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While Obama's Bush tax cuts deal stews in the Senate, Democrats in the House are kickstarting a last-ditch effort to pass a repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" before the lame duck session ends. House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer [D, MD-5] and Rep. Patrick Murphy [D, PA-8] are introducing a stand-alone repeal bill today that will be identical in wording to the Senate's stand-alone bill (S. 4023), and they plan on bringing it to a vote in the House Wednesday before they move on to the tax cuts.

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Changing the Senate's Tax Bill

December 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate is now in session and they are about to start voting on Obama's plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income levels in exchange for extending unemployment benefits for 13 months, and some other stuff. It's expected to pass easily and will be sent to the House for follow-up action, probably on Wednesday. House Democrats have pretty much given up on the idea of walking away from the deal, which they almost unanimously disapprove of, and letting the tax cuts expire. Instead they will hold votes on amendments and see if a majority can agree on any changes. If not, they'll pass it as is.

National Journal explains how the House will choose amendments to vote on:

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The Week Ahead

December 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

If congressional leaders have their way, this will be the final week of the 111th Congress. President Obama and most Republicans are hoping the Democrats will end their four years in the majority by passing a full extension of the Bush tax cuts for all income levels. To that end, the Senate is set to take a big cloture vote this afternoon on an amendment to the House's bill to allow the tax cuts to expire for income over $200,000 (H.R. 4853) that would change the bill to extend all the tax cuts, lower the estate tax, extend unemployment benefits, and lots more. If today's vote passes, as is expected, the bill will be sent back to the House by Tuesday evening for follow-up action. That's where things become less clear.

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Hot on the heels of Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee's [D, TX-18] statement Thursday on the House floor that an extension of unemployment insurance for 99ers should be added to Obama's tax deal, the Congressional Black Caucus has announced that adding 99ers relief is essential for winning the support of their members. "The CBC has reached a consensus on three areas that we believe we can unite behind, Rep. Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] said at a press conference on Friday. "First, we support the 13-month extension of unemployment insurance benefits, but we all agree that we also ought to extend benefits for the so called 99ers -- those who are exhausting the benefits they have."

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Finally, a sign that at least someone in the crew of House Democrats leading the revolt against Obama's tax deal with the Republicans is fighting to add additional weeks of unemployment benefits. In a floor speech yesterday calling for "a reasoned conversation," Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [D, TX-18] argued that a middle-income tax relief package should include a new tier of unemployment insurance benefits for those who have exhausted all available benefits. Jackson-Lee is among the 53 Democrats who signed a letter expressing opposition to the Obama tax deal.

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Hollywood, Rum, and Tax Cuts for the Rich

December 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] unveiled the final version of the Obama tax cut deal and scheduled a vote for Monday morning to start the debate. The bill contains all of the big items I outlined earlier this week -- a two-year extension of all Bush tax cuts, one-year extension of unemployment insurance, a payroll tax holiday, etc. -- but it also contains dozens of smaller tax items designed to sweeten the deal and secure support of wavering Democrats. Many of the new tax additions are in the area of renewable energy, which David Dayen point outs is what the Bush Administration put in the TARP bill to get it through the Senate.

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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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House Dems Revolt, Vote Down Obama's Tax Deal

December 9, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Dec. 9th, 10:30 pm ET  - as per the news sources cited on our micropublishing account, the Senate is adjourned until tomorrow, with no roll call votes planned. Sen. Reid announced that a first cloture vote on the tax deal will be held 3pm Monday. As of tonight, Cox radio reporter Jamie Dupree has led the way with his summary of the tax deal.

Earlier: the Senate rejected cloture for the Defense Authorization bill (S. 3454 - aka #NDAA), which includes a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (aka #DADT). Details of how the vote went down on the Twitter machine. 

Full #NDAA roll call details will be available Friday Dec. 10th... there's no technical reason why vote results can't be available in real-time, except that CSPAN and the Library of Congress refuse to make their data fully open. If you appreciate our user-friendly explanations of the baffling vortex that is the U.S. Senate, please make a tax-exempt donation. Updates ongoing tomorrow.

Previously: in a nearly unanimous internal caucus vote this afternoon, House Democrats made it clear that they're not going along with the tax cut deal that Obama has negotiated with Republicans. Click through for the background as we work to make the legislative wrangling of the past 24 hours more clear.

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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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President Obama on Monday announced the "framework" of a deal with congressional Republicans for dealing with the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts. It's a two-year deal, and it includes a bunch of other stuff, all at a cost about $900 billion. None of it is offset, so this will be a direct increase in the deficit. Let's take a look at the specifics of what's included:

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The Week Ahead

December 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Every Monday morning when Congress is in session I post the schedules for the week ahead in the Senate and the House, and I'll do that below with one big caveat: the real action in Congress this week while be the off-the-floor, behind-the-scenes wrangling on extending the Bush tax cuts. Democrats and Republicans are closing in on a deal to extend, temporarily, the Bush tax cuts for all income levels.

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Even as details leak out about a deal in the works between President Obama and both parties in Congress to temporarily extend all of the Bush tax cuts, the Senate was in session Saturday to hold votes on two Democratic proposals on how to deal with the issue. Needless to say, they both failed. But the roll call results tell us a good deal about where the debate over taxes and, more generally, the deficit stands, so let's have a look.

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The 2011 Defense Authorization Act, one of the bills still likely to be voted on in the lame duck session, is 981 pages long and spends $725 billion. Buried deep in the bill, and with the innocuous title, "Reduction of supply chain risk in the acquisition of national security systems," is a provision that would empower the Defense Department to secretly blacklist companies from federal contracts that they deem to pose "an unacceptable supply chain risk." Neither Congress nor the public would be allowed to know who is blacklisted and why.

There's no doubt that reducing risk in the Defense supply chain is a necessary and worthy goal, but this particular arrangement seems absurdly ripe for abuse as it would establish a clear path for anticompetitive influence-peddling and bribery while at the same time restricting the public from the tools they need to hold government officials accountable.

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By now it's a familiar story. Senate Democrats call for a unanimous consent agreement on passing legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits and a single Republican stand up and objects, blocking the bill from passing on behalf of the entire party. It happened on Tuesday and it happened gains yesterday, this time with Sen. John Barrasso [R, WY] doing the GOP's dirty work.

On one level this is the same as ever. Republicans want any unemployment extension to be paid for by rescinding funds from the stimulus and Democrats want to fund the extension with deficit spending in order to get the maximum stimulus effect. What was especially troubling about today's Senate floor action is that it gave us more evidence that, in the midst of an unemployment crisis, some members of Congress may be confused on the basics of federal benefits extensions.

Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post reports:

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