5 Popular Bills That Didn't Become Law, But Will be Back in the 111thDecember 15, 2008 - by Donny Shaw
The 110th session of Congress has ended, but that doesn’t mean that all the energy and attention people have paid to bills in Congress that didn’t pass will be abandoned.
Many of them will be reintroduced next year in the 111th session of Congress (with new numbers) and will build off of the support they have gained these past two years and in previous sessions. Here are a handful of the most popular bills in Congress, according to the OpenCongress Battle Royale, that didn’t make it into law this session, but but will continue to be major focal points for the public’s interest in legislation at the federal level:
1. H.R.5843 – Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults
By far, this is the most popular bill on OpenCongress that did not become law during the last session. Co-sponsored by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), the bill would remove federal criminal penalties for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana or the nonprofit transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana. The bill would not change federal laws banning cultivation, import, export, or for-profit sale of marijuana, and it would not change any state laws on the subject.
This bill has a serious uphill battle to climb if it’s going to pass in the next session of Congress and get signed into law by a President Obama. Frank and Paul only have 6 other members of the House co-sponsoring the bill with them, and so far nobody has come forward in the Senate to introduce a version of the bill. Plus, even though President-elect Barack Obama has waffled on the issue for the past few years, last March he firmly came out against decriminalizing marijuana once and for all.
But the public’s support for decriminalization is increasingly substantial and the issue isn’t going to fade any time soon. Marijuana-related ballot measures fared very well in the November elections, and in the past few days, the Obama-Biden Transition team’s website, Change.gov, launched a feature called “Open for Questions,” which was swamped with questions about marijuana and drug policies. In fact the most popular question was this: “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?” Watch the Change.gov blog for an answer to be posted in the next dew days.
2. S.185 – Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007
The Bush Administration’s suspension of Habeas Corpus is one of the most controversial aspects of their legacy in the War on Terror. Simply put, Habeas Corpus is a centuries old law that is included in the U.S. Constitution allowing prisoners to have the legitimacy of their detention reviewed by a court of law.
Expect this bill to pass quickly in the next session of Congress. Besides being an original co-sponsor of the bill, President-elect Obama made the restoration of habeas corpus a major component of his campaign platform.
Plus, the votes will almost definitely be there in the Senate for this to pass. Last year it passed the Judiciary Committee with an 11-8 vote split almost perfectly along party lines, but with Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, the bill’s primary sponsor, joining Democrats to vote for it. If Al Franken is declared the winner in Minnesota’s Senate race and the Democrats have a 59-seat majority, Specter will give them the 60th vote they will need to overcome a Republican filibuster. And even if Franken doesn’t win, Democrats will most likely be able to pick off an additional Republican since it will no longer be a vote against President Bush, but an ingratiating vote with a popular new President Obama.
3. S.2433 – Global Poverty Act of 2007
Here’s an interesting one. The Global Poverty Act is the third most popular bill according to OpenCongress users that may come back next session, but it’s also the number-one most opposed bill on OpenCongress, with more than two times the number of “nay” votes as the next most unpopular bill.
The bill, which was sponsored in the Senate by Barack Obama, calls on the United States to develop and implement a strategy to achieve a set of global poverty reduction goals, including one that was established at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. According to the bill’s summary, the goals of the strategy should be “the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day.”
The blogosphere has been abuzz for months about how the bill would impose a new “global tax” on Americans. You can see a snapshot of it here on the bill’s blog coverage page. Critics, such as the Republican National Committee, claim that the bill will cost $845 billion to implement, while the the Congressional Budget Office says that it will cost less that $1 million per year.
The House passed a version of the bill last September by unanimous consent. This has been a key piece of legislation for Barack Obama, and we can expect that another member of the Senate will pick up the torch and reintroduce it in the next session. Chances for this passing next session seem pretty good, but don’t expect it to happen without an enormous fight.
4. H.R.5353 – Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008
This is one of several net neutrality bills that was introduced in the 110th session of Congress. Net neutrality is a principle that seeks to keep the internet free and open so that all kinda of users are able to operate online on a level playing field. For example, the net neutrality principle opposes internet service providers’ efforts to degrade connection speeds for users that can’t afford to pay a premium like wealthier users can.
Specifically, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act would expand the scope of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to respond to violations of net neutrality principles as they arise. The bill lays out four principles of net neutrality and proposes them as official policy of the United States. They can be read here.
President-elect Obama has been a huge supporter of net neutrality. Besides being an original co-sponsor of net neutrality legislation in the Senate, he made it a key part of his platform during the presidential campaign. “I am a strong supporter of net neutrality,” Obama said in October 2007. “What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says [Internet providers] should be able to be gatekeepers and able to charge different rates to different websites…so you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you’d be getting rotten service from the mom and pop sites. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet – which is that there is this incredible equality there…as president I’m going to make sure that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward.”
Expect this bill, or one of the other net neutrality bills in the 110th Congress, to come back next year for votes in the Senate and House, and probably to get signed into law.
5. H.R.2755 – Federal Reserve Board Abolition Act
Here’s a popular bill on OpenCongress from the most popular member of the House, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). I think the bill title speaks pretty well for itself, but here’s an excerpt from the bill text just for the sake of excessive clarity: “In General- Effective at the end of the 1-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and each Federal reserve bank are hereby abolished.”
Ron Paul’s remarks in the congressional record upon his initial introduction of the bill in 2002 is probably the best place to look for background on why he believes the Federal Reserve is a crucial ingredient in the country’s economic troubles. “From the Great Depression, to the stagflation of the seventies, to the burst of the dotcom bubble last year, every economic downturn suffered by the country over the last 80 years can be traced to Federal Reserve policy,” stated Paul. "The Fed has followed a consistent policy of flooding the economy with easy money, leading to a misallocation of resources and an artificial “boom” followed by a recession or depression when the Fed-created bubble bursts."
While I don’t expect the Democratic 111th Congress to be taking up too many bills from Ron Paul, I do think that his ideas will serve an increasingly major role in American politics for years (and sessions of Congress) to come. He did, after all, predict the current financial crisis earlier than just about anyone else in government.
Later this week I’ll be looking at some unpopular bills that we can expect will return in the 111th. Grab our RSS feed and stay tuned…