Just in case you need more evidence that the floor of the House of Representatives has devolved into little more than a political sideshow, let's take a look at how they're allocating their time these days. On Wednesday the Rules Committee got together for 10 minutes to decide that extending the three most controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act would be allowed 1 hour of debate on the floor. The day before that they met for more than an hour and decided to give 9.5 hours of debate to …wait for it... a non-binding resolution directing committees to hold hearings on regulations that businesses don't like.
That's right. One hour for debate on allowing the government to continue demanding that libraries and businesses turn over individuals' private records without being allowed to notify the individual, but 9.5 hours for debating on a non-binding bill requesting committees to hold hearings. One hour for debate on allowing the government to continue using "roving" wiretaps on multiple phones and devices that suspects may possibly use, but 9.5 hours for debating on a non-binding bill requesting committees to hold hearings. One hour for debate on allowing the government to surveil supposed terrorist suspects that aren't part of a terrorist group, but 9.5 hours for debating on a non-binding bill requesting committees to hold hearings. You get the picture.
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Every week, 35,000 unemployed Americans reach the end of their insurance benefits without finding new jobs and join the ranks of a growing group of recession victims known as the "99ers." According to the Congressional Budget Office, there are at least 1.4 million 99ers right now, and with the unemployment rate expected to stay high for several years, it's statistically certain that that number will increase dramatically in the coming months.
Given the facts of the situation, some congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to extend the unemployment insurance lifeline to help relieve the hardship these people are facing. On Wednesday, Rep. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] reintroduced a bill in the new Congress that would add 14 weeks to the current federal unemployment insurance system and provide those benefits retroactively for people who have already exhausted all their benefits. Lee introduced her bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act, with 47 co-sponsors -- all Democrats -- and according to rumors she is already up to 60.Read Full Article
The House Rules Committee met for about 10 minutes yesterday afternoon to decide how to handle the PATRIOT Act extension bill that was defeated earlier this week when the Republicans tried to bring it to the floor under an expedited process with only 40 minutes of debate and no amendments. Their decision, which does not come as too much of a surprise, is to bring the bill back to the floor under a closed rule that will still not allow any amendments and will still keep the debate very brief. The rule, however, will allow for the bill to pass by a simple majority, so unless dozens more members turn against the extension at the last minute, it will pass easily.Read Full Article
Gawker got its hands on a topless photo of Rep. Chris Lee [R, NY-26] that the congressman, who is married, allegedly tried to use to pick up women on Craigslist. According to the report, which is based on information from a woman who Lee had been corresponding with, he described himself as a "divorced" "lobbyists," lied about his age and job, and promised "not to disappoint." For what it's worth, Lee claims that his email account was hacked.
Since you'll undoubtedly be hearing more about this developing scandal, take a second to learn more about exactly who Lee is. From his OpenCongress profile page, you can get a quick bio, learn about what kind of bills he is sponsoring and co-sponsoring, see how he votes, find out who funds his campaigns, and watch videos of him from the House floor and national TV. Oh, and if that picture makes you interested in meeting Lee in the flesh, for whatever reason, here' s a list of parties he's hosting in the coming months.Read Full Article
House Republicans have now lost three straight attempts to pass bills in the past 24 hours.
As you've probably heard already, last night the Republican leadership was caught off guard when 26 of their rank-an-file members joined the Democrats to reject an attempt to extend the PATRIOT Act provisions under an expedited procedure, known as "suspension of the rules," that limits debate and does not allow amendments to be offered. Before that vote, the leadership was forced to pull another bill from the floor that would have provided job training to people who have lost their jobs due to trade issues when it became clear that they didn't have the votes to pass it under the same procedure they tried for the PATRIOT Act bill.Read Full Article
House Republicans tried this evening to pass a bill extending three of the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act by using an expedited procedure that allowed for just 40 minute of debate and no amendments. But the rules of the procedure also required that 2/3rds of the House vote in favor for the extension to pass. So, even though a strong majority of the House voted in favor, they were still 7 votes short and the attempt failed. The bill will, however, be brought back to the floor for another vote under standard rules, probably in the next few days, and since only a simple majority will be needed it is expected to pass then.Read Full Article
When Congress recently agreed to stop earmarking, they of course were not agreeing to deny themselves the ability to load up bills with funding for their favorite pet projects. They were simply agreeing to end the formalized annual process of submitting requests to the appropriations subcommittees to be included in the annual appropriations bills or the accompanying committee reports. The plan now is to just put all their earmark-type stuff in other, non-appropriations bills, and do it without any of the disclosure requirements that came along with the old, formal process.Read Full Article
The House is back in session this week, and they're kicking off their return with a vote on a bill that seems to be popular with members of Congress, in both parties, but hugely unpopular with just about everyone else -- renewing the USA PATRIOT Act. That's right, the Republicans' bill to extend a few controversial surveillance programs that are set to expire at the end of this month (see below for explanation) has been rushed to the floor calendar without a single committee hearing or a proper mark-up. As you can see on the schedule below, they are trying to pass it under the suspension of the rules procedure, which means that there will only be 40 minutes of debate allowed and no amendments can be offered.Read Full Article
Last year, the independent, non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics asked the House Ethics Committee to look into some fishy fundraising activity by three congressmen -- Rep. Joseph Crowley [D, NY-7], Rep. John Campbell [R, CA-48] and Rep. Tom Price [R, GA-6]. The allegation was that they held an unusually high number of campaign fundraising events with Wall Street types in the days leading up to the vote on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and that this may amount to soliciting funds "in a manner which gave the appearance that special treatment or access was being provided to donors or the appearance that the contributions were linked to an official act."
Well, the Ethics Committee has issued their findings, and though they found that staff members were involved in fundraising and fundraising consultants were involved in setting up lobbyist meetings, they didn't see anything wrong with any of it.Read Full Article
House Republicans are backing away from controversial language in their No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act that would change a long-standing exemption in abortion laws that allows federal funds to be used for abortions in the case of rape or incest by requiring that a rape be "forcible" to qualify. According to Politico, the bill's author, Rep. Chris Smith [R, NJ-4], has agreed to amend the bill and remove the language after pro-choice groups and political commentators of all stripes expressed outrage.Read Full Article
In other words, if the Republicans in the House do not pass a debt limit increase, this bill would automatically enforce a deep domestic austerity program. The guiding idea here is to avoid an international default scenario that could permanently destroy U.S. creditworthiness by, apparently, defaulting instead on legal obligations at home, like Social Security payments and benefits for veterans. Toomey himself noted in a recent op-ed that if his bill was triggered, "projects would be postponed, some vendor payments would be delayed, certain programs would be suspended, and many government employees might be furloughed."Read Full Article
Just what does the new Congress look like? A few weeks ago, we asked you to find photos for each of the incoming freshman members of Congress and you delivered. Volunteer located and uploaded headshots for each member and what we can tell you is… Congress remains overwhelmingly male and white. (See all the photos over on the OpenCongress wiki.)Read Full Article