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Let the endgames begin! The pieces of the process puzzle for finishing health care reform are falling into place. The votes are being whipped. And, after 14 months of national obsession with health care reform, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' statement on Sunday that in one week the health care bill will be "the law of the land," actually seems plausible.

Here's the latest on what to expect this week -- both politically and procedurally -- and when to expect it.

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McCain and Lieberman's Nightmarish Detention Bill

March 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

One of Congress's most notoriously hawkish duos, Sen. John McCain [R, AZ] and Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I, CT], recently introduced legislation in response to President Obama's decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day airplane bomber, in a criminal court. Their proposal, which they are calling the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act, would empower the U.S. military to arrest anyone, U.S. citizen or otherwise, who is suspected of terrorist associations and detain them indefinitely, without right to a trial.

Here's my analysis with links to specific sections of the actual bill text and a few excerpts of key sections.

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The Week In Review

March 12, 2010 - by Eric Naing

This week seems like it was devoted to teeing up health care and next week is when the House will take a swing at it. Strained sports metaphors aside, it has been a very eventful week and next week looks like it will be even more significant with the House possibly voting on health care. Catch up on the week that was by checking out what we've been up to here at OpenCongress.

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As Health Care Winds Down, Immigration Emerges

March 12, 2010 - by Eric Naing

As Democrats were wrapping up -- or so they thought -- the health care bills last winter, two hot button social issues threatened to derail everything: abortion and immigration. With Democrats once again at the health care finish line, abortion has already resurfaced and now immigration has reemerged.

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Good News for the Dems

March 12, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Nobody know for sure what the Parliamentarian will rule, but Politico Pulse reports that sources are telling them something very different from what Republicans were claiming yesterday:

But according to reporting by POLITICO’s David Rogers, the accounts aren’t accurate and misconstrue what the Senate parliamentarians have said. That is that reconciliation must amend law but this could be done without the Senate bill being enacted first. “It is wholly possible to create law and qualify law before the law is on the books,” said one person familiar with situation.

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Why Transparency Beats the Earmarking Ban

March 11, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

In his State of the Union address, President Obama made a strong call for Congress to make earmarking more transparent. Instead, the House of Representatives has put in place new rules that bans most earmarking altogether. The new rules have lobbyists scrambling to figure out a work-around to make sure that their clients still get a piece of the money Congress appropriates, the New York Times reports:

Jolted by a sudden tightening of the rules, lobbyists and military contractors who have long relied on lucrative earmarks from Congress were scrambling Thursday to find new ways to keep the federal money flowing. […]

Some firms talked of partnering with hospitals, universities and other nonprofit organizations in seeking federal money, an idea that Congressional officials said might not be allowed under the new rules. Others said they planned to become more aggressive about applying directly to the Pentagon and other federal departments and agencies, and not Congress, for grant money.

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Earlier this week, the House voted on a resolution (H.Con.Res.248) from Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D, OH-10] directing President Obama to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan within 30 days. As expected, the resolution failed. But it failed by a larger spread than I think most would expect. Only 65 members of the 435-member, Democrat-dominated House of Representatives voted for the bill.

You can see who voted "yes " on withdrawing the troops here: 60 Democrats and 5 Republicans.

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Congress Links

March 11, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Here is today's roundup of a few articles and blog posts from around the web that you should take a look at.

  • Leading Democrats in the White House and Congress are starting to agree on what will be in the final health care package. (The Associated Press)
  • But some Senate liberals don't like the fact that they are being asked to vote against several popular measures, like a public option, for now. (Roll Call)
  • As the health care debate starts to focus on the Senate, the Senate parliamentarian will become more and more prominent. Here is another good profile of the current parliamentarian Alan Frumin and the role he plays. (Newsweek)
  • Republicans have been warning Democrats that they'll face the wrath of voters this fall if health care passes, but recent polling shows that the public's disapproval of the issue has started to turn in recent days. (National Journal)
  • Jonathan Chait further argues that Democrats should simply ignore “advice” given to them by the GOP on health care. (The New Republic)
  • A number of high-profile scandals have thrust the House ethics committee into the spotlight. ProPublica provides some history on the committee and explains how it does what it does. (ProPublica)
  • Harry Reid's [D, NV] poll numbers indicate that he very well could be voted out of office this fall. Sen. Dick Durbin [D, IL] and Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] are already jockeying to replace him as the next Senate majority leader should that happen. (Time)

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Roll Call cites “senior GOP sources” as saying the Senate parliamentarian has indicated that President Obama will have to sign the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) into law before the Senate can act on a reconciliation fix amending the bill.

