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With the new session of Congress quickly approaching, here's a look back at the most-opposed bills of the previous session that are likely to be introduced again next year. These are the bills with the most "no" votes among OpenCongress users, as tracked by our Battle Royale, that didn't become law in the past session. It's by no means a complete picture of political sentiments across the country, but it gives us a unique view into what specific proposals from Congress have gotten people concerned and engaged over the past two years.

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From Earmarking to Lettermarking

December 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Disclosure in the earmarking process has never been state-of-the-art. Earmark requests and funds secured for projects are released to the public in clunky, non-machine processable PDF files that are often more than hundred pages long and are not sortable in any way, for example by sponsor, recipient, or amount. The disclosures are a far cry from being truly open government data.

But at least it's something. As Ron Nixon at the New York Times reports today, when there's not a formal earmarking process (e.g. the earmark-free government funding arrangement we're operating under right now), Congress' work to direct federal funds to their pet projects doesn't actually stop, it just becomes much more secretive.

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New Rules For a New Senate

December 27, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After raw support, the most precious commodity in the Senate is time. All of you who have been following Congress with us are probably well aware of this. The rules of the Senate allow a single senator to express their opposition to a bill and, even if it is supported by the other 99%, force the chamber to spend up to 90 hours debating it before they can take a vote. This is why common-sense proposals, like requiring senators to file their campaign finance disclosure electronically rather than by snail mail (i.e. S. 482). Everyone wants this kind of stuff to pass, but because it's easy to threaten to shut down all other activity in the Senate for 90 hours, they often get blocked by a senators who want to use them as vehicles for attaching their own, often more controversial, pet issues.

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9/11 Health Care Bill Passes Congress

December 23, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Capping off an unusually productive lame duck session, the congressional Democrats have finally won passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The bill, which would provide health care benefits and financial compensation for first responders at Ground Zero who were exposed to toxins and are now sick, had been the subject of a partisan stand-off for years. Republicans in the House and Senate blocked the bill earlier this year, but yesterday, after everyone from Jon Stewart to Rudy Giuliani to Fox News' Shep Smith joined the chorus calling for the bill's passage, Republicans backed down and let the bill go through.

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President Obama is scheduled to sign the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act into law on Wednesday morning. But that's not stopping supporters of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in Congress from strategizing on how to kill the repeal and maintain the U.S. code barring gay men and women from serving openly in the military. According to the New York Times' Caucus blog, supporters of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are already working to amend the repeal bill by adding poison-pill amendments to other "must-pass" bills:

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Killing Financial Reform by Defunding the Regulators

December 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

There was something odd about the death of the omnibus appropriations bill last week. The bill would have funded the government at the exact level requested by the Republican leadership and of the oft-criticized earmarks in the bill, the top beneficiaries would have been Republicans. The bill was produced through a long, bipartisan, and mostly agreeable committee process.

So why did the Republicans suddenly turn against it?

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Progress for 9/11 First Responders' Health Care Bill

December 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health Compensation Act, which would help first responders at Ground Zero who were exposed to dangerous toxins access medical care, has been kicking around Congress for nearly two years. It finally passed the House earlier this fall, but it was recently filibustered by Republicans in the Senate.

Now, the Republicans didn't filibuster this because they hate 9/11 rescue workers. And it's actually not because it would add to the deficit either. It's fully offset. The reason Republicans filibustered the bill is because it would have financed the new health benefits by closing a loophole that allows companies to incorporate in tax havens and avoid paying taxes on business they conduct in the U.S.

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A New Bill for 99ers, But Is It Too Late?

December 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

With very few days left in the 111th session of Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] and Rep. Bobby Scott [D, VA-3], both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have introduced new legislation to provide relief to unemployed workers who have exhausted all available insurance benefits and are still unemployed (i.e. the "99ers"). The bill, H.R. 6556, would not add a fifth tier of federal benefits. Instead, it would extend the length of the first tier of benefits from 20 weeks to 34 weeks and allow 99ers to collect the additional 14 weeks retroactively.

