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DREAM Act No Longer Bipartisan

May 12, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For years, comprehensive immigration reform was a bipartisan issue. But with Barack Obama as President it has suddenly become extremely divisive. In the past two years, just about every congressional Republican that once supported a comprehensive plan that includes a path to citizenship for some of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has changed their position. Now that Senate Democrats are reintroducing the extremely-scaled back DREAM Act, which would only apply to immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, the extent to which Republicans are balking is becoming even more clear. Sen. Richard Lugar [R, IN], the only Republican to co-sponsor the bill last year, will not be returning as a co-sponsor this year.

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One of the final acts of the last session of Congress was passing legislation to keep extended unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed available into 2012. Their reason for doing so was, of course, to ensure that the hardest-hit victims of the '08 economic crisis would have some form of financial support while the jobs market remains weak. Well, the jobs market is still weak, but Republicans in the House are moving to scale back the extended unemployment insurance benefits with a new bill they are calling the "Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Services Act of 2011," or the "JOBS Act."

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Website Takedown Bill to be Reintroduced

May 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

COICA, the Democrats' bill from last year to let the government shutdown websites they deem to be involved in copyright infringement, has been rewritten and made even broader. Ars Technica reports that the bill will be introduced soon, under a new name, the "PROTECT IP Act," and with some new provisions that would require search engines to get involved in the domain blocking game as well.

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Cutting Defense Cuts

May 10, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Washington Post had an important article yesterday reminding us how hard it is for Congress to think independently about spending cuts when it affects politically-active corporations:

The panel’s subcommittees last week voted to prohibit a proposed increase in fees paid by retired service personnel for Tricare, the military’s health program; set the stage for possible recompetition of the controversial engine for the Air Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; and required studies before the Marine Corps can go ahead with a new proposed amphibious landing craft to replace the multibillion-dollar Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV).

The subcommittees have also added funds to programs that the Pentagon did not seek. For example, $425 million has been added to the proposed budget to keep production lines open for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Abrams M1 tank. The Pentagon had proposed shutting down those lines for three years to save money.

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For two years in a row, President Obama used part of his State of the Union speech to endorse, generally, legislation designed to reduce wasteful health care costs by reforming the medical liability system. The idea is to limit so-called "defensive medicine" wherein doctors prescribe unnecessary tests, treatments and referrals fortheir patients in order to protect themselves against potential lawsuits. Those extra tests are a major drag on the medical system, possibly costing the system up to $210 billion annually. Today, the House of Representatives is taking the first step in passing medical liability reform legislation. Their bill, the "Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare Act," is scheduled for an Energy and Commerce Committee mark-up to begin this afternoon and be continued tomorrow morning.

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As you may have noticed in my preview post this morning, the Republican leadership is doing something few House leaders ever do -- opening up one of their bills to several floor amendments from the minority party and none from their own party. The Rules Committee last week decided that one of the Republicans' oil drilling bills, the H.R.1229 (a.k.a. the "Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act") would be debated under a structured rule that makes in order eleven Democratic amendments for votes and ten minutes of debate each. Below is a rundown of the amendments that will be voted on -- I'll update with vote results when they are posted: 

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The Week Ahead in Congress

May 9, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House comes back into session tomorrow to vote on more bills to expand domestic oil drilling, and, later in the week, on reauthorizing the nation's intelligence programs. The drilling bills are supposed to be serious responses to the recent gas-price bubble, though none of them have been designed with passing the Democratic Senate in mind, and increasing domestic drilling would not lower gas prices in the short term anyways. Probably not much in the long term either. The Senate meanwhile is stuck without much to do after the Republicans last week filibustered the small business jobs bill to death. They'll start off the week with some judicial nominees. No hints yet as to what's in store for later in the week as Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] did not file any cloture petitions on legislation before adjourning last week. Here's a closer look at the House's schedule:

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Drill, Baby, Drill?

May 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Oil prices may have had their biggest drop since 2008 yesterday, but that didn't stop the House from using the bubble to push forward their legislation to expand offshore oil drilling. By a vote of 266-149 yesterday, the House passed the "Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act," which would force the Secretary of the Interior to conduct lease sales on three drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico and one of the coast of Virginia. The Obama Administration had put these leases on hold indefinitely following the BP spill in order to ensure that the lax regulatory environment that made that spill possible had been improved. So far, however, Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation to improve offshore drilling safety

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The Alternate Engine That Just Won't Die

May 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For years, both parties in Congress insisted on funding the $500-million-per-year F-35 alternative engine program that nobody besides the defense contractors that benefit from it seem to want, not even the Pentagon. Then, earlier this year, against the wishes of Speaker Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8], a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and freshman Republicans won an amendment to the 2011 spending bill to cut funding for the program. But now that appropriators have begun working on spending bills for 2012, they're trying to secure funds for the program once again.

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House to Vote on Abortion Tax Bill

May 4, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Under current law, no federal funding can be used for abortions except in cases of incest or rape. But that fact isn't stopping House Republicans from using the false premise of blocking federal funding for abortions to push legislation that would make it harder for women to use their own money to finance abortion services. Their misleadingly-titled "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" is lined up for a vote today, and, with 227 co-sponsors, it is expected to pass.

UPDATE: This passed the House, 251-175.

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The Budget Nobody Noticed

May 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As Congress resumes working on the 2012 budget, almost all of the discussion will be on striking a deal between the President's proposal and the House Republicans' proposal. But there is another budget proposal in Congress that would do far more than either of those for eliminating deficits, reducing the debt and ensuring solvency of our entitlement programs. The Progressive Caucus' "People's Budget" would produce budget surpluses by 2021 -- the GOP budget would still be producingannual deficits of more than $400 billion at that point -- and would add more than $2 trillion less to the debt than the GOP plan over the ten year period. How would it work? By doing things most members of Congress are afraid to go anywhere near, like raising tax rates for the rich and making major cuts to the military budget.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

May 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

If you need any more evidence that the House Republicans have given up on serious legislating for the year, look no further than the schedule for their first week back from recess. Votes are planned on repealing potentially popular parts of the new health care reform law, restricting federal funding to health care providers that provide abortion services even though no federal money is used for the abortion services, and expanding oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, none of this is designed with progressing through the Democrat-led Senate in mind. It's about setting up votes that the Republicans think they can spin to use against vulnerable Democrats in the 2012 elections.

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