No matter how hard rank-and-file members of Congress may try to reform it, the PATRIOT Act always seems to get special protection from the leadership. In February when the last PATRIOT Act extension was passed by Congress, the House Republican leadership did all it could, including violating a major campaign pledge on procedural openness, to prevent representatives from having their amendments voted on. Now that it's up for extension again, it's the Senate Democrats this time who are using special procedural maneuvers to block senators from offering amendments.Read Full Article Comments (7)
You know what's sketchy? According to a new report, members of Congress who invest in the stock market consistently end up making abnormally high returns. Dan Froomkin reports:
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Four university researchers examined 16,000 common stock transactions made by approximately 300 House representatives from 1985 to 2001, and found what they call "significant positive abnormal returns," with portfolios based on congressional trades beating the market by about 6 percent annually.
If you want to break the partisan divide and get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on something, just give them a bill that makes it easier for the government to spy on U.S. citizens without judicial oversight. Yesterday, the Senate voted 74-8, with 18 senators abstaining, in favor of moving forward with legislation to extend three of the most controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance powers for four more years, without any modifications. By contrast, the Senate has had to pull a small business jobs bill and two of Obama's judicial nominees from the floor after the Republicans mounted successful filibusters.Read Full Article Comments (2)
Republicans took over the House on promises to cut pork spending and eliminate earmarks. But according to Donna Casatta at the Associated Press, some of the Republican House freshmen whose elections were premised on these promises are now pushing additions to the Defense Authorization bill that are designed to direct federal funds to corporations and defense interests in their districts. "The additions look suspiciously like the pet projects that Republicans prohibited when they took over the House and that the new class of lawmakers, many with tea party backing, swore off in a promise to change Washington's spending habits," writes Casatta.Read Full Article Comments (12)
Back in February, Congress passed a three-month extension of three of the PATRIOT Act's most controversial surveillance programs, with Homeland Security Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman [I, CT] saying the short extension would give them time to hold a full-fledged debate before passing a longer extension. Well, the three-month bill is set to expire at the end of the month, and, sure enough, on the calendar for both chambers this week is legislation to extend the surveillance programs for four more years, without any modifications. Below is the ACLU summary of the programs, plus complete floor calendar information for the Senate and the House.Read Full Article Comments (9)
We already know that the House Republicans support increasing the debt limit. All but four of them recently voted in favor of a budget blueprint that calls for adding $9 trillion to the debt subject to limit over the next decade. Yet somehow they have convinced Obama and the Democrats that they have to get something in return, like spending cuts that make tax increases less likely, in exchange for actually voting for the debt limit increase they've already endorsed.Read Full Article Comments (68)
One might think the recent killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan would lead to more talk in Congress about winding down the war in Afghanistan, and to some extent it has. Rep. Chellie Pingree [D, ME-1], for example, is petitioning for an accelerated withdrawal. But the Republican House leadership, which is really the locus of Congress' decision-making as a whole, is pushing in the other direction. They are using the must-pass 2012 Defense Authorization Act as a vehicle to expand the President's authority to use military force against virtually anybody suspected of terrorism, anywhere in the world, at any time.Read Full Article Comments (8)
Senate Republicans may be using a faulty argument about gas prices going up if we end oil subsidies as an excuse for protecting some of their biggest corporate donors, but Democrats don't seem to be taking the issue much more seriously. By bringing up a bill to end subsidies and effectively increase the corporate tax rate on U.S. oil companies, they're only setting up a campaign talking point, not doing actual policy work. The bill is flat-out unconstitutional, and they know it.Read Full Article Comments (8)
The Senate is set to begin debate this afternoon on the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act. The bill repeal five tax breaks that Congress has enacted over the years to encourage oil companies to drill off of America's shorelines, and it would close a loophole that U.S. oil companies have been using to disguise foreign royalty payments as taxes and deduct them from their domestic tax bill. All savings would be used to balance the budget and pay down the debt. Despite expert analysis showing that the bill would not increase gas prices and may actually increase domestic oil production, Republicans are planning to vote against it.Read Full Article Comments (7)
Even as the economy slowly recovers and new jobs are created, millions of the hardest hit unemployed continue to be left behind. In April, the number of unemployed workers who have been without a job for more than two years increased by 21,000 to 14.5% of all unemployed. As Lauren Victoria Burke reported recently following a meeting between Barack Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus, the very-long-term unemployed are being shut out of the conversation because their growing numbers contradict the economic picture the President is trying to paint:Read Full Article Comments (6)
After all the non-serious legislating the House of Representatives accomplished last week -- by that I mean passing bills that were designed purely for politics, not affecting policy -- they decided to just stay home this week. The House is taking their third week of vacation time in the past five weeks, and when they come back into session again they'll be there for just one week before going on vacation again Meanwhile, the debt ceiling has officially been surpassed. The federal government is now borrowing more money to execute the laws than the amount Congress has allowed it to borrow. The Treasury Department says they have a couple months worth of stalling tactics to make sure we don't actually default. But if Congress doesn't get to Washington and figure out a way to pass a debt ceiling increase soon, we risk defaulting on our international financial obligations and destroying our creditworthiness for decades to comes.Read Full Article Comments (2)
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.Read Full Article Comments (10)
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."Read Full Article Comments (76)
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.Read Full Article Comments (7)
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:
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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.