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DADT Repeal Passes, Will Become Law

December 18, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

By a vote of 65-31, the Senate has given final approval to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, sending it to President Obama to be signed into law. The bill will end the 1993 policy banning non-heterosexual individuals from serving openly in the military, bringing the U.S. into parity with the rest of the NATO, all of the European Union and most of the developed world whose laws already protect the rights of servicemembers regardless of their sexuality.

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As things were coming together for Democrats on the tax bill in the House, the omnibus appropriations bill was falling apart in the Senate. Last night, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] announced on the Senate floor that nine Republicans who who had said they would support the bill had changed their minds and were now planning to vote against it. That left the Democrats with too few votes, and Reid with no choice but to pull the bill from the floor.

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The Democrats' epic cave-in on the Bush tax cuts is now complete. Late Thursday night, by a vote of 277-148, the House of Representatives approved a deal brokered by President Obama and congressional Republicans to extend, for two years, the Bush tax cuts for all income levels in exchange for a one-year extension of the filing deadline for federal unemployment insurance. Because the version passed by the House is identical to the bill passed by the Senate earlier this week, it will be sent to Obama immediately and is expected to be signed into law later today.

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Obama-GOP Tax Bill Set to Pass the House Today

December 16, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE 4: After more than 6 hours of delay, the Democrats passed a slightly revised rule by a 214-201 vote. The new rule doesn't change how many or which amendments will be voted on, it just allows for a separate up-or-down vote on the bill even if the estate tax amendment passes. The original rule would have deemed the bill passed once the amendment is passed.

 

Original post below. I'll be rolling updates on this post, so check back again shortly for more (and follow along on Twitter)...

The House Rules Committee met last night to hammer out the rule that will govern today's House debate of the Obama-GOP tax bill, and, as expected, they're protecting it by allowing only one amendment vote. There will be no votes on letting the upper-income tax rates expire, making the payroll tax provision less regressive, lengthening the unemployment insurance filing extension, or adding an extra tier of benefits for the 99ers. The only vote allowed will be on an amendment to raise the estate tax from the Senate's very low level to the almost-as-low 2009 level as set by Bush, and House leaders are whipping against this because they don't want to have to send the bill back to the Senate.

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Earmark Hypocrisy At Its Best

December 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Jamie Dupree has a great catch from a press conference held earlier today by Sen. John Thune [R, SD] and Sen. John Cornyn [R, TX] to bash the omnibus spending bill. Together, Thune and Cornyn have sponsored 71 earmarks worth several hundred million dollars in the omnibus, yet they're trying to play both sides of the coin -- requesting earmarks and then prominently announcing they will vote against the bill that contains them, even though they know it's likely to pass.

Reporters at the press conference didn't miss the irony here, and they drilled the senators on it pretty heavy. Read the painfully awkward transcript below:

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The Senate Omnibus Arrives

December 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

On top of the tax deal, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the DREAM Act and the nuclear arms treaty, Congress has to pass spending legislation by this weekend to keep the government funded and avoid furloughs of federal employees. The House passed legislation last week to simply continue the current funding levels through the rest of the fiscal year, but the Senate wants to do it in a way that looks something like the regular appropriations process. That means we're looking at thousands of earmarks, pet projects, and policy tweaks via budgeting.

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99ers Crisis About to Get Much Worse

December 14, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

I've been trying to make the point that the 99er problem -- people exhausting all unemployment benefits without finding a job -- is about to get much worse because we're approaching 99 weeks from the brunt of the recession unemployment spike. Congress is not planning to add more weeks of unemployment benefits and the Federal Reserve is projecting the unemployment rate to stay pretty much where it is for the next year. Putting it all together, this means that for the foreseeable future, there will no jobs and no government support for the millions of 99ers.

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