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With just nine days left until the federal government runs out of money, the House of Representatives this evening rejected a temporary spending bill that would keep the government operating. The vote was 195-230. Nearly all Democrats voted "no" due to deep cuts in disaster relief funding and a program that helps auto manufacturers make more efficient vehicles. Dozens of Republicans also voted "no" because they did not think the bill cut enough spending in general. The plan now appears to be to swap the cuts to the auto efficiency program with cuts from some other program and see if they can flip enough Democrats to pass it. But even if that works, we're still far from an agreement between the Senate and the House that will be needed to avoid a shutdown.

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Is This Bill Discriminatory?

September 21, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Included in an authorization bill that the Senate Homeland Security Committee is marking up today is a provision that would require DHS to take special measures to counter violent domestic extremism, particularly among communities that practice a certain religion. Here's the language:

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The Coming Free Trade Swindle

September 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Free-trade deals generally help some American companies increase their exports and create jobs. However, history shows that they tend to do far more to increase imports, which may help consumers access cheaper goods and manufacturers access cheaper parts, but has a net negative impact on jobs in the U.S. In the first decade that NAFTA was in effect, for example, nearly 900,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost due to accelerated trade imbalances with Mexico and Canada, our then-new free-trade partners.

But while workers tend to lose out in the deals, big American companies benefit by gaining access to new markets of cheap labor overseas. That's why the Chamber of Congress and dozens of major U.S. corporations like Wal-Mart, Microsoft and GE have been pushing Congress for years to finalize the free-trade deals with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama that were drafted under the Bush Administration. In recent months, the Obama Administration has begun championing the deals, calling on Congress repeatedly to pass them as a way to boost employment.

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No Action on The American Jobs Act This Month

September 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Yet another sign that Congress isn't taking the jobs crisis seriously, this time from the Senate Democratic Whip, Dick Durbin [D, IL], on CNN:

CROWLEY: When is his jobs bill getting on the Senate floor? [...]

DURBIN: I think that's more realistic it would be next month.

CROWLEY: Next month. OK.

 

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The Week Ahead in Congress

September 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Looks like it's going to be yet another week without any significant jobs measures on the calendar. The House this week will be keeping itself busy with the usual raft of routine suspension measures and the obligatory anti-regulation bill at the end of the week. They'll aslo be voting on another continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down at the end of the month, the sixth so far this session. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is bringing up a bill that would exempt tariffs on imports from developing countries, paving the way for Congress to pass free trade agreements with Panama, Korea, and Colombia. There will also be votes on an amendment to add assistance for American workers who lose their jobs because of trade deals, and another from Sen. Jeff Sessions [R, AL] that would exempt Bangladeshi sleeping bags from the tariff exemption in order to protect a sleeping bag manufacturer in his state.

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In a move designed to get corporations jazzed up about donating to Republican candidates and not much else, the House of Representatives today passed a bill to weaken the National Labor Relations Board, which is in charge of enforcing the labor laws and remedying instances of unfair labor practices. The bill, which its sponsor, Rep. Tim Scott [R, SC-1], has titled the "Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act," would amend the labor laws so that employers could legally take retaliation against workers trying to form a union by relocating or outsourcing their jobs. The vote was 238-186.

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99ers and the American Jobs Act

September 15, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The American Jobs Act doesn't propose an extension for 99ers, the millions of people who have been out of work so long that they are no longer eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. But it does include several provisions that are designed to help them in other ways.

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Several of the campaigns involved in last night's Republican debate used Twitter as a back channel to supplement their candidates' appearances. The Bachmann and Gingrich campaigns used it to retweet people praising their performances and declaring them the debate winners. The Santorum and Cain campaigns used it to distill key quotes and sum up their answers. But The Ron Paul campaign did it best. They used the real-time nature of Twitter to back up several of his answers with supplementary links to primary source materials around the web.

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More Senate Squabble, Fewer Jobs

September 13, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Still waiting for that big pivot when everyone in Congress starts acting like they actually care that the unemployment and poverty rates are are record high levels. In the meantime…

Republicans blocked an effort Monday by Senate Democrats to quickly pass a $7 billion aid package for victims of recent natural disasters like Hurricane Irene, tornadoes in the Midwest and the South and floods along the Mississippi, Missouri and other rivers.

