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House returns from recess to pass state aid bill

August 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The House came back from their August recess today to vote on the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, which the Senate passed last Thursday, after the House had already adjourned. It gives states $26.1 billion to help pay for Medicaid and teachers' salaries. Since both chambers passed the exact same version of the bill, it was immediately enrolled by Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] and sent directly to Obama, who has already signed it into law.

The vote was a near-party-line 247-161. Two Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for the bill with the Democrats -- Rep. Anh Cao [R, LA-2] and Rep. Michael Castle [R, DE-0]. Three Democrats, all members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, voted with Republicans against the bill -- Rep. Bobby Bright [D, AL-2], Rep. Jim Cooper [D, TN-5] and Rep. Gene Taylor [D, MS-4]. Twenty-five congressmen didn't take the time out of the recess to return to D.C. and vote on the bill, including 7 Democrats and 18 Republicans.

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Former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) was killed along with five other people in a plane crash last evening (NYT). He was the longest serving Republican Senator in history, serving from 1968 until 2008, when he was charged with failing to report gifts from a company in his home state of Alaska. Those charges were later dismissed. Sen. Stevens' OC Wiki biographical page summarizes some of the major events in his career, including his stances on the Iraq War, the oil industry, and network neutrality. Click through for more info and links.

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The Week Ahead

August 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

It's August recess, but the House will be back in session for a few hours this week to vote on a bill that the Senate passed last week to help retain teaching jobs and across the country help states pay for Medicaid. The bill, known at the "Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act," is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday.

Here's the official House schedule for the week:

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Kagan Confirmed

August 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Obama's latest Supreme Court nominee, Elana Kagan, was officially confirmed by the Senate on Thursday afternoon by a vote of 63-37. She'll be sworn in on Saturday, marking the first time in U.S. history that three women have served on the court simultaneously.

As the NYT reports, this wasn't exactly a slam-dunk confirmation:

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Senate Moves State Aid Bill to the House

August 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Don't look now, but legislation is actually moving in the Senate. Congress Daily ($):

The Senate today sent the House a $26 billion state aid package after defeating two amendments from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., seeking to permanently extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

The package, which passed 61-39, would provide $16.1 billion to extend for six months increased Medicaid funding for states, known as FMAP. The measure also provides $10 billion for a fund Democrats say will avert 138,000 teacher layoffs. It passed with the support of two Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.

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A Bill for the 99ers (and Other Exhaustees)

August 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As announced last night on the Ed Schultz show, Sen. Debbie Ann Stabenow [D, MI] has introduced legislation that would provide additional weeks of unemployment benefits payments for people who have reached the end of what is currently available to them in their state. The bill, which she's calling S. 3706 - the Americans Want to Work Act, would also extend and strengthen tax credits for employers that hire people who have been out of work for some time.

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Please take a moment to read this urgent essay by Josh Silver, President of Free Press, called The End of the Internet as We Know It. Key excerpt: We have a congress that is nearly completely captured by industry.

If you enjoy using the web to keep in touch with friends and use it to conduct business, you should join us in supporting net neutrality. To fight for internet freedom and keep the Internet the amazing powerful open-access technology we know today, head over to Save The Internet -- sign the petition, spread the word, and get involved. As part of your activism, you can research campaign contributions to any senator or representative here on OC on every member's profile page, under the tab for "The Money Trail". Click through for more info...

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A central part of the new financial regulation reform law is the creation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which seeks to make sure that consumers are protected against the predatory behavior of banks and credit card companies. Who runs this agency will be a big factor on how strict or how lenient the CFPB’s policies and practices will be.

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This probably won't come as a surprise to many of you, but in the 383,013-word, 2,253-page Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, Congress and the President seems to have enacted a provision that, according to a cadre of government transparency groups, "has the potential to severely hinder the public’s ability to access critical information related to the oversight activities of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), thereby undermining the bill’s overarching goals of more transparency and accountability."

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Holding members of Congress accountable is hard when you can't remember how they voted, so at OpenCongress we put together a scorecard to track how each and every senator voted on the contentious issue of extending unemployment benefits over the last two years. After crunching the numbers, we discovered a few things we expected (Democrats really, really wanted to extend unemployment benefits), a few we didn't (Republicans were surprisingly diverse in their votes), a few head scratchers (Missouri's senators were the least likely to show up to vote despite having a 9.1% unemployment rate) and at least one irrefutable truth (Ben Nelson has a whacked-out definition of "fiscal responsibility").

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Congress Links

August 4, 2010 - by

Senators call for hearings on birthright citizenship, Maxine Waters wants her charges made public, and more in today's Congress Links.

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In the debate over immigration reform, Republicans have generally stuck to a few basic principles over the years. Improve enforcement of the borders, deport all undocumented immigrants, and refocus the immigration system to prioritize people with needed skills. But recently, Republicans in Congress have been moving more and more solidly behind a more radical idea -- denying legal citizenship status to the children who are born in the U.S. of undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC], one of the only Republicans who has engaged with Democrats in comprehensive immigration reform talks, recently came out in support of repealing birthright citizenship protections. “People come here to have babies," Graham said last week in an interview with Fox News. “They come here to drop a child." Graham's endorsement of repealing birthright citizenship was quickly followed up by the two highest ranking Republicans in the Senate. Minority Whip Sen. Jon Kyl [R, AZ] endorsed the idea on Sunday and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY] called for hearing on the issue the next day.

In the House, 94 Republicans, more than half of the House Republican Caucus, have signed on as co-sponsors to the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009, which states that only children who have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, a legal permanent resident, or an undocumented immigrant serving in the military can be granted citizenship.

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Via public policy blogger Ezra Klein of the WaPo, please read and bookmark and share with gusto this must-read article by George Packer in that esteemed publication, The New Yorker magazine. It's called "The Empty Chamber: Filibusters and arcane obstructions in the Senate", and we're boosting it as a must-read, worth your time because of how the Senate's essential dysfunction affects the lives of every single American (both in our daily lives and in the possibility of a sane, sustainable, healthy future).

As we're screaming, the whole essay is essential reading -- the Upper House of the United States Congress is fundamentally broken and corrupt and in semi-denial of its sad state, with disastrous effects on the strength of our nation. But the key excerpt might be this simple sentence: "Nothing dominates the life of a senator more than raising money." We spoke out on these exact issues last week in our major blog post round-up, "Congress Is Broken". Click through for more info, helpful links, hopeful prescriptive cures, and even more reasons to make a tax-deductible donation to support our non-profit work.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] told a local NY news station last week that he is working on a bill to extended unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who have exhausted all 99 weeks of the federal benefits that are currently available to them. But he didn't say anything about when it would be introduced or what it would look like. Any senator can introduce any bill he or she likes. Here are a few things to look for when Schumer introduced his bill to tell whether it is a viable proposal that may become law, or jut another bill dropped in the hopper and destined to die in committee.

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Congress Links

August 2, 2010 - by Hilary Worden

The Senate will soon vote on the confirmation of Elena Kagan, Michelle Obama seeks to have more nutritious school lunches, earmark spending has declined by 40% thanks to Republican efforts, and Rep. Maxine Waters is set to face ethics trials.  All this and more in today's Congress Links.

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