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Congress Is On Vacation, Democracy Isn't

August 9, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Frustrated by what you’ve seen from Congress lately? When they return from recess in September, Congress will face more critical votes on some of the biggest issues — the Iraq war, health care for children, amending the FISA bill, among others. Now is the perfect time to get in contact them and let them know what you, as voting constituents, want them to do. (Yes, Hill staffers are still at their offices in D.C. and as ready as always to take your calls).

The War in Iraq

In September, Congress will vote to approve, or not approve, more funding for the war in Iraq. This will be another chance for lawmakers who oppose the war to enforce a date for U.S. troops to be withdrawn. To see how your senators and representatives voted the last time a firm withdrawal date was proposed, see these roll call votes: vote on H.R.1591 passage in the Senate and the House.

If they voted “Aye,” they voted to require U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by September 1, 2008. Give them a call to let them know that you want them to vote for withdrawal in September, or to urge them not to change their position. You can find the phone numbers of their offices here.

Children’s Health Care

Before leaving for August recess, The House and Senate approved bills to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which provides health care to children who are not poor enough to receive Medicaid, but can’t afford private insurance. Congress still has to combine the Senate and House bills into one proposal before sending it to President Bush, who has threatened to block it with a veto. FamiliesUSA explains what has to be worked out when they come back:

>The House version of the bill (the CHAMP Act) provided more funding than the Senate version, with $50 billion over five years funded by raising the federal tobacco tax by 45 cents and phasing out overpayments to private managed care plans in Medicare. The Senate bill increased spending by only $35 billion over five years, funded by raising the federal tobacco tax by 61 cents, but the bill was able to garner a veto-proof majority with 68 Senators—Democrats and Republicans—voting in our favor.

If the conference committee, the select group of lawmakers who will meet to iron out the bills’ differences, stay close to what the Senate bill proposes, there is a chance that the House can gather a veto-proof majority when they vote on final passage. Some lawmakers think that Bush will back off his veto threat if Congress shows enough support fro the program, even if they aren’t veto-proof. If you support the expansion of S-CHIP, contact your senators and representatives and urge them to support the Senate’s more-modest proposal — it represents the best chance of Congress getting any expansion to take effect. You can see how they voted here: roll call in the Senate and House.

Health care advocacy group FamiliesUSA also has a form email that you can easily send to your elected officials in Washington. Again, you can find their numbers here.

Warrantless Wiretapping

The last thing Congress did before leaving was to approve a bill that allows the White House to eavesdrop on communications involving U.S. citizens without first seeking a warrant. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is saying that she wants to take corrective action to amend this bill as soon as possible once Congress reconvenes.

You can call your senators and representatives to tell them how you feel about this issue, or send a form email provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation telling them that you want the legislation repealed.

Your Issues

No matter what you care about, Congress is almost certainly considering bills that effect your issues. To find out what actions are being taken on the issues that matter most you, run a search on OpenCongress. You may be surprised to learn what’s being considered (for example, fashion design , telecommunication, firearms, sports, etc).

Call your representatives and senators and urge them to sign on as a co-sponsor to bills that you care about, start a blog and add to the conversations happening on OpenCongress bill pages, or monitor your issues and elected officials by subscribing to our RSS feeds and vote them out in the next election if they don’t represent you.

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