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Bill Introduced to Allow Robocalls to Cell Phones

September 30, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Two powerful congressmen recently introduced a bill with strong corporate backