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Not Out of the Woods Yet

April 13, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Despite the grand government funding bargain that appears to be able to get a majority vote in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, it's not a sure bet that the bill will be signed into law by midnight tomorrow in order to prevent a government shutdown. The House is not going to send the bill to the Senate until Thursday, which means that if a single senator chooses to filibuster, they can easily delay passage for days and push the debate on well past the Thursday night when the government's spending authority runs out.

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Early Tuesday morning, the House Appropriations released full details of the 6-month government funding bill that was recently negotiated between the White House and Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs would see their funding increase under the bill, but every other agency would face significant cutbacks, with the largest cuts coming from the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. With the government facing a noter shutdown deadline this Friday, the bill is expected to be passed by the House quickly (once again in violation of the Republicans' 72-hour pledge) and approved by the Senate without any changes.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

April 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

With a deal in place on funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, the House and Senate now have to go through the motions of actually putting the appropriations legislation into effect. As of Monday morning, the House Appropriations Committee is still drafting the legislative language of the deal, and they're not expected to unveil an actual bill until late Monday night. As you'll see below, the bill is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, which suggests that once again the House leadership is going to exploit the weak language of their "read the bill" rule and make the bill available for public review for far less than 72 hours, the minimum standard of public availability before votes they themselves promoted on the campaign trail. Of course, we'll be doing everything we can to get the bill text online for commenting and sharing as soon as it's released. With all of the controversial policy riders that have been involved in the closed-door negotiations with the bill, folks with interests in just about any major political issue are going to have something to look for in the text.

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The Real Problem With Funding the Government

April 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After meeting late Wednesday night with House Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8], Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid [D, NV] took to the floor this morning and said that agreeing on a topline budget number isn't the thing blocking a deal on preventing a government shutdown Friday night, it's social policy. “Our differences are no longer over the savings we get on government spending, Reid said. “The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology.”

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When Failure's a Win, You Can't Lose

April 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

No matter where you stand on the government spending issue, you've got to be impressed by the Republicans' tenacity in the negotiations. They only control one chamber of Congress, but they've already secured the support of Senate Democrats and the Obama White House for $33 billion in cuts, which is more than the amount their leader, Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8], had originally proposed. Now, with support for that level secured and a few days remaining before a shutdown, they've moved their target further, demanding something more like $40 billion in cuts or no deal. As National Journal reports, the Democrats are now close to accepting the new target:

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The House Republicans' latest stopgap is now online at OpenCongress for you to read, mark up, and create custom, section-specific links to so you can have a more detailed discussions of it online:

H.R.1363 - Making appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, and for other purposes.

The full legislative text is here. Mouse over any chunk of text to add an in-line comment or create a custom permalink to that section that you can use to point others to it. If this bill gets a vote, it will happen sometime before the end of the day Thursday. With the massive amount of program cuts in this bill it's important that the public works together now to review it and find out what it would do before it's rushed to a vote. If you find something that you think might be worth noting, leave a comment to mark it and it will be filtered up to the list of most-commented-on provisions for others to find and review. We'll be highlighting the most noted provisions on this blog as well.

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If the Congressional Black Caucus wants to pass H.R.589 and help the long-term unemployed, this is not the way to go about it:

In an exchange during their meeting last Wednesday with the President, CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver called the cost of the 99ers bill (H.R. 589 sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee of California) “prohibitive.”

In Rep. Cleaver’s words: “It was what I expected because my staff had done a lot of research on it.  And we found that the cost of that program would be between $14 and 20 billion dollars which is cost prohibitive. 

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More Political Stunts as Shutdown Looms

April 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

With just four days of government spending authority left, House Republicans are working hard on prepping for a shutdown. It's not clear how hard they're working on preventing one.

Yesterday, the Republican leadership distributed pamphlets "outlining the procedures congressional offices should take during a government shutdown." And late last night they introduced another stopgap, this one designed for political, not legislative, success. The stopgap would last for one week and cut a whopping $12 billion from discretionary spending over that period. In order to protect it from cuts, the Defense budget would be extended for the full fiscal year and increased by $7.6 billion over last year's level.

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Slow and Unresponsive

April 4, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Roll Call has a good piece today on the "glacial" pace of the 112th Congress so far and the fact that it's going to get even slower from here on out. The problem, of course, is that neither the Republicans who control the House or the Democrats who control the Senate are working with an eye towards the other chamber. Particularly in the House, the legislative docket is being used more as a political platform than a means to make laws and solve the problems facing the nation.

"Where are the jobs?" is, of course, the relevant question here. So far this year we've seen votes on divisive program cuts, stopgap bills to patch the budget, extending the government's spying powers, and somecheap fluff, but there's been no honest work on legislation addressing the jobs crisis that could pass both chambers and actually help people. Below is a list of the bills that have been signed into law so far this year. We're facing a deeper and longer lasting jobs crisis than anything we've seen since the Great Depression, but you wouldn't know it looking at the output of the federal legislature:

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The Week Ahead in Congress

April 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

We're now just five days out until the federal government's spending authority runs out and, if Congress does not pass a new bill, shuts down. Last week, Joe Biden said that congressional Democrats and Republicans have agreed on a topline number for keeping the government funded -- $33 billion below 2010 levels -- but House Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8] has denied that any such deal has been struck. Beyond the numbers, policy riders remain a huge barrier to a deal. Conservatives are pushing hard for the final spending bill to include amendments defunding Planned Parenthood, the new health care reform law, NPR, and more. Democrats have said that those those amendments would be deal breakers.

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Downtime

April 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Just a quick note to let you all know that we'll be having some intermittent downtime this weekend while we do some site maintenance. Everything should be back to normal by late Sunday night as we get ready for another week of Congress in session. Have a great weekend!...

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Every couple weeks, we go through all of the recent comments posted to OpenCongress and pick out a handful of particularly popular, insightful and timely ones to bump up to the OpenCongress Blog. OpenCongress users leave hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of comments each week, creating a treasure trove of political thought from around the country and across the ideological spectrum that reflects the moods and topics of the day. The idea of these posts is to highlight comments that have been voted up by users and provide valuable insights to legislation and politics at large. Get involved by commenting on bills, articles, senators and representatives, and rate other users' comments, to influence what gets highlighted here.

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With no budget agreement in place and a government shutdown looming, House Republicans are bringing the Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011 up for a vote this afternoon. The bill seeks to prevent a shutdown by automatically deeming the House's budget bill to be the law of the land if the Senate fails to pass their own budget. So, shutdown prevented? Not quite.

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