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A reader writes in with a good question. On March 1 Republicans and Democrats in the Senate pulled together to pass a bill that would amend current law so that members of Congress do not receive pay during government shutdowns; why isn't the House acting on this bill so that if a government shutdown does occur Congress will take a pay cut like other federal employees? The answer, of course, is that it has gotten tied up in a ploy to score political points.

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In the midst of the conflict in Libya, the disaster in Japan, and the economic crisis at home that's still very much hitting the poor and middle class, a government shutdown could have dour consequences for the U.S. economy. Consumer confidence is already starting to dip and a shutdown could be just the thing to throw consumers and financial markets into a panic that could push us back into another recession. Yet, with just a handful of legislative days left for Congress to pass a budget and prevent a shutdown, Senate Democrats and the House GOP seem to be moving further apart from a deal. Instead of negotiating, they're preparing for the politics of the shutdown, each trying to pin the pain it would cause on the other party.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

March 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House is just coming back into session from their week off, and in addition to continuing their battle with Senate Democrats on funding the government beyond next week, they'll be voting on terminating another foreclosure program, making it harder for aviation workers to form unions, and more. Take a look at the complete schedule below, click on the bill numbers to learn more about them, then get involved by commenting, sharing and contacting your members of Congress.

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As Congress comes back into session this afternoon to find a way to keep the government up and running, one of the cuts on the table will be the $34-million e-government fund, which finances the federal cloud computing initiative,, and, among other things. If Congress cares about making federal spending more transparent while creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs and making the federal agencies more efficient, they'll restore funding for e-government and ensure that these programs stay alive.

We're happy to have added the Participatory Politics Foundation to an open letter from the Sunlight Foundation calling on House Republicans put the e-government funding back into the continuing resolution for the rest of the fiscal year. More than anything else the government spends money on, the e-government fund has the potential to improve society in profound and unpredictable ways. And it's relatively cheap -- like I said last week, a full year of e-gov costs just one-third of one day of missile attacks in Libya. If you care about keeping the e-gov fund alive, add your name/organization in the comments here and ask your members of Congress to restore full funding for the e-government fund in the FY 2011 continuing resolution and to make the fund a priority in future budgets.

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For years, congressional Republicans have held back the Democrats' leading labor bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, by arguing that it goes against the basic democratic value of free and fair elections by allowing workers to unionize without holding a secret ballot election. Now that they have a majority in one chamber of Congress and more control of the legislative calendar, however, they're pushing anti-union legislation that would undermine the concept of fair elections by counting workers who don't show up to vote in union elections as votes against forming unions.

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Dems Cave on Government Funding

March 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When Congress comes back from vacation tomorrow, it's going to be another mad rush to keep the government up and running. This time, they have until April 8th to strike some kind of deal, either short-term or for the rest of the fiscal year. So far Democrats and House Republicans are about $50 billion off on how much they'd like to cut below non-security discretionary spending from fiscal year 2010, but according to reports, the Democrats are prepared to move further in the Republicans' direction.

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Back when Barack Obama was a member of the Senate, he had a reputation as a sharp critic of the expansion of presidential powers. For example, when the Bush Administration was looking into expanding the Iraq war into Iran, Obama introduced a resolution stating that Congress would have to authorize military action in Iran in order for it to be lawful. "Any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress," the resolution reads. It goes on to declare that no executive orders or laws previously adopted by Congress should be construed to authorize or encourage the use of military force in Iran.

But now that he is President, Obama doesn't seem to believe any longer that he needs the authorization of Congress to go to war. On Saturday, March 19, just as Congress was scheduled to go on vacation, he unilaterally authorized the U.S. military to lead a UN coalition in missile attacks on Libyan military infrastructure and troops that pose a threat to the rebel opposition.

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Congressional Budget Would Defund Open Gov Data

March 24, 2011 - by Donny Shaw


Of all the federal government's investments, none have more potential to increase efficiency, save taxpayers money and stoke private-sector innovation than the E-Government Fund. The fund was created by Congress in 2002 to help bring agencies into the 21st century, both in how they use technology internally and how they disseminate government information to the public. Many of the initiatives begun by the fund are just now getting under way, but, unfortunately, when Congress passes their next budget, they may face termination. As Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation reports, the FY 2011 continuing resolution that Democrats and Republicans are currently working on would nearly eliminate the fund:


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Defunding Libya

March 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When Congress comes back from recess they're going to have about a week and a half to pass another stopgap bill to prevent the government running. If the military operation in Libya are still going on at that point, as many expect they will be, the bill, which is considered a "must pass," will give Congress an opportunity to use their authority over federal budget to wind it down. That effort is going to be led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D, OH-10], who announced his intention to introduce a defund Libya amendment in a "Dear Colleague" letter yesterday:

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Progress for 99ers Legislation

March 22, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Reps. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] have been hustling on the Hill to help the long-term unemployed. Since they introduced their bill to extend unemployment insurance to the approximately 3.9 million people who have been out of work for more than two years and have exhausted their benefits -- so-called "99ers" -- they have almost doubled their list of co-sponsors. And now they've secured a meeting with the Republican House leadership to discuss ways that the bill could be offset and, presumably, moved ahead in the legislative process.

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Since the mid 90s, federal death penalty statutes have been slowly but steadily expanding to include more and more offenses within their reach. With the committee-amended PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill that's headed for floor votes in the next few weeks, Congress appears ready to expand the death penalty once again. This time, they're looking at applying the death penalty to people convicted of providing material support for acts of terrorism that result in deaths.

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Should Congress Have Been Consulted Re: Libya?

March 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Over the weekend the U.S. military has been participating in airstrikes against the Libyan government, bombing Libyan air defense sites in order to enforce a no-fly zone, tanks near Benghazi in order to protect rebel soldiers, and, most recently, Gadhafi's command center in Tripoli. Whether or not the attacks will directly target Libyan ground forces has yet to be seen. The attacks, known as operation Odyssey Dawn, are being carried out under the UN Security Council resolution that backs the use of military force to prevent the Libyan government from using their military to attack civilians. But some members of Congress, from both parties, see the attacks as an unlawful breach of Congress' power to declare war, and some are going as far as calling for impeachment.

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Each week, we'll be going through all of the comments posted to OpenCongress over the past week and picking out a handful of particularly popular, insightful and timely ones to bump up to the OpenCongress Blog. OpenCongress users leave hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of comments each week, creating a treasure trove of political thought from around the country and around the partisan spectrum that reflects the moods and topics of the day. This week users focused on defunding NPR, the unemployment crisis, repealing the health acre reform law, and more. Get involved by commenting on bills, articles, senators and representatives, and rate other users' comments, to influence what gets highlighted here each week.

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Sunlight Foundation reports that the bill to defund NPR that the House is set to pass this afternoon violates the Republicans' pledge to make all legislation publicly available online at least 72 hours prior to being voted on. In this case, the bill was only available to the public and Congress for less than 48 hours before the vote. And, of course, it hasn't had a single committee hearing or mark-up, and it's being brought to the floor under a closed rule that limits debate to one hour and does not allow amendments.

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Republicans Stand Up for Rich Farm Owners

March 16, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When the farm bill comes up for renewal next year, reform-minded lawmakers will get another chance to rein in the billions in subsidies that too often flow to millionaire farm owners in Manhattan who don't need them. But even with both parties looking to support budget cuts wherever possible these days, reforming the farm bill is going to be an uphill battle.

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