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There's not a whole lot these days that the Republican House of Representatives and the Democratic Senate are eager to work on together. But there is at least one thing. On February 28th, three controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act are scheduled to expire, and in the past couple of weeks Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have introduced several bills to reauthorize and extend them. In both chambers the committee chairmen who will be in charge of bringing the bills to the floor for votes have already signed on as supporters.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

January 31, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House is out of session for a "constituent work week." That means they'll be back in their districts, probably holding meetings with constituents and lobbyists, and downhill gathering where anyone can show up and ask a question. If there's something you want to push your member of Congress on, this is the perfect week to do it. If you wait until they're back in D.C. your opinion is more likely to end up being just another anonymous tick on a tally sheet.

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Redefining Rape

January 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Nick Baumann takes a look at the Republicans' bill to limit access to abortions, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and finds an especially odious provision:

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion.

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Filibuster Reigns

January 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For the past four years, Republicans have used the Senate rules to delay all action, even on the most mundane of matters, to an extent far beyond what has ever been seen before. Still, the Democrats made it clear yesterday that they don't have the willpower to reform the rules so they can maybe actually get some stuff done this session. Some members of the Democratic caucus, mostly junior members, have been advocating for reforming the filibuster rules to at least bring some integrity back to the process by requiring senators who want to block stuff to actually stand up and block it. Instead, the Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV], chose to keep the silent filibuster alive and pass only a couple minor changes to inconsequential rules.

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We're very excited to announce that OpenGovernment was selected to be one of 8 finalists in the News category at South by Southwest Interactive's Accelerator contest, March 14-16th in the gem-of-a-town, Austin, TX. Looking forward to meeting & trading ideas w/ the other finalists & attending SxSW in general. We're honored to have been chosen and excited to show our work.

Read the full post at the OG Blog. We'll represent for radical transparency & comprehensive reform. Holler at us to say hi.

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Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report Drops

January 27, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Back in 2009, one of the first things Congress did to actually start dealing with the causes of the economic crisis was to give the Justice Department more power to detect and prosecute fraud in the financial markets. As part of that bill, the "Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act," they created a bipartisan commission "to examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States" and laid out 22 specific areas of financial activity for them to investigate. Today, more than 20 months after the bill was signed into law, the commission has released their report.

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The first ten bills of the 112th Senate

January 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate held their first real legislative day of the session yesterday, which means they finally began formally proposing legislation to deal with over the next two years. In total, senators from both parties introduced 201 bills on the first day. Among them were Senate bills 1-10, which are customarily reserved for the Majority Leader to use for laying out the majority's legislative goals for the session, ordered by priority from highest (S.1) to lowest (S.10). Take a look.

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As part of their deficit cutting campaign, House Republicans are holding a vote today on a bill that would terminate the optional public funding program for presidential candidates and end public funding of party conventions. The bill would wipe out one of the last remaining laws designed to block corporations and special interests from taking total ownership of the federal election process. Yet, like everything else the Republicans have moved through the House so far, it hasn't had a single committee hearing or mark-up meeting.

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Senate Dems Abandon Filibuster Reform

January 25, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Democrats' cave-in on reforming the filibuster in the Senate appears to be complete. According to reports, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] is bringing a proposal to his fellow Democrats this afternoon that would do nothing to address the recent explosion in senators using procedural rules to kill bills just by threatening to filibuster. It apparently includes three minor changes in the Senate rules and is accompanied by a gentlemen's agreement to start behaving more reasonably, sometimes. Here's what's in it.

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Just a reminder that ahead of tonight's #SoTU bipartisan seating plan, you can compare any two members' head-to-head voting record on major bills from the previous 110th and 11th Congresses. (At the bottom of each page is a link to view all voting comparison information for all bills. Of course, not every member will have roll call data for us to draw on -- some were newly elected to the previous 111th Congress. We'll load new bills from the current 112th Congress into this as soon as our modest web development resources allow -- would you like to support our open-source efforts to build public knowledge about Congress? Fund our non-profit work!) See, for example, ideological opposites Sens. Coburn (R-OK) and Schumer (D-NY), who plan to buddy up, or Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) & Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).

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Is there hope for 99ers in the 112th Congress?

January 25, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The American 99ers Union, a coalition of groups advocating for people who have been unemployed for more than 99 weeks, have announced that Rep. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] will reintroduce her bill from the previous session of Congress to extend the total length of time a person can collect unemployment insurance by 14 weeks and provide the new benefits retroactively to people who have already exhausted all of their benefits. Now, the mere introduction of a bill is not in itself a newsworthy event, especially when it's being introduced by a liberal Democrat in a conservative, Republican-controlled chamber. But the 99ers Unions is suggesting that the new bill will be paid for, and, depending on the details, that could be enough to make it at least within the realm of possibility that it could see action this session.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

January 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The big event this week, of course, will be Obama's third State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Some senators and representatives are planning to buck the age-old tradition of sitting across the aisle from their counterparts in the other party and will instead disburse throughout House Chamber in an ad hoc, bipartisan buddy system. Ideological opposites Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] and Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK] will be watching the President side-by-side, as will centrists Sen. Mary Landrieu [D, LA] and Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME]. Rep. Joe Wilson [R, SC-2], famous for his "You lie!" outburst at last year's speech, will be sitting with Rep. Madeleine Bordallo [D, Guam]. It's all very pleasant and nice. Outside of the SOTU speech this week, however, both chambers have some less cute work-type stuff to take care of.

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Congress Links

January 21, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

It's officially been a year since the Supreme Court allowed corporations to spend as much money as they want on political campaign. The new GOP committee chairs are raking in millions from the corporations they're supposed to regulate. Republicans are planning a symbolic spending cut vote ahead of the State of the Union. And talk of legislation to let states declare bankruptcy seems to be getting more frequent. That and more in today's roundup of links on Congress.

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Sounds A Lot Like Obamacare

January 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Republican House majority yesterday passed a bill to repeal health care reform (H.R.2) and today passed a resolution calling on four House committees to draft legislation to replace it (H.Res.9). As I've been explaining on this blog, the whole repeal effort is purely political. It's not a serious effort by the Republicans at fixing the problems they see in the health care law, and the resolution they passed today just underscores that fact. The resolution spells out 12 principles for what should be in the replacement bill, many of which are features of the law they voted to repeal.

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Later today, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to repeal health care reform, and it is expected to pass (UPDATE: the repeal bill passed by a vote of 245-189). But don't be fooled -- it is purely symbolic and there is no chance that it will become law. Here are three reasons why.

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