114th Congress: We're updating with new data as it becomes available.

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Slow and Unresponsive

April 4, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Roll Call has a good piece today on the "glacial" pace of the 112th Congress so far and the fact that it's going to get even slower from here on out. The problem, of course, is that neither the Republicans who control the House or the Democrats who control the Senate are working with an eye towards the other chamber. Particularly in the House, the legislative docket is being used more as a political platform than a means to make laws and solve the problems facing the nation.

"Where are the jobs?" is, of course, the relevant question here. So far this year we've seen votes on divisive program cuts, stopgap bills to patch the budget, extending the government's spying powers, and somecheap fluff, but there's been no honest work on legislation addressing the jobs crisis that could pass both chambers and actually help people. Below is a list of the bills that have been signed into law so far this year. We're facing a deeper and longer lasting jobs crisis than anything we've seen since the Great Depression, but you wouldn't know it looking at the output of the federal legislature:

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With the self-avowed nonpartisan Tea Party fueling the surge of activism that helped Republicans win the House in the 2010 elections, most pundits assumed the freshmen class would be more independent of party leadership and steer the Republican caucus in a new, more traditionally conservative, direction. However, a month and a half into the 112th Congress, the data suggests that the freshmen class has in fact made the House Republicans a more loyal caucus than it would be without them.

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The first ten bills of the 112th Senate

January 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate held their first real legislative day of the session yesterday, which means they finally began formally proposing legislation to deal with over the next two years. In total, senators from both parties introduced 201 bills on the first day. Among them were Senate bills 1-10, which are customarily reserved for the Majority Leader to use for laying out the majority's legislative goals for the session, ordered by priority from highest (S.1) to lowest (S.10). Take a look.

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The new Congress is here, which means it's time for us to start holding them accountable. Over on the OpenCongress Wiki, we've got profiles of each of the 100+ members of the freshman class of 2012, and we need your help to track all the promises and positions they took during the campaign. Take, for example, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R, IN-08), pictured at right... click through to the full article below for some biographical background and policy positions that puts him in helpful context.

Our first task for researching the Class of 2012 is simply finding out what they look like. Help out your fellow citizens by finding pictures of the freshman members on the Web and uploading them to OpenCongress Wiki here. It's easy and has the immediate gratification of seeing the photo all over our site!

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112th Congress: Day One

January 4, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The new, 112th Congress officially begins today, and for the first time since 2006, the Republicans will be in control of one of the chambers. Having netted 63 House seats in the November midterms, the Republicans are going into this session with a solid 242-193 majority over the Democrats. In the Senate however, the Democrats have managed to hold onto control and will gavel-in with 53 seats to the Republicans' 47.

This will be the first session of Congress with the two chambers split between the two major parties since the 99th, which took place during years 5 and 6 of the Reagan Administration. During that session, Democrats and Republicans teamed up to pass a landmark deficit-reducing bill that, after a couple revisions, helped to take what was at the time a record federal deficit and produce the budget surpluses of the late 1990s. The Republicans in the Senate also used that pesky budget reconciliation process to pass a health care bill that protects people who lose their jobs from also losing their insurance coverage. And guess what else ...they also passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

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Congressional committees are where the most important legislating happens. It's where the big decisions about the scope of bills are made and it's the only step in the legislative process where senators and representatives engage in genuine back-and-forth discussion of issues. The mark-up process is also where activists and members of Congress have the best shot at influencing legislation. Despite all this, the committee process has long lagged far behind the rest of congressional activity in matters of openness and transparency.

Fortunately, the Republican House rules package that will be voted on on Wednesday will make some changes to how committees operate that, if implemented properly, could help open up this critical step of the legislative process.

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Getting Ready for the New Congress

January 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

We're now just two days away from the beginning of the 112th Congress and the new Republican House majority. While the Republicans have already announced some details about their first few actions, full legislative information for the new session is not yet available. On Wednesday morning we'll be clearing our database of bills information from the 111th Congress to make way for the new data, but, like in 2009, some of the first legislative actions are going to happen without any opportunity for the public or most members of Congress to review the actual documents or submit feedback.

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For today's updates, surf along with our micropublishing account. Man there is some good content there this morning... a WSJ profile of Rep. Boehner, a Politifact take-down of misinformation that circulates via viral e-mails, pleasantly substantive political analysis of this past session of Congress from Ezra Klein at the WaPo, always more...

The next session of Congress will be the first session with the chambers split between the Democrats and the Republicans since 1985. At this point, I'd say the few potential issues with bipartisan appeal that could get done in the next session include: improving the nation's food safety system, creating a new federal cybersecurity infrastructure, expanding offshore drilling, dealing with the China currency issue, and probably a few other marginal issues. Another big question is going to be if the parties can come together on structural reforms like revising the filibuster rules in the Senate or changing the way federal campaigns are financed. I'm not banking on any progress on these issues, but they really are the wild cards in all this. They're not necessarily partisan issues, they have broad appeal with voters, and they would forever change the way Congress (an institution with a 10% public approval rating) works.

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