenes wrangling on extending the Bush tax cuts. Democrats and Republicans are closing in on a deal to extend, temporarily, the Bush tax cuts for all income levels.

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Even as details leak out about a deal in the works between President Obama and both parties in Congress to temporarily extend all of the Bush tax cuts, the Senate was in session Saturday to hold votes on two Democratic proposals on how to deal with the issue. Needless to say, they both failed. But the roll call results tell us a good deal about where the debate over taxes and, more generally, the deficit stands, so let's have a look.

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House GOP Blocks Child Nutrition Bill

December 2, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: The Democrats managed to pass the bill this afternoon by holding a vote on the Republican sex-offenders amendment as a stand-alone bill. The Republicans still tried to kill the child nutrition bill with the same motion to recommit, which all but one Republican voted for, but the Democrats managed to hold strong against the motion knowing that they had already voted for the amendment and that the motion to recommit served no purpose other than to stop the bill.

You know things are getting ugly when a fully paid-for bill to provide poor children with healthy school lunches is blocked. Politico:

House Democrats scrapped plans to vote on an Obama-backed child nutrition bill Wednesday after Republicans threatened to force a procedural vote that would bar funds from going to child care institutions that employ individuals who refuse criminal sex-offender background checks, or lie on them.

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Senate Democrats violated a constitutional provision with their food safety bill by including language that would levy new fees on food facilities as revenue raisers. Under the Constitution, all legislation increasing taxes must originate in the House, and these fees qualify. "By pre-empting the House’s tax-writing authority, Senate Democrats appear to have touched off a power struggle with members of their own party in the House," Roll Call is reporting. "The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the House, but House Democrats are expected to use a procedure known as “blue slipping” to block the bill, according to House and Senate GOP aides."

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Unemployment Benefits Expire; What Will Congress Do?

November 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Federal unemployment insurance, which provides a lifeline for millions of long-term unemployed workers, expires today, and from here on out it's going to be harder than ever for the Democrats in Congress to pass another extension.

The Republicans have officially begun chipping away at the Democrats' majority in the Senate. Republican Mark Kirk was sworn in Monday, taking over for Democrat Roland Burris as the junior Senator from Illinois and knocking the Democrats' Senate majority down to 58. Kirk has made his opposition to the Democrats' plans for extending unemployment benefits clear, saying on Fox recently that he would vote against any extension that is not offset by new revenue.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

November 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Today begins the final Democratic working period of the U.S. Congress for the foreseeable future. This is the beginning of the end of the lame duck -- when Congress reconvenes again next year, it will be an entirely new session with a Republican-led House of Representatives and a severely weakened Democratic majority in the Senate. Obviously, there's a lot the Democrats want to get done in these final few weeks before the Republicans step up their influence in the federal legilative process. But don't cross your fingers - most pundits don't expect much more than the bare minimum to be accomplished in these last weeks.

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Wyden Vows to Kill the Internet Censorship Bill

November 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act has all the qualities of a bill on the fast track for becoming law. Its chief sponsor is the chairman of the committee it was referred to, it has a long list of bipartisan cosponsors, including a mix of conservative and liberal senators, and it was reported out of committee by a unanimous 19-0 vote. But, last Friday, Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] threw a log in its path by announcing that he would do everything within his means to stop the bill if it is brought to the Senate floor.

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Congress comes back to work today for the first time since the midterms for what is known as a "lame duck" session, a post-election work period with defeated incumbents still in office, but unaccountable, and newly-elected members waiting in the wings. Lame duck sessions have historically been relatively unproductive, but there is a lot that could happen this time and there's a certain unpredictability to lame duck sessions that make it extra important that we pay close attention. Here's a quick look at what Congress might take up in the lame duck.

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Dems Lowering Expectations for the Lame Duck Session

November 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Before the elections, congressional Democrats were talking about using the upcoming lame duck session for passing on a renewable energy standard bill, creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that complete high school or serve in the military, setting tariffs for countries that manipulate their currency, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and much more. But in the wake of their midterm "shellacking," they are quickly scaling back their ambitions. Inside sources who spoke with The Hill are saying not to expect anything beyond a continuing resolution to keep the government running until the end of the year and a debate on the expiring Bush tax cuts.

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The Obama Administration has appealed the recent court ruling suspending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." They want a more orderly repeal to be legislated by Congress after the military completes a study on how to prepare for the change. But the problem is that the study isn't due out until December 1, and the Democrats probably aren't going to have the votes to get this done in the next session. So if Obama and congressional Democrats really want DADT to end, they have to stick around in December and get it done.

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