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House Advances Internet Surveillance Bill

August 4, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Under the title the "Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act", Congress is advancing legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to access information about the online activities of all Americans, regardless of whether or not they are suspected of having committed a crime. By a 19-10 vote, the bipartisan bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27th, as the media frenzy around the debt ceiling debate was consuming virtually all the attention being paid to Capitol Hill. It will now move to the full House floor for a vote on passage. Unless perceptions of the bill shift dramatically, it is expected to pass and move to the Senate.

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'Super Congress' Must Be Open and Transparent

August 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The debt ceiling bill that was signed into law yesterday shunts off much of the dirty work of deciding exactly what to programs to cut or whose taxes to increase to a new "joint select committee on deficit reduction," a.k.a the "Super Congress." Whatever the Super Congress comes up with will be brought to the Senate and House for votes under expedited rules that bar amendments and limit filibusters. And the bill contains an enforcement mechanism designed to persuade members to vote for the Super Congress' plan -- if it fails, massive cuts to two sacred cows, Medicare and the Defense Department, would automatically take effect.

The Super Congress appears to be designed so that just a handful of lawmakers, who will probably be selected from very safe districts, have to make decisions about which constituents will bear the burdens of austerity. The vast majority of Congress will only have to take an up-or-down vote, and with the threat of cuts to seniors' health care and precious jobs in teh defense industry, even if they vote for the Super Congress plan they'll be able to tell constituents that they voted for the less bad of two bad options.

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How They Voted on the Debt Bill

August 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House of Representatives last night passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending by a vote of 269-161. Most Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while Democrats were split evenly, 95 in favor and 95 against. To find out who your Rep. is and see how they voted, plug your info into our zipcode lookup tool. Then, once you are shown their name, visit the roll call pageand do a page-find for their name to see how they voted.

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The debt ceiling compromise we've all been asked to support but have not been allowed to see is being rushed to a vote this afternoon in the House. This is your last chance to write your Representative and Senators to let them know how you want them to vote. To do so, go to S.365, the bill being used as the legislative vehicle for the debt bill, and click "support," "oppose," or "tracking" in the right-hand sidebar. From there you can select which of your elected officials you want to write to, draft your letter, send it, and choose to share it publicly on OC and other social networks, or keep it private.

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The bill was negotiated entirely behind closed doors, and with no solid proposal until now there'e been no chance for meaningful public review. We've been urged by the President to support "compromise," but we've been locked out of seeing what we were actually being asked to get behind. When you look at which deficit-reduction proposals the public actually supports, it makes sense why this was done so secretively. All of the proposals that are supported by a bipartisan majority of Americans -- e.g. raising taxes on the rich, limiting corporate tax deductions -- were taken off the table long before the real negotiations even began. The "compromise" we were asked to lobby our members of Congress on, but not allowed to see, was between a bunch of stuff that's only popular with the Very Serious People in Washington.

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Released this week, OpenCongress version 3 features Contact-Congress: the easiest way to send an email to all your members of Congress. Now, you can write a letter to your senators and representative on one webpage, set it to public or private, send it immediately over email, and then track your correspondence in a transparent public forum.

Here's a quick-fast summary of the state of the debt ceiling debate: on Friday afternoon, the House passed the GOP leadership's bill (as an amendment to S. 267), 218-210; this afternoon (Sat.), the House rejected Sen. Reid's Democratic version of the debt ceiling bill (as H.R. 2693, sponsored by Republican Rep. Dreier in the House for parliamentary reasons), 173-246; and while the Senate was projected to vote on Sen. Reid's bill around 1am Sunday, Talking Points Memo and others are reporting the vote has been postponed by Senate Dem Leadership until Sunday afternoon.

So write your members of Congress and let them know what you think about H.R. 2693, the Senate Democratic debt ceiling bill. It's easy-to-use: find out who represents you in Congress simply by entering your street address and send them an email now. Using OC's custom Message Builder, you can bring over the helpful OC bill summary, as well as the most-commented sections of bill text, and add personal stories for a more compelling communication. Click through for the latest in the debt ceiling debate and simple how-to's on sharing your correspondence with other constituents in your area using MyOC Groups.

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Read the Reid Debt Bill -- Vote This Afternoon

July 30, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House is scheduled this afternoon to vote on Senate Majority Harry Reid's debt ceiling bill, which you can find here:

H.R.2693 -- Budget Control Act of 2011

The full text is here. It's a good read. I promise.