On a 53-33 vote, the Senate rejected an attempt by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring up a bill that Democrats had hoped to use to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency's depleted disaster fund. Democrats needed 60 votes to advance the measure.

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The gun-rights lobby is about to score a big victory in Congress. Tomorrow, for the first time ever, a congressional committee will take up the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill that has been a major priority for the National Rifle Association for more than a decade. The bill would require all states that allow some form of concealed carry to honor the concealed-carry licenses of other states. It is scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee at 10 am. The hearing will pave the way for the bill to receive a committee mark-up and consideration before the full House later this session.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

September 12, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

No jobs bills on the calendar yet. But don't worry, they're going pivot soon. For now, Congress is sticking to pretty much what they've been doing all along. In the House they'll be treading water with suspensions bills, passing anti-union legislation that's going to die on the Senate. Stuff like that. In the Senate they'll start out by voting on a motion to overcome Republican opposition to a bill to apply sanctions to the military regime in Burma. That bill will probably pass unanimously, but the Republican minority is going to use the Senate rules to make sure it takes up as much of the Democratic majority's time as possible, because, you know, they don't want them to have time for other stuff that might be more popular, like job creation.

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Patent Reform in Name Only

September 12, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Congress has a funny way of handling things sometimes. There's a jobs crisis? I know, lets pass a "jobs bill." The health care system sucks? How about a new "healthcare reform bill?" The financial sector is too big and interconnected? I know, let's pass a "financial reform bill." It's as if passing bills is more important to them than solving the problems.

Such is the case with the patent reform bill that the Senate passed last week and is now awaiting Obama's signature. Obviously, the patent system is totally broken. It's a system that was established under the Constitution to get inventors to share their ideas so that others could build on them and innovate. But it has turned into a massive scam, supporting shadow companies that don't make anything but hoard the rights to ideas so they can sue companies that do make things. These companies are commonly referred to as "patent trolls," and they are bad for innovation and bad for jobs. Yet the patent reform bill that is about to be passed into law doesn't do anything about them.

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Will the Unemployed Be Left Behind?

September 8, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For the past few years on OpenCongress, the hottest issue by far has been unemployment, specifically, keeping extended unemployment insurance benefits from lapsing while the jobless rate remains high. The current extended unemployment benefits program, which lasts up to 99 weeks in states with unemployment rates above 8.5%, has been reauthorized five times and its current authorization is scheduled to expire at the end of December. President Obama is expected to propose another reauthorization in his big jobs speech tonight, but it's not clear that Congress is going to be willing to extend them once again.

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So This is What it Takes to Get Congress To Act

September 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The patent-system-reforming "America Invents Act" looks set to sail through the Senate and be signed into law in a matter of days. Last night, the Senate voted 93-5to move it forward towards a final vote on passage, with members on both sides of the aisle hailing it as a bipartisan jobs measure. Sen. Jon Kyl [R, AZ], for example, said on the Senate floor yesterday that the bill would create "a powerful incentive for manufacturers to build factories and create jobs in this country," and Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] said it would "unlock the job-creating potential of each patent."

Say what? Since when do Democrats and Republicans in the 112th Congress agree on a jobs bill? They've already failed to move forward with several jobs measures this year by getting caught up on unrelated, partisan issues, so what's so special about the patent bill that everyone's suddenly playing nice? I don't really know the answer to that for sure, but what I do know is that the other jobs bills that died this year did not have any corporate backing. But this one, on the other hand…

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Previewing the Obama Jobs Plan

September 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Various news outlets are out this morning with a top-line number for the stimulus measure that Obama will be proposing before a jointy session of Congress tomorrow night -- $300 billion. According to the reports, most of that money would be used for extending current measures that are scheduled to expire soon. Just $100 billion or so would be spent on new stimulus measures, which is clearly not enough of an investment to create the levl of demand for goods and services that's needed to get businesses hiring. Let's take a look at the specifics.

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