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For years, congressional Republicans have held back the Democrats' leading labor bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, by arguing that it goes against the basic democratic value of free and fair elections by allowing workers to unionize without holding a secret ballot election. Now that they have a majority in one chamber of Congress and more control of the legislative calendar, however, they're pushing anti-union legislation that would undermine the concept of fair elections by counting workers who don't show up to vote in union elections as votes against forming unions.

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Dems Cave on Government Funding

March 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When Congress comes back from vacation tomorrow, it's going to be another mad rush to keep the government up and running. This time, they have until April 8th to strike some kind of deal, either short-term or for the rest of the fiscal year. So far Democrats and House Republicans are about $50 billion off on how much they'd like to cut below non-security discretionary spending from fiscal year 2010, but according to reports, the Democrats are prepared to move further in the Republicans' direction.

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Back when Barack Obama was a member of the Senate, he had a reputation as a sharp critic of the expansion of presidential powers. For example, when the Bush Administration was looking into expanding the Iraq war into Iran, Obama introduced a resolution stating that Congress would have to authorize military action in Iran in order for it to be lawful. "Any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress," the resolution reads. It goes on to declare that no executive orders or laws previously adopted by Congress should be construed to authorize or encourage the use of military force in Iran.

But now that he is President, Obama doesn't seem to believe any longer that he needs the authorization of Congress to go to war. On Saturday, March 19, just as Congress was scheduled to go on vacation, he unilaterally authorized the U.S. military to lead a UN coalition in missile attacks on Libyan military infrastructure and troops that pose a threat to the rebel opposition.

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Congressional Budget Would Defund Open Gov Data

March 24, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

 

Of all the federal government's investments, none have more potential to increase efficiency, save taxpayers money and stoke private-sector innovation than the E-Government Fund. The fund was created by Congress in 2002 to help bring agencies into the 21st century, both in how they use technology internally and how they disseminate government information to the public. Many of the initiatives begun by the fund are just now getting under way, but, unfortunately, when Congress passes their next budget, they may face termination. As Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation reports, the FY 2011 continuing resolution that Democrats and Republicans are currently working on would nearly eliminate the fund:

 

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Defunding Libya

March 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When Congress comes back from recess they're going to have about a week and a half to pass another stopgap bill to prevent the government running. If the military operation in Libya are still going on at that point, as many expect they will be, the bill, which is considered a "must pass," will give Congress an opportunity to use their authority over federal budget to wind it down. That effort is going to be led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D, OH-10], who announced his intention to introduce a defund Libya amendment in a "Dear Colleague" letter yesterday:

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Progress for 99ers Legislation

March 22, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Reps. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] have been hustling on the Hill to help the long-term unemployed. Since they introduced their bill to extend unemployment insurance to the approximately 3.9 million people who have been out of work for more than two years and have exhausted their benefits -- so-called "99ers" -- they have almost doubled their list of co-sponsors. And now they've secured a meeting with the Republican House leadership to discuss ways that the bill could be offset and, presumably, moved ahead in the legislative process.

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Since the mid 90s, federal death penalty statutes have been slowly but steadily expanding to include more and more offenses within their reach. With the committee-amended PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill that's headed for floor votes in the next few weeks, Congress appears ready to expand the death penalty once again. This time, they're looking at applying the death penalty to people convicted of providing material support for acts of terrorism that result in deaths.

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Should Congress Have Been Consulted Re: Libya?

March 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Over the weekend the U.S. military has been participating in airstrikes against the Libyan government, bombing Libyan air defense sites in order to enforce a no-fly zone, tanks near Benghazi in order to protect rebel soldiers, and, most recently, Gadhafi's command center in Tripoli. Whether or not the attacks will directly target Libyan ground forces has yet to be seen. The attacks, known as operation Odyssey Dawn, are being carried out under the UN Security Council resolution that backs the use of military force to prevent the Libyan government from using their military to attack civilians. But some members of Congress, from both parties, see the attacks as an unlawful breach of Congress' power to declare war, and some are going as far as calling for impeachment.

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Each week, we'll be going through all of the comments posted to OpenCongress over the past week and picking out a handful of particularly popular, insightful and timely ones to bump up to the OpenCongress Blog. OpenCongress users leave hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of comments each week, creating a treasure trove of political thought from around the country and around the partisan spectrum that reflects the moods and topics of the day. This week users focused on defunding NPR, the unemployment crisis, repealing the health acre reform law, and more. Get involved by commenting on bills, articles, senators and representatives, and rate other users' comments, to influence what gets highlighted here each week.

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Sunlight Foundation reports that the bill to defund NPR that the House is set to pass this afternoon violates the Republicans' pledge to make all legislation publicly available online at least 72 hours prior to being voted on. In this case, the bill was only available to the public and Congress for less than 48 hours before the vote. And, of course, it hasn't had a single committee hearing or mark-up, and it's being brought to the floor under a closed rule that limits debate to one hour and does not allow amendments.

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Republicans Stand Up for Rich Farm Owners

March 16, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When the farm bill comes up for renewal next year, reform-minded lawmakers will get another chance to rein in the billions in subsidies that too often flow to millionaire farm owners in Manhattan who don't need them. But even with both parties looking to support budget cuts wherever possible these days, reforming the farm bill is going to be an uphill battle.

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Rushing to Defund Public Radio

March 16, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

House Republicans today are kicking off a new push to block federal funding for NPR and NPR affiliate stations. They're using the controversy stirred up by an activist's doctored "sting" video to call an emergency meeting of the Rules Committee this afternoon to bring legislation to the floor that would eliminate all federal funding for "non-commercial, educational radio," permanently. The bill, H.R.1706, hasn't received a single hearing and it has not gone through the committee mark-up process that is where most of the real work on bills typically takes place. It's been drafted in the past few days since the video broke and it's being rushed to a vote while the controversy is still hot.

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Republicans in Congress have moved one step closer to taking away the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that are responsible for climate change. This afternoon, by a vote of 34-19, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the so-called Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 that would amend the Clear Air to state that seven specific greenhouse gases, plus "any other substance subject to, or proposed to be subject to, regulation, action, or consideration under [the Clean Air Act] to address climate change," are not "air pollutants," and, therefore, can not be regulated by the EPA. The bill now goes to the full House for a vote on passage.

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The open amendment process that House Republicans used to create their 2011 budget bill had its benefits. For example, it allowed a bipartisan group of rank-and-file Reps. to stand against party leadership and strip out funding for a costly alternative engine program for a fighter jet that the Air Force itself says is unnecessary. On the other hand, it gave members who were looking to fulfill promises to powerful political interests a platform to do so. The policy riders that were added to the budget bill are keeping Congress bogged down with stopgap funding to keep the government from shutting down and preventing them from engaging in serious negotiations over funding levels for the rest of the year. That in turns means there's no time to work on other important issues, like job creation and long-term debt reduction.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

March 13, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Another week, another scramble in Congress to pass a funding bill to keep the government from shutting down. This time, they're looking at a three-week stopgap bill that would cut about $2 billion per week from 2010 funding levels by essentially accelerating cuts that have been proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. With bipartisan support on the specifics and a general preference among all to keep the government from shutting down, the bill is expected to pass in both chambers by wide margins and be signed into law before thethe current stopgap runs out on Friday. After that, House Republicans are planning votes on eliminating federal funding for NPR and canceling more housing programs. Click through for full details and links to learn more.

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