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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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Subsidizing the Donor Class

March 8, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Yesterday I wrote about a bill scheduled for a vote this week that would eliminate a program that provides bridge loans to unemployed homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure. The program has $1 billion in total lending authority, and homeowners are required to pay the government back when they become employed again. House Republicans say they're going after the program a matter of fiscal responsibility. But here's the thing -- at the same time that they're trying to cut $1 billion in loans for the unemployed, they're fighting to protect a $100 billion program that provides tax breaks to homeowners, with benefits flowing overwhelmingly and disproportionately to the wealthy.

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One of the foreclosure relief programs that House Republicans are looking to shut down this week has been a widely-recognized failure. It was supposed to provide incentives for mortgage lenders to voluntarily renegotiate loans for underwater homeowners, but it never caught on. The other program, however, hasn't gone into effect yet, but because it doesn't require the cooperation of lenders it's expected to be more successful when it does. The program, which is called Emergency Mortgage Relief, would provide government bridge loans to help unemployed homeowners avoid foreclosures. Since we can't evaluate it in action, here's a closer look at how's it's supposed to work once it starts up.

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Why Congress Doesn't Care About the Unemployed

March 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Nation's Chris Hayes offers a good explanation for why most members of Congress don't seem particularly concerned abut the high rates of unemployment we've been seeing and will probably continue to see for several years:

This disconnect between the jobs crisis in the country and the blithe dismissal thereof in Washington is the most incomprehensible aspect of the political moment. But I think there are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it.

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Unemployment Benefits Info By and For the Unemployed

December 9, 2010 - by Conor Kenny

The unemployed of the "Great Recession" are organizing online at OpenCongress to share resources, support and document what Congress is doing to extend (or not) unemployment benefits.

Here's the state of things in Congress: President Obama and congressional Republicans struck a deal a few days ago that would prolong the current regime of extended unemployment benefits - which last for different lengths for different states, depending on how bad the recession is there - until January 2012. States with the worst unemployment rate would still have a maximum of 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, but the compromise would allow those who have become unemployed in the last 99 weeks to continue receiving unemployment benefits until their time expires. No additional benefits were added; it merely maintained the stimulus-level unemployment benefits until 2012. The extended unemployment benefits were due to expire December 11, 2010. The compromise package also contained a number of tax cuts: a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, a two-year estate tax cut, a two-year temporary cut in the payroll tax rate, equipment-purchase write-offs for businesses and various small-bore tax credits from the stimulus bill. (See this OC blog post for more).

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Since 1977, the Federal Reserve has operated on a dual mandate -- promoting maximum employment and protecting price stability. Some Republicans in Congress are moving to strip the Fed of its unemployment mandate and leave them single-mindedly focused on stopping inflation.

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This afternoon Sen. Debbie Ann Stabenow [D, MI] called for the Senate to pass, under unanimous consent, the "Americans Want to Work Act." The bill would add a fifth tier of unemployment insurance benefits in states with unemployment rates above 7.5%. The fifth tier would give an additional 20 weeks of benefits to unemployed people who have exhausted all of their available unemployment insurance benefits and have not yet found a job.

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Getting Serious About Unemployment

September 27, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

This Wall Street Journal report illustrates why the Democrats are losing the support of the unemployed even though it's the Republicans who have continually stood in the way of extending unemployment benefits:

The Senate will consider a bill this week aimed at discouraging U.S. businesses from outsourcing jobs overseas, a plan that Democrats describe as an effort to fight unemployment but which Republicans deride as a pre-election political maneuver.

Democrats admit they don't have enough votes to defeat a possible attempt by Republicans to block the bill. But they hope that bringing the issue to the Senate floor will underscore their concern about unemployment, now at 9.6%.

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Rep. Berkley Tells 99ers to Keep Waiting

September 23, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Finally, something like a real update for all the 99ers and unemployed exhaustees out there. Unfortunately, it's not very good. Via Arthur Delaney at HuffPo:

Rep. Shelley Berkley [D, NV] has introduced legislation (H.R. 6091) to help the "99ers" -- people who haven't found work after exhausting all 99 weeks of unemployment benefits available in some states -- but her first priority is preserving those 99 weeks.

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The Week Ahead

September 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

I know a lot of you out there are waiting on the Senate to take up legislation extending unemployment insurance to 99ers and other exhaustees, but it looks like this week will instead be used to hold a couple politically-charged votes on a bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] doesn't even plan on finishing until after the November midterms. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the immigration-related DREAM Act are scheduled for debate and votes this week as amendments to the 2011 Defense AUthorization Act, which Reid said on Thursday most likely won't be completed until the lame-duck session.

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Senate Dems Break Small-Business-Jobs-Bill Filibuster

September 14, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Since June 29th, Senate Democrats have been stymied by Republicans on a bill (H.R. 5297) that would give small business $12 billion in tax breaks and a $30 billion lending fund in order to encourage new hiring. Today, a couple Republicans gave in, providing the Democrats the votes they need to overcome GOP opposition and move the bill towards final passage.

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The Week Ahead

September 12, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Time to start paying attention again. It's mid-September, the "August" recess is officially over, and Congress is coming back into session today to get back to taking care of the people's business.

Clearly, there are some enormous issues facing Congress as they return. The unemployment rate is creeping back up (it's at 9.6% and is expected to stay high for some time), long-term unemployment is off the charts, and the expiring 2001 Bush tax cuts need to be dealt with. That's not to mention the 372 bills that this session of Congress has started working on but never finished, which deal with such critical issues as climate change, post-Citizens campaign finance reform, and food safety.

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DADT Ruling Puts Pressure on Congress to Act

September 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

A district court judge in California has preempted Congress and ruled "don't ask don't tell" unconstitutional, calling it a facial violation of the First and Fifth Amendments. Even though President Obama favors repealing the policy, which bans gay men and women from serving openly in the military, the ruling puts the administration in a bit of a bind.

Normally, the President would appeal any district court decision that strikes a federal statute, and, as Jason Mazzone at Balkinization explains, in this case, the administration has additional legal reasons to appeal -- shoring up the requirments of what constitutes a facial challenge, and showing deference to the military in a time of war. On the other hand, Obama and leaders in the military both want the policy repealed, and they are probably worried that Congress won't act on the repeal while the Democrats still hold enough of a majority to get it passed.

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Obama Stimulus Measure Begins Shaping Up

September 7, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

First and foremost, the payroll tax holiday, an idea favored by most Republicans and that probably would have been swallowed without too much bitterness by most Democrats, is now, reportedly, off the table. At this point, here's what the new Obama stimulus package is looking like:

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Economist Susan Woodward considers August to be, typically, "a month of unambiguous employment growth." But according to a report released today that she helped to put together with Intuit Inc., small businesses in August, though still hiring, are adding new employees at the slowest rate since January. According to the report, the number of jobs created in August is only one-third of how many were created in April.

Why the downturn? One possibility is that small business owners have put hiring and expansion on hold while they wait for the Senate to break a Republican filibuster and pass the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010.

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