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Following last month's 60 Minutes expose on insider trading by Congress, the House Financial Service Committee Act is holding a mark-up this morning of the STOCK Act, which seeks to end the practice of members of Congress trading stocks based on nonpublic information. Under current law, insider trading laws are hardly ever enforced for members of Congress, and we've known for some time that members' investments consistently outperform the market by a significant amount. Legislation to stop congressional insider trading has been pending in the House and Senate for 6 years, and only now is the bill starting to move forward.

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Third Time's a Charm?

December 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Democrats have released details of their third attempt to get Republicans on board for two major pieces of the Obama jobs bill -- extending the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment insurance for another year, . According to a press release from Sen. Robert Casey [D, PA], the new proposal would reduce the overall cost of the plan by about $80 billion by letting payroll tax holiday expire for employers' contributions. Workers would still get a 50 percent reduction in the amount of payroll taxes they would have to pay normally.

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OpenGovernment.org blog post on VoxPopuLII

December 5, 2011 - by David Moore

I'm pleased to have been asked to contribute a blog post on our work with OpenGovernment.org to VoxPopuLII, a legal research blog. Published today. Topics include the following: visceral contemporary public distrust of government; improved policy outcomes through deliberative democracy; mitigating systemic corruption through radical transparency; how researchers can use OpenGovernment to find & cite official bill text & legislative actions; OG's #opengov data partners & NGO allies; and our vision of making civic engagement as easy as using your favorite social networking service. Hope you'll read the post, click through for more info about it and a preview of what I think is its most share-able content.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

December 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After a pair of failing votes last week -- one on a Democratic plan and one on a Republican plan -- the Senate will pick up will they left off on trying to extend several programs that are set to expire at the end of the month, including the payroll tax holiday, extended unemployment insurance, and more. Both Republicans and Democrats say they want to extend the programs, but they disagree about how to pay for them. According to Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND], the Democrats are will be introducing a new plan today to be voted on in the first half of this week. No info on the details yet, but Conrad says it "will be paid for in a way that's credible and serious."

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On Thursday night the Senate passed the 2012 Department of Defense Authorization bill, including a provision allowing for indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens, by a vote of 93-7. The top-rated user comment on OpenCongress, from bpitas, does a good job explaining why the bill has just 2% support among the OpenCongress community:

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Who Writes the Bills Anyways?

December 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Ahead of the December 15 Judiciary Committee markup, the corporate sponsors of the SOPA web censorship bill are making some last minute tweaks to the legislative language:

The Motion Picture Association of America is willing to change some of the language to tone-down the controversial, much-maligned Stop Online Piracy Act that it supports, according to a report in the New York Times late Wednesday.

MPAA exec Michael O'Leary said in an afternoon press call that the agency “will come forward with language that will address some of the legitimate concerns,” of those opposed to the bill, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Zynga and myriad other Web companies and advocacy groups.

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With the new year quickly approaching, the single most important thing for Congress to do (besides keep the government funded) is to reauthorize the federal extension of unemployment insurance. If they don't, more than 2 million unemployed people will lose their benefits by mid-February and the drag on demand for goods and services would hit the economy quickly and could send us back into a recession.

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Read the Military Detention Bill

November 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The 2012 Defense Department Authorization bill that the Senate is working on this week contains a provision that would authorize the U.S. military to indefinitely detain, without charge or trial, anyone they consider to be engaged in hostilities against the United States. The provision would not restrict military detentions to people in specific countries or regions of the world and would apply to U.S. citizens living within the United States. 

With the social uprisings taking place around the world, including the Occupy movement, the relevant and important question here is if this could be used to attempt to justify military suppression of constitutionaly-protected political activity. Could the military use this to power to essentially disappear U.S. citizens with inconvenient views? As always, it's not the intention of the legislators that ultimately matters, it's the legislative text and it's interpretable potential for as long as it may stand as law. Therefore, I'm posting the legislative text of the provision below for you to read for yourself:

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The bill to give corporations and the government new powers to block websites without having to seek court approval is expected to be voted on in the Senate in the next few days or weeks. The PROTECT-IP Act, which is companion legislation to the House's SOPA, has already been voted out favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee and can be called to the floor for a vote any day.

According to folks in D.C., Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is planning to promote it on the floor by giving it the bogus label of "jobs bill." We've already seen this strategy used succesfully by congressional leaders this year to pass big-business handouts (e.g. patent reform legislation and free trade deals) despite the fact that independent analysis shows that they will stifle small-business innovation and kill more jobs than they create. Let's stop them from doing it again with internet censorship. 

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Congress Kept in the Dark About Massive Fed Bailouts

November 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

A major new report from Bloomberg, drawn from nearly 30,000 pages of Fed documents obtained via FOIA, sheds some new light on why Congress' response to the too-big-to-fail problem in financial markets was legislation that allowed the biggest banks to grow even bigger. According to the report, the Federal Reserve and big banks worked in concert throughout the financial crisis to manipulate investors, regulators, and lawmakers by covering up trillions of dollars in Fed loans and guarantees while simultaneously lying about being healthy. As Bloomberg puts it: "While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger."

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The Week Ahead in Congress

November 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

While the House continues their "fall jobs agenda," which consists of passing anti-regulations bills that the Senate will never touch, the Senate is moving bipartisan legislation to give the military new powers to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely, without charge or trial.

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Why SOPA and PROTECT-IP Are So Hard to Kill

November 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Last week an unprecedented coalition of tech companies, internet users, and public-interest groups came together to fight legislation that would give corporations and the government new powers to censor the internet. The numbers are impressive -- in just one day more than 1 million emails were sent to Congress and 88,000 phone calls were placed to representatives. But despite this viral, grassroots effort, the special interests behind the legislation are still winning. They have spent years working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill to assemble an extensive, bipartisan network of powerful lawmakers, and they are perfectly positioned to see the bill passed and signed into law this session.

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Supercommittee Failure and Stimulus

November 22, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

While the failure of the supercommittee may be a good thing for long-term deficit reduction, it's not great for what Congress should really be working on -- supporting the economic recovery in the near term. There was some hope that if the supercommittee reached a deal, it would include an extension of some of the fiscal stimulus measures that are set to expire at the end of December. With no deal, the route to sustaining these measures is more difficult, and that threatens the small gains in employment we've seen in recent months.

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Supercommittee to Admit Failure

November 21, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

There was never any reason to think that giving and inordinate amount of power to a subset of Congress split between the two parties would somehow solve the partisan dispute over whether or not to raise taxes. So it's not surprising to read that with just a few days left before their deadline, discussions have turned to how to announce their failure:

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Join the Public Mark-up of SOPA

November 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As you have probably heard, Congress is working with Big Content companies and unions to quickly pass legislation that would give corporations and the government new powers to take down websites and censor the web. Public-interest groups have been trying to get a seat at the table to explain why the bill is maybe not such a great idea, but so far they've been shut out.

The bill is the Stop Online Piracy Act, and in response to the closed nature of how it's being pushed through Congress, we've been encouraging folks to join in an ongoing public mark-up of the legislation here on OpenCongress. Using our in-line bill text commenting functionality, OpenCongress users have submitted over 100 public comments to specific lines and paragraphs of the bill. People are flagging important sections of the text, helping each other digest the legalese, and collaboratively analyzing the implications of what is being proposed.

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