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Rushing to Defund Public Radio

March 16, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

House Republicans today are kicking off a new push to block federal funding for NPR and NPR affiliate stations. They're using the controversy stirred up by an activist's doctored "sting" video to call an emergency meeting of the Rules Committee this afternoon to bring legislation to the floor that would eliminate all federal funding for "non-commercial, educational radio," permanently. The bill, H.R.1706, hasn't received a single hearing and it has not gone through the committee mark-up process that is where most of the real work on bills typically takes place. It's been drafted in the past few days since the video broke and it's being rushed to a vote while the controversy is still hot.

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Republicans in Congress have moved one step closer to taking away the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that are responsible for climate change. This afternoon, by a vote of 34-19, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the so-called Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 that would amend the Clear Air to state that seven specific greenhouse gases, plus "any other substance subject to, or proposed to be subject to, regulation, action, or consideration under [the Clean Air Act] to address climate change," are not "air pollutants," and, therefore, can not be regulated by the EPA. The bill now goes to the full House for a vote on passage.

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The open amendment process that House Republicans used to create their 2011 budget bill had its benefits. For example, it allowed a bipartisan group of rank-and-file Reps. to stand against party leadership and strip out funding for a costly alternative engine program for a fighter jet that the Air Force itself says is unnecessary. On the other hand, it gave members who were looking to fulfill promises to powerful political interests a platform to do so. The policy riders that were added to the budget bill are keeping Congress bogged down with stopgap funding to keep the government from shutting down and preventing them from engaging in serious negotiations over funding levels for the rest of the year. That in turns means there's no time to work on other important issues, like job creation and long-term debt reduction.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

March 13, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Another week, another scramble in Congress to pass a funding bill to keep the government from shutting down. This time, they're looking at a three-week stopgap bill that would cut about $2 billion per week from 2010 funding levels by essentially accelerating cuts that have been proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. With bipartisan support on the specifics and a general preference among all to keep the government from shutting down, the bill is expected to pass in both chambers by wide margins and be signed into law before thethe current stopgap runs out on Friday. After that, House Republicans are planning votes on eliminating federal funding for NPR and canceling more housing programs. Click through for full details and links to learn more.

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Three-Week Stopgap in the Works

March 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Following the Senate's rejection of two long-term government funding proposals -- one from Republicans and one from Democrats -- congressional negotiators are back to working out another stopgap bill to keep the federal government from shutting down. The current stopgap bill is set to expire next Friday. According to reports, the plan now is to move a three-week funding extension that continues the same rate of cuts from the current extension -- about $2 billion per week below 2010 levels -- and gives Congress until early April to work out a longer-term solution.

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Almost a year after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the misinformation campaign about what's in it just won't stop. The most recent example is from Rep. Michelle Bachmann [R, MN-6], who claims that the Democrats snuck more than a hundred billion dollars in the bill and passed it secretly without public review. But Bachmann's either lying or she has no idea what she's talking about because her claims are just flat-out false.

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While all the attention on the Republicans' union busting agenda has been focused on the states, Republicans in Congress have been quietly moving forward with anti-union legislation on the federal level. In February, the House Transportation Committee marked up a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that contains an innocuous looking provision that would actually titl union formation rules further in the favor of anti-union interests. 

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Subsidizing the Donor Class

March 8, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Yesterday I wrote about a bill scheduled for a vote this week that would eliminate a program that provides bridge loans to unemployed homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure. The program has $1 billion in total lending authority, and homeowners are required to pay the government back when they become employed again. House Republicans say they're going after the program a matter of fiscal responsibility. But here's the thing -- at the same time that they're trying to cut $1 billion in loans for the unemployed, they're fighting to protect a $100 billion program that provides tax breaks to homeowners, with benefits flowing overwhelmingly and disproportionately to the wealthy.

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One of the foreclosure relief programs that House Republicans are looking to shut down this week has been a widely-recognized failure. It was supposed to provide incentives for mortgage lenders to voluntarily renegotiate loans for underwater homeowners, but it never caught on. The other program, however, hasn't gone into effect yet, but because it doesn't require the cooperation of lenders it's expected to be more successful when it does. The program, which is called Emergency Mortgage Relief, would provide government bridge loans to help unemployed homeowners avoid foreclosures. Since we can't evaluate it in action, here's a closer look at how's it's supposed to work once it starts up.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

March 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

There's pretty much one game in town this week: negotiating a plan to keep the government funded and operating beyond the March 18 deadline. That debate will continue to rage in the back halls of Congress this week, with Democrats and Republicans still about $30 billion off on their preferred top-line spending levels and with a myriad of differences on what to cut and what to save.

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The Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency power to regulate air pollutants that are hazardous to public health. In 2009, after conducing a scientific, peer-reviewed study as ordered by the Supreme Court, the EPA determined that six greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations" and they have begun drawing up regulations. But a group of lawmakers is trying to defeat the science with legislation, and they're gaining influential allies on both sides of the aisle.

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Why Congress Doesn't Care About the Unemployed

March 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Nation's Chris Hayes offers a good explanation for why most members of Congress don't seem particularly concerned abut the high rates of unemployment we've been seeing and will probably continue to see for several years:

This disconnect between the jobs crisis in the country and the blithe dismissal thereof in Washington is the most incomprehensible aspect of the political moment. But I think there are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it.

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Military-Industrial Complex Wins Again

March 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

I know this is old news now, but Irregular Times has brought my attention to an overlooked vote that I think is worth noting. During the House's recent continuing resolution vote-a-rama, one of the amendments that was brought up for debate and quickly shot down was one from Rep. Ron Kind [D, WI-3] that would have eliminated two weapons systems progams that the military has said, in no uncertain terms, that it does not want. They are the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (a.k.a. the EFV) and the Surface Launch Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile System (a.ka. the SLAMRAAM) and eliminating them would save the government $13 billion, with most of the savings coming from the EFV elimination.

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Two More Weeks of Federal Government

March 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate has followed up on the House's action yesterday and passed a two-week stopgap spending bill that cuts about $4 billion from the current funding level, mostly by eliminating some of last year's earmarks. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 91-9, with 3 Democrats5 Republicans and 1 Independent-Democrat voting against. President Obama will sign the bill, averting a government shutdown that would have taken place otherwise beginning this Friday. But don't be fooled -- this is a temporary agreement and the negotiations to fund the government beyond these two weeks are extremely contentious. A government shutdown is still the most likely scenario.

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The Republicans' No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act will no longer propose to redefine rape to block women on Medicaid from receiving abortions unless the rape was "forcible" or deny abortion access to incest victims who are 18 years or older. But it would still radically rewrite abortion laws in the U.S. by expanding the definition of "taxpayer funding for abortions" to include all tax deductions, credits and other benefits, even in cases where the abortion services portion of an insurance plan is paid for entirely with private funds. The bill is scheduled for a committee mark-up later this week.  

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