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On Tuesday afternoon, Democrats called on the Senate to pass the Unemployment Insurance Stabilization Act under the expedited unanimous consent procedure. As expected, Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA], acting on behalf of all Republicans, objected and will force a full-fledged debate on the issue that will likely last several weeks and be rolled together with unrelated tax issues. Federal unemployment benefits expire today for millions of long-term unemployed workers.

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Censuring Rangel

November 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The House Ethic Committee ha released the official text of their resolution censuring Rep. Charles Rangel [D, NY-15] for the 11 counts of violating House rules that he has been found guilty of:

Resolved, That (1) Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York be censured; (2) Representative Charles B. Rangel forthwith present himself in the well of the House for the pronouncement of censure; (3) Representative Charles B. Rangel be censured with the public reading of this resolution by the Speaker; and (4) Representative Rangel pay restitution to the appropriate taxing authorities or the U.S. Treasury for any unpaid estimated taxes outlined in Exhibit 066 on income received from his property in the Dominican Republic and provide proof of payment to the Committee.

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Food Safety Bill Passes the Senate

November 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

By a bipartisan vote of 73-25, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act has passed the Senate. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which is expected to pass it, rather than convene a conference committee, and then send it to Obama to be signed into law before the end of the lame duck session.

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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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Following the adoption of Sen. Jon Tester's [D, MT] local foods amendment last week and Michael Pollan's big endorsement in the New York Times today, the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act looks set to pass the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is telling senators to "expect a late night of voting on the bill" tonight, and when all is said and done, the bill will likely have the support of a large, bipartisan majority of the Senate and win final approval. It's looking likethe food safety overhaul might be the Democrats' last big legislative victory before handing half off the Congress back to the Republicans.

UPDATE: The cloture motion on the substitute amendment has passed, 69-26.

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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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The Federal Reserve has lowered the expectations for economic growth and is not expecting any significant change in the unemployment rate for the next couple of years:

Unemployment is set to remain higher for longer than previously thought, according to new projections from the Federal Reserve that would mean more than 10 million Americans remain jobless through the 2012 elections - even as a separate report shows corporate profits reaching their highest levels ever.

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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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Local Food Amendment Advances in Senate

November 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

When he's not in Washington, Sen. Jon Tester [D, MT] operates a small-scale grain farm in Montanta, so he's sympathetic to concerns that the food safety bill could unfairly burden small farms while trying to address safety concerns that are almost exclusive caused by large industrial food production plants. Yesterday he struck a deal with Senate leadership to have his amendment protecting small and local food companies rolled into the bill via the manager's amendment. Read the summary from Tester's office below and see if you this does enough to protect the local food movement:

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Since 1977, the Federal Reserve has operated on a dual mandate -- promoting maximum employment and protecting price stability. Some Republicans in Congress are moving to strip the Fed of its unemployment mandate and leave them single-mindedly focused on stopping inflation.

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Midweek Unemployment Extension Update

November 17, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE 2: The bill failed, 258-154 (290 votes were needed under the rule). The Democrats can bring this up again for a vote under regular order (requiring only a simple majority for passage), but it will be subject to amendments and a Republican motion to recommit.

UPDATE: House Democrats have put a three-month unemployment extension on the calendar for a vote today (Thursday). Read up on the bill, add a comment, and place your vote here:

H.R. 6419 - Emergency Unemployment Compensation Continuation Act

The bill is being considered under the expedited "suspension of the rules" process, which does not allow for amendments or motions to recommit that could trip up the bill's passage. However, it requires a 2/3rds supermajority, so the Democrats will need all their members plus 35 Republicans to vote in favor. The last time they tried to extend unemployment under suspension of the rules, they failed, 261-155. With the bill not having a revenue offset, passage is unlikely. But we'll see…. Check back for updates.

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Food Safety Modernization Will Get a Vote This Week

November 16, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) is on tap for a vote in the Senate later this week, but some local food advocates worry it could unfairly impact small farmers. The goal of the bill is to improve regulatory oversight of food production in order to prevent things like the recent salmonella egg and spinach outbreaks. Critics argue that the bill takes a one-size-fits-all approach and would burden small farms with new regulatons that are needed to address problems caused by big agribusiness companies. Below is a summary of the manager's amendment that will become the base text of the bill if a filibuster of beginning debate is defeated in the Senate this week:

 

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McConnell Backs Earmark Ban

November 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] has reversed course and will now back Sen. Jim DeMint's [R, SC] earmark moratorium for the 112th Congress. A vote on banning earmarks will be held privately in the GOP conference meeting scheduled for tomorrow, but if doesn't pass there, DeMint and his main ally, Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK], will force a vote on the moratorium on the Senate floor Wednesday as an amendment to the food safety bill. But is the moratorium really a good idea, or just a political stunt?

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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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There are plenty of issues standing in the way of getting the unemployment extension done in the lame duck -- lack of time, concerns over the deficit, political insecurity after the midterms, etc. Here's one we can try to nip in the bud.

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