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Criminal penalties for crack versus powder cocaine touch on a wide range of issues from race to state budgets to overcrowding of prisons. The Senate Judiciary Committee today took on the issue by unanimously voting to advance a bill that would reduce the wide disparity in sentencing for possession of the two.

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House Votes To Ban Deceptive Census Letters

March 11, 2010 - by Eric Naing

With the 2010 Census looming, many groups, including the Republican Party, have sent out fundraising mailings that are deceptively similar to the official Census form. Yesterday, the House unanimously voted to ban this practice.

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Meet Sen. Corker's Payday Lender Friend

March 11, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Last month, when bipartisan financial reform negotiations where breaking down in the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Bob Corker [R, TN] stepped up from out of nowhere and volunteered to take over for Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby [R, AL] on representing the Republicans at the negotiating table. By all accounts, he has in fact managed to keep the bipartisan negotiations alive. He and Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] are reportedly ready to introduce their bill to the full Senate imminently.

The New York Times reported yesterday that one of the concessions Corker has won from Dodd is a special exemption in the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency's (CFPA) enforcement powers for payday lenders and other nonbank credit dealers. These are generally the most predatory of lenders, commonly charging interest rates as high as 400 percent. Corker's exemption would allow the CFPA to create rules to regulate the payday loan industry, but it would't give the agency any power to enforce the rules like it could for banks and mortgage dealers.

Talking Points Memo yesterday ran a profile W. Alan Jones, Bob Corker's payday loan shark/multi-millionaire friend and political supporter, and how he may have influenced Corker's decision to fight for the regulatory exemption for his industry:

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House Votes to Cancel Haiti's Debt

March 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

On voice vote, the House of Representatives this afternoon passed a bill that would put pressure on the big international financial institutions to completely cancel all of Haiti's debt so that the country can use what resources it has for rebuilding from the earthquake they suffered in January, 2009.

The bill is H.R. 4573, sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters [D, CA-35] and co-sponsored by 69 other lawmakers, mostly Democrats. According to the official title, it would "direct the Secretary of the Treasury to instruct the United States Executive Directors at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other multilateral development institutions to use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States to cancel immediately and completely Haiti's debts to such institutions."

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Congress Links

March 10, 2010 - by Eric Naing

While you wait for the Congressional Budget Office to score the revised health care plan, take a took at today's roundup of interesting blog posts and articles:

  • The left is starting to turn on liberal stalwart Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D, OH-10] over his opposition to the Democratic health care reform package. Kucinich, who doesn't believe the reform plan goes far enough, has promised to vote against it even if he is the deciding vote in the House. (Salon)
  • This surprisingly gripping account of a failed bid to develop tankers for the Air Force explains a lot about how Washington works. (Politico)
  • In a meeting with reporters today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] promised to look at ways to reform the filibuster next year. Reid had previously opposed such reforms saying that 67 votes in the Senate were needed. (Ezra Klein)
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius continues to go after the health insurance industry. (The Washington Independent)
  • The tale of former Rep. Eric Massa [D, NY-29] grows even more sordid. (The Atlantic)
  • The Onion highlights a few overlooked alternative health care proposals floating around Congress. (The Onion)

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The Senate has just passed a $140 billion bill includes an extension for unemployment benefits through the end of the year, tax credits and billions in emergency aid to states.

One week after approving a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits (H.R.4691), the Senate today passed the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act (H.R.4321), which provides a longer-term extension of those benefits. Specifically, the bill extends federal unemployment assistance through Dec. 31 and provides a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA health insurance premiums. The coverage is retroactive to Feb. 28.

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