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The Week In Review

April 16, 2010 - by Eric Naing

After a week of debate and weeks of worrying, the Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill (H.R.4851) last night, which has since been passed again by the House and signed into law by President Obama. Unemployment insurance benefits, COBRA health insurance coverage, funding authorization for flood insurance and more were temporarily extend until June 2, when we'll have to go through all this again. Benefits were also retroactively extended to when they expired in March. Like Seongress, we've also been fairly busy at OpenCongress. Here's what we've been up to this week.

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Financial Reform Roundup

April 16, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The big Wall Street reform bill (S.3217) could hit the Senate floor as soon as next week. The legislative pieces are falling into place, the White House is staking out its position and the Republicans are firming up commitments of opposition from their more moderate members. Here's a roundup of the latest financial reform news out of the Senate.

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Congress Links

April 15, 2010 - by Eric Naing

It looks like the Senate could wrap up work on the unemployment benefits extension bill soon – maybe even today. And beyond that, things seem to be moving along on the issues of financial reform and climate change. Senate bills for both issues could drop as soon as next week and later this month respectively. For more on the world of D.C. politics, read today's Congress Links.

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Is the Food Safety Bill Too Hard on Small Farms?

April 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Before the Senate moves into the world of financial regulatory reform, they're going to take up a major food safety bill next week, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, that would make food facility inspections more frequent, improve verification of the safety of imported foods, give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated foods, and more.

As non-controversial and obvious as the bill sounds -- nobody likes E. coli with their spinach or salmonella with their eggs -- a lot of people are firmly against it. Check out, for example, the 22% approval rating it has on OpenCongress. Why all the opposition? Well, the bill doesn't distinguish between huge agribusiness food producers and local farms, and the burden of some of the new regulations could be just too much for small-scale food producers to keep up with. Or so the argument goes.

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Intern with OpenCongress

April 15, 2010 - by David Moore

Students of all backgrounds and interests are invited to apply to intern with OpenCongress over the summer of 2010. Come work with us in New York, NY or Washington, D.C. Even if you're not a student, you can still help spread the word by re-tweeting this announcement, by joining our Facebook group, or by emailing this blog post to a student you know.

Why OC? We're a free and open-source project, meaning that you'll be doing your part to support openness on the Web. We're a non-profit organization, so our mission is for the public knowledge, not to chase customers. Our site is non-partisan, so you won't be working on just one side of a debate -- you'll be covering the whole discourse. It's easy to apply: just email writeus @ opencongress d0t org with the subject heading "student internship". Attach your resume, two references, and a brief note of introduction. Click through for more info...

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After initially faltering, the Senate last night approved a substitute amendment to the unemployment filing extension bill (H.R. 4851), which indicates that the votes are place and the bill should pass today (if Republicans agree to allow a vote) or early next week (if the Republicans demand more procedural votes).

Sen. George Voinovich [R, OH] provided the Democrats with the crucial GOP cross-over vote they needed to break a Republican filibuster of the amendment. He's expected to vote with the Democrats on the bill form here on out.

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Congress Links

April 14, 2010 - by Eric Naing

The Senate continued working on unemployment benefits and financial regulation today. While we still don't have a full financial regulation bill, Democrats and a handful of Republicans are making progress on that issue at a remarkable pace – at least compared to the glacial speed that health care seemed to move at. For more on “FinReg,” as the cool kids in D.C. are calling it, and more, check out today's edition of Congress Links.

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Dodd Fights the Financial Reform Smears

April 14, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Democrats really do seem to have a new fire behind them as they are starting to take up financial reform. Yesterday, we heard that Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] of all people would be leading the Democrats on a tough derivatives reform bill. Today, Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] took to the Senate floor and unhesitatingly fought back at Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell's [R, KY] false claims that the financial reform bill would lead to endless bank bailouts. Here's the video:

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Earlier today, Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT] brought up an amendment to the bill (H.R. 4851) to extend the extension of the deadline from May 5th until June 2nd. It also would extended the other expiring programs in the bill until June, like COBRA health benefits, national flood insurance and the 21% scheduled Medicare payment cut. Additionally, it would pay benefits back retroactively for those whose have lapsed over the past couple weeks because of congressional inaction.

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Salmon on Lincoln

April 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Yesterday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] surprised just about everyone (including yours truly) by announcing that her derivatives bill was going to be stronger than anything we've seen from Dodd, the House of Representatives, or the White House. Felix Salmon has a helpful post clearing up some confusion between exchange trading and clearing requirements, and outlining what we can expect in her bill, which will officially drop tomorrow:

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Congress Links

April 13, 2010 - by Eric Naing

It looks like Congress is back in the swing of things, but the agenda for the near future, at least in the Senate, is missing a few expected items. For the next few weeks, it looks like the Senate will focus on jobs legislation, financial reform, and a few other topics. Conspicuously missing is a Supreme Court nomination and a START treaty ratification, among other items. To catch up in this and other developments in Congress, check out today's Congress Links.

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As unemployed Americans drown in bills, Senate Democrats are trying to pass yet another temporary extension for unemployment insurance benefits. But millions of Americans who can't get flood insurance, even if their homes could quite literally be underwater, are also tuning in to this seemingly perpetual battle.

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Getting Serious About Ending Bailouts

April 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] went before the Senate this morning and repeated a line from Frank Luntz's financial reform talking points memo that the Democrats' financial reform bill would lead to endless taxpayer bailouts of the big financial firms. Ezra Klein does a good, realistic debunking:

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The New York Times reveals the next embarrassing mistake with the Democrats' drafting of the health care bill:

It is often said that the new health care law will affect almost every American in some way. And, perhaps fittingly if unintentionally, no one may be more affected than members of Congress themselves. [...]

For example, it says, the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.

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Benjamin Sarlin has a great piece at the Daily Beast on the state-of-play of derivatives reform now that it's moving under the jurisdiction of Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] and the Agriculture Committee.

He has a Lincoln staffer is on record saying that the derivatives bill she's writing, which will be dropped in the next couple weeks, will at least require all derivatives to be traded publicly on exchanges. That's a relatively big deal in that it tells us where we should be watching for possible derivatives dealer (a.k.a. the big banks) giveaways, namely in clearing exemptions and margin requirements for swaps that are exempt from clearing. We already know that Lincoln is planning to put exemptions for "end-users" in her bill. If it's anything like the House bill, up to half of all swaps could be exempt from clearing.

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