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Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME] is considered one of the Republicans that the Democrats have to get on board to overcome a GOP filibuster and pass the 2011 DoD Authorization bill that includes a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The vote will likely take place this evening, but discussions between Democrats and Collins have hit a wall because Collins wants time to hold an open debate on the bill. The Democrats have offered to allow 15 votes on amendment -- 10 from GOP and 5 from Dems -- but they don't want an open-ended debate because 1) they want to go home and 2) they don't want to allow people like Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK] and Sen. Jim DeMint [R, SC], who are infamous for proposing non-germane amendments, to crash the whole thing over an unrelated poison-pill on sex offenders or something.

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The Senate has a busy afternoon ahead of them. After they finish their morning impeachment trial of a federal judge, they'll move on to a series cloture votes on some fairly significant domestic policy bills that have been kicking around the Senate for the past several years. As a reminder, cloture is a procedural motion to defeat opposition to debating a bill, and it takes 60 votes to pass. It's basically a vote on preemptively defeating a threatened filibuster.

Today's votes are the Democrats' last chance to move these bills past the Republicans before they lose a handful of seats to them in the next session and finding 60 votes on this stuff becomes all but impossible. Let's have a look at what's on the schedule:

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Senate Democrats violated a constitutional provision with their food safety bill by including language that would levy new fees on food facilities as revenue raisers. Under the Constitution, all legislation increasing taxes must originate in the House, and these fees qualify. "By pre-empting the House’s tax-writing authority, Senate Democrats appear to have touched off a power struggle with members of their own party in the House," Roll Call is reporting. "The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the House, but House Democrats are expected to use a procedure known as “blue slipping” to block the bill, according to House and Senate GOP aides."

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On Tuesday afternoon, Democrats called on the Senate to pass the Unemployment Insurance Stabilization Act under the expedited unanimous consent procedure. As expected, Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA], acting on behalf of all Republicans, objected and will force a full-fledged debate on the issue that will likely last several weeks and be rolled together with unrelated tax issues. Federal unemployment benefits expire today for millions of long-term unemployed workers.

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Congress comes back to work today for the first time since the midterms for what is known as a "lame duck" session, a post-election work period with defeated incumbents still in office, but unaccountable, and newly-elected members waiting in the wings. Lame duck sessions have historically been relatively unproductive, but there is a lot that could happen this time and there's a certain unpredictability to lame duck sessions that make it extra important that we pay close attention. Here's a quick look at what Congress might take up in the lame duck.

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First Up for the Lame Duck? Repaying Politcal Favors

November 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

When I posted a link on Twitter on Facebook yesterday to the first bill scheduled for a vote in the Senate lame duck session -- the Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act of 2010 -- people asked a good question: why, given the time restraints and all the important issues that need to be dealt with, is this bill getting the first vote? One possible answer is that the vote is part of a straight-up quid pro quo:

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Reid Promises a Lame-Duck Vote on the DREAM Act

October 31, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

What's actually going to happen in the lame duck session of Congress is still pretty much a mystery. But if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's [D, NV] word is worth anything, we now know for sure at least one bill that will get a vote, and -- no surprise here -- it's one with strong appeal to the Latino voters in Nevada Reid is counting on to help him defeat challenger Sharron Angle on Tuesday.

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We're now a week out from the midterm elections and the election ads are getting nasty. While there are some great tools for tracking election spending (like those from the Sunlight Foundation), we wanted the ability to actually watch these monstrosities and create a permanent archive to hold these groups and politicians accountable, so we created the AdTracker project on OpenCongress.

AdTracker is built on the OpenCongress wiki and complements RaceTracker, which logged the candidates for each seat. It uses the distributed power of direct citizen research to create galleries of viewable campaign ads for every congressional seat. You can, for example, watch the infamous "Aqua Buddha" ad slinging mud at Republican Rand Paul on the Kentucky senate seat ad page. Or, head over to the Nevada senate seat ad page to watch several ads targeting Democrat Harry Reid using pictures of scary-looking immigrants. Because AdTracker is built using forms that anyone can edit, you can also add links to contextual stories, like the fact that most Kentucky voters think the "Aqua Buddha" was in poor taste or that one of those scary immigrant ads attacking Harry Reid was rated "barely true" by Politifact.

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Unemployed Get Organized for a Lame-Duck Fight

October 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The last time Congress tried to extend unemployment insurance it took them 52 days to overcome Republican opposition and pass a bill, causing a six-week lapse in payments for millions of long-term unemployed The time before that it took 28 day and caused a ten-day lapse in payments. Before that, Congress spent 43 days on a bill to add extra weeks, leaving millions of long-term unemployed without a lifeline for more than a month.

When Congress comes back after the midterms, they'll only have a few days to extend federal unemployment insurance to the 8 million or so people who rely on it for paying their bills and feeding their families. This time, the unemployed are getting out ahead with a major campaign to push Congress for an extension well in advance.

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Coburn Joins the Blockade

September 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. Jim DeMint's [R, SC] decision to block all bills not cleared by his office by last night isn't the only thing keeping the Senate from following up on the 372 House-passed bills that are scheduled to die in a few weeks without action. From The Hill:

The feud between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) flared up again Wednesday over Coburn’s objection to a bill protecting sharks.

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DADT, DREAM, and Midterm Politics

September 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

So, moderate Republicans Snowe, Collins (pictured at right) and Brown are all going to vote no today on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the Defense Bill. That means no chance to vote on the DREAM Act and no chance for enacting a "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal.

While some Republicans are certainly being hypocritical in their sudden purity about amendment germaneness and open debates, but the Democrats are also being a little disingenuous here. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] has set particularly stringent limits on how long the pre-midterms Defense bill debate can be and what amendments can be voted on because he wants to leave D.C. as soon as possible to get into full-time campaigning. If he allowed the Defense bill debate to cut a week off of the campaign season, it's likely that there would be enough support in the Senate today to move forward with the bill and, hence, with DADT and the DREAM Act.

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Reid Schedules DREAM Act Vote

September 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Congress enacted a stand-alone border security bill this summer. Now they're going to vote on a bill from the opposite side of the "comprehensive immigration reform" universe -- the DREAM Act -- that would create a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrnts that serve in the military or earn a college degree.

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The History and Future of the Filibuster

August 23, 2010 - by Hilary Worden

The filibuster has a long and controversial history. It's been used (and, quite arguably, abused) by Senators on both sides of the aisle since the time of the Whig Party. After a series of Republican filibusters blocking their legislation, some Democrats are suggesting changes to Senate rules to eliminate or restrict the filibuster.

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Congress Links

July 27, 2010 - by Moshe Bildner

Yesterday, Congress reacted to WikiLeaks' release of classified documents, Democrats made a push to break the Republican filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act, and the heat has gone up on illegal immigration, even as the numbers of immigrants has fallen. Plus, pictured at right, we have explanations of how an ethics trial for Rep. Rangel would work -- see his profile, wiki, official House videos, and latest news coverage from all around the Web. All this and more, click on through.

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Congress Links

July 26, 2010 - by Hilary Worden

Taxes are expected to be a major point of contention in September, Sen. Reid seeks to change filibuster rules, and the first House Democrat calls for Rep. Charlie Rangel's resignation over his recent ethics charges. All this and more in today's Congress Links.

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