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User-Friendly Government Forms

April 14, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

By the time April 15th comes around next year, deciphering government documents and filling out tax forms might become a much easier task. The House today is slated to vote on (and probably approve) the Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007, which would require the federal Government to write all forms, letters and notices that explain how to do your taxes or apply for government benefits or services in plain, understandable English.

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Finalizing the Farm Bill

April 14, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

For months, Congress has been trying to reach some kind of agreement on what should be included in the Farm Bill and how it should be payed for. The bill, which is designed to extend all kinds of agricultural programs at a cost of $286 billion over five years, is about 6 months behind schedule. But a bipartisan group of senators and representatives is meeting this week to iron out the issues that have stalled the bill, and they hope to have an agreement by Friday.

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Congress Outmaneuvers Bush on U.S.-Colombia FTA

April 10, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

House Democrats have found a clever way to regain control of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement that President Bush is trying to fast-track into law without the usual process of congressional consultation. They are trying to pass a bill to change the law that gives the President any authority on the issue in the first place.

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The House's Version of Housing Stimulus

April 9, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

The House of Representatives is acting quickly to finish the Senate's Housing Stimulus bill. On Wednesday the House Ways and Means Committee approved their version of the bill, the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008, by a bipartisan vote of 35-5. Some of its proposals for helping struggling homeowners and the housing market in general are similar to what the Senate's approve in their bill. But unlike the Senate bill, the House's new bill includes a way for the government to raise enough money to offset the entire cost of what it provides. Details below.

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Immigration: Time to Choose Sides

April 8, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

There's a battle happening behind the scenes between Democrats and Republicans in the House over who owns the upper hand on immigration legislation. Republicans this week are calling for a "full court press" to get the support of a handful of on-the-fence Democrats so that they can force a vote on an immigration enforcement bill, the SAVE Act. Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to push forward with creating their own compromise proposal, which would likely include a patch to citizenship program.

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The Housing Bill May be Bad for Your Town

April 6, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

The property tax deduction for people who don't itemize that is part of the Senate's bipartisan housing bill has been criticized as being pretty irrelevant to the issues the bill was supposed to address. But there may also be another reason for Congress to take a closer look at it before they finish up the bill. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has drawn the red flag on a little-known provision that, when combined with the new deduction, they say "could force many localities to cut police, schools, and other vital public services."

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A Second Stimulus

April 4, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

For the past few months, the most active part of OpenCongress, by far, has been the comments section of S.2544, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2008. Today's jobs report may have tipped the scales a little closer towards the bill being passed. In response to the report, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other congressional leaders have begun a serious push for a second stimulus bill, which would almost definitely contain the unemployment insurance extension.

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The Bankruptcy Bill Lives

April 3, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

As the full Senate begins to move forward with their bipartisan housing bill, in the background, a Senate committee is preparing a proposal to allow bankruptcy judges to revamp mortgages, which was dropped from the bill, so that it can come back separately to the Senate floor later.

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Housing Bill Update | The Saga Continues

April 3, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Senate members are essentially at a standstill for now over forcing this provision, now being offered as an amendment to the Housing Bill, to be subject to a supermajority (60 votes) for adoption. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) said moments ago that “we will not agree to a 60 vote margin.” He says that if 60 votes were allowed on this amendment, the same could be requested on any amendment to the bill in the future.

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Housing Stimulus

April 2, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate's new, bipartisan housing stimulus package is a major piece of legislation, but it isn't a bill per se. During the debate, it will be in the form of an amendment to a House-passed energy bill. But that doesn't mean it has no home on OpenCongress. We've created an OpenCongress bill page for the housing package where you can learn the details of the proposal, check out what's being said about it in the news and blogs and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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What the Bipartisan Housing Bill May Look Like

April 1, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

The most contentious issue they will have to iron out is a Democrat-favored measure to allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of mortgages for homeowners who are facing foreclosure. Republicans call this measure a "cram down," and argue that it would increase interest rates by lowering investors' confidence that they would be assured of their rate of return on a loan.

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This Week in Congress

March 31, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Senators and representatives return to work today following a two-week recess to once again find the struggling economy dictating their schedules. The mortgage crisis is continuing, and home foreclosures are on the rise. In addition, cities across the country are bracing for an oversupply of housing units as construction of new homes and condos—began while the housing bubble was at its peak—is completed. Meanwhile, taxpayers are waiting for rebate checks that were part of a stimulus package approved last month.

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