Because of the procedure under which the Reid bill is being taken up, it's guaranteed to fail. Rep. Dreier, the House Rules Committee Chair, has put the bill on the suspensions calendar, which means there will be no amendments allowed, no motions to recommit, and a 2/3rds majority required for passage. The suspensions calendar is typically reserved for non-controversial stuff that is going to pass easily, like naming post offices and honoring sports teams. It's a way to save time on routine matters -- not really a good way to vote on cutting trillions in social spending. This isn't going to get a 2/3rds majority, and Dreier knows that.

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House Passes Debt Ceiling Bill

July 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After failing Thursday night, Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8] brought his debt ceiling bill back to the floor Friday afternoon with an amendment appealing to far-right Republicans, and passed it. The final vote was 218-210, with zero Democrats voting in favor and 22 Republicans voting "no." The bill now goes to the Senate where it is expected to be rejected later this evening. Click through and the read the full post for what happens next with the debt debate. 

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After five hours of twisting arms and trying to persuade conservatives into voting "yes" with offerings of pizza, at 10 p.m. Thursday evening House Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8] pulled his debt ceiling bill from the House floor. The bill has been sent back to the Rules Committee for tweaks and will most likely be brought to the floor again on Friday for a second vote attempt. In its current form the bill does not have the 216 votes it needs to pass.

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OpenCongress is pleased to announce the release of version 3 of its free & open-source public resource website, putting new tools for engaging with Congress at the center of the site experience. With this new version 3, OpenCongress now offers the easiest way to write a letter to all three of your members of the U.S. Congress, all from one webpage, send it immediately over email, and then track & share the correspondence in a transparent public forum. No other online service offers features to write all of one’s federal elected officials from one place at once, as OpenCongress does, in an open-source & not-for-profit web application. We think it’s an immediate and compelling user experience and a significant step towards the goal of open-source, continually-engaged constituent communication.

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The Boehner Plan

July 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As usual, when Congress does something that's actually important, they do it the least transparent way possible. This time around it's the Boehner debt plan, which calls for trillions in cuts to social spending and a "super Congress" for reforming taxes and entitlements in exchange for allowing President Obama to raise the debt ceiling through the end of the year. It's a plan that was negotiated 100% behind closed doors, and it's not being introduced through the regular legislative order, thereby hindering the public's ability to read it and contact their elected officials with feedback.

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If this NYT report is accurate, then congressional Democrats, led by the Obama Administration, are lined up for another epic cave in. The Republicans, on the other hand, are looking poised to score yet another big victory. First, the Bush tax cuts extension, then the 2011 spending bill cuts, and now a debt-ceiling deal that would reduce the deficit entirely through cuts to social spending.

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The "Gang of Six" Plan

July 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

It's still unclear just how viable the "Gang of Six" deficit and debt package is. On a logistical level, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] said yesterday that the lack of actual legislative language and an official budget score from the CBO means there might not be enough time to get it through Congress before the August 2th deadline. On a political level, it's unlikely the House would bite. It looks to be basically similar to the Biden plan that House Republican leaders rejected several weeks ago because of the level of revenue raisers involved. Still, there are reaons to take it seriously. It is bipartisan to some extent, public pressure to strike a deal is increasing as the deadline approaches, and ratings agencies are now threatening to downgrade U.S. debt if Congress goes with the other potential compromise on the table, Reid-McConnell. Those factors make it absolutely worth taking a close look.

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One effect of the structural unemployment situation we are stuck in is that some employers have begun assuming that people who don't have jobs must be bad workers and, therefore, shouldn't be considered for hiring. Of course, that line of logic doesn't comply with the facts of the situation. Since 2008, millions of people really have lost their jobs "through no fault of their own," and the jobs market as a whole has shrunken. The U.S. economy no longer accomodates the U.S. work force. Hence the stagnation in unemployment.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

July 18, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

If the debt ceiling is going to be raised before we reach the point where we can no longer pay our bills, there's going to have to be some progress made in the negotiations this week. Not that you'll be allowed to follow along, though. All the serious work is all being conducted behind closed doors, in secretive meeting between Obama officials and congressional leaders. Instead, we'll be shown some more symbolic action, this time from the House of Representatives in the form of the "Cut, Cap, and Balance Act."

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