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5 Unpopular Bills That Will be Back in the Next Session of Congress

December 18, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Following up on my post earlier in the week, here’s a rundown of some of the most opposed bills from the last session of Congress, according to the Battle Royale, that people will be continuing to fight against as the next session begins in January.

1. S.2433 – Global Poverty Act of 2007

Barack Obama’s Global Poverty Act of 2007 is by far the most unpopular bill on OpenCongress. It has more than twice as many “nay” votes as than the next most unpopular bill. It also has a lot of “aye” votes, though I think a lot of that support came as a reaction to all the negative attention it has received.

During the presidential campaign, Republicans referred to this bill more than any other to back up their argument that Obama is a big-spending Democrat. It’s big thrust into the spotlight happened this summer when it was lambasted in a widespread Republican National Committee fundraising campaign entitled, “Good for America – or Good for Obama?” Here’s an excerpt:

>It seems the Democrats’ would-be president of the United States of America really believes that the rest of the world’s problems, and approval, trump the interests of Americans when it comes to how we live our lives and where our money is spent.
>A bill he has sponsored in the U.S. Senate, the so-called Global Poverty Act (S. 2433), would raise the amount of American tax dollars allocated to United Nations’ redistribution efforts to $845 billion.
>That’s $2,500 from every American taxpayer, when many in our country already are struggling to make ends meet.

That $845 billion figure comes from a U.N. recommendation that developed countries should spend 0.7 percent of their GDP every year to in order to achieve the Millenium Development Goals, and it has stuck to the bill ever since. Nothing in the bill, however, would actually commit U.S. to any increased spending anywhere near that amount. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office, the non-partisan agency in charge of attaching budget numbers to bills in Congress, found that the Global Poverty Act “would cost less than $1 million per year.“

There is one line in the bill, however, that could possibly lead to increased foreign aid spending. It directs the global poverty reduction strategy to make available “additional overall United States assistance levels as appropriate.” The case could be made that President-elect Obama will use this part of the bill, if passed by Congress, to drastically increase foreign aid. But the bill is clearly focused on finding ways the U.S. can help reduce global poverty without actually spending more money, like improving the effectiveness of development assistance, coordinating our efforts with other countries, mobilizing businesses, NGOs, civil society, and public-private partnerships to help with the effort, and integrating principles of sustainable development.

2. H.R.1955 – Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007

A year ago, it looked like this bill was on the fast track to becoming law and that nothing could be done to stop it, but it stalled out and died in committee after some serious outrage from the blogosphere.

The bill would establish a national commission and a university-based “center of excellence for the study of radicalization and homegrown terrorism in the United States” to assist Federal, State, local and tribal homeland security officials through training, education, and research. But what really raised peoples’ concern is how broadly it defines its terms. It seems to leave interpretation open for the government to label any particularly effective activist or dissident group as terrorists. Here are those definitions, straight from the bill text:

>1) HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- The term ‘homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
>(2) RADICALIZATION- The term ‘radicalization’ means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically-based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.
>(3) IDEOLOGICALLY-BASED VIOLENCE- The term ‘ideologically-based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.

The bill passed the House nearly unanimously, but never made it through the Senate. Expect the bill to be back next year as its main proponents, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), will probably remain the heads of the Senate and House Homeland Security Committees that have jurisdiction over the bill. Rumor has it that Harman is on the short list to be Obama’s CIA Director. At this point nobody knows for sure where Obama stands on the bill and whether or not he would sign it into law, but having Harman in his Cabinet would likely be influential.

3. H.R.6257 – Assault Weapons Ban Reauthorization Act of 2008

This bill, which is sponsored strictly by Republicans, would reauthorize the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004 that prohibited the manufacture, transfer, or possession of semi-automatic “assault weapons.” There is another bill in Congress, sponsored by New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney, that would expand the list of prohibited weapons while renewing the ban. That bill has generally been considered too controversial to pass through Congress, so this bill, being a more passable, Republican-supported alternative, is a serious threat to gun-rights advocates.

Here are a couple of comments from the OpenCongress bill page to give you a sense of the arguments involved in this issue:

>Those using these weapons to break the law, will obviously break the law to acquire them. It is ineffective legislation and only hurts the law abiding citizen.
>The 2nd Amendment gives us the ability to self-defense and protection. But it is also a check for the people against a tyrannical government. Without this basic right, watch many other rights to fall (Those that haven’t already).

>less than 2% of all crimes commited involves rifles and this includes all assult rifles, deer rifles and all the plane ol grany rifles! the bill did not stop anything the last time and it wont do any good this time. If a criminal wants a shorter rifle he doesn’t think about what the atf is going to say he just saws the damn barrel off. they are banning guns on apperance and nothing more, the ar-15 is probably the single most popular hunting rifle today and they are going to ban it. this is crap.

Expect a version of this bill to pass and be signed into law in the next session of Congress. In the Urban Policy section of their website,, The Obama-Biden administration have listed one of their goals as “making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.”

4. S.3111 – Life at Conception Act

Here’s a bill that would ban abortions by defining personhood as beginning at the moment of fertilization, thus making Roe v. Wade irrelevant. As the Supreme Court wrote in their majority opinion, “if this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.” The bill has 13 co-sponsors in the Senate, all Republicans, and a corresponding version in the House with 111 Republican co-sponsors and two Democrats. Here’s an excerpt from the bill text:

>To implement equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person, and pursuant to the duty and authority of the Congress, including Congress’ power under article I, section 8, to make necessary and proper laws, and Congress’ power under section 5 of the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Congress hereby declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being.
>For purposes of this Act:
>>(1) HUMAN PERSON; HUMAN BEING- The terms ‘human person’ and ‘human being’ include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including, but not limited to, the moment of fertilization, cloning, and other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.

With the Democrats’ majorities expanding in both the House and Senate next year and a pro-choice President-elect, this bill isn’t going to make any progress in the legislative process, but it isn’t going to go away entirely either.

5. S.2191 – Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007

This is the climate change bill that Congress brought up for debate in the past session, but didn’t pass out of the Senate. The bill aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by about 63 percent below present levels by 2050 through imposing limits on the emissions that manufacturers and utilities can release. It would also establish a cap-nd-trade program that would encourage businesses to pollute less in the name of profit.

Some of the opposition to this bill comes from people who don’t believe global warming is as bad as what’s been reported, or that greenhouse gases are not the cause, but some of it also come from people who don’t think the bill attacks the problem aggressively enough.

Something similar to the Lieberman-Warner bill will most likely pass Congress and be signed into law during the next session. On, the Obama Transition team has included Implementing “an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050” as part of their energy plan.

Congressional Democrats have already released a draft version (pdf) of cap-and-trade legislation for next year that is stronger than Lieberman-Warner. Like the Obama team’s plan, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The new legislation also includes mechanisms to help limit the overall cost of the program. Businesses would be allowed to bank and borrow credits. And if the cap-and-trade market were to cause energy prices to rise above a certain level, the draft legislation would automatically release additional credits from a “strategic reserve.”

One major issue that is not addressed in the new bill is how the carbon credits will be allocated. Last year’s Lieberman-Warner bill would have given a certain amount of credits away for free initially, rather than selling them at auction, jeopardizing somewhat the economic incentives for reducing pollution. Many environmental advocates believe that, for cap-and-trade to work, the “polluter pays” principle must be fully upheld by charging a price for each and every carbon credit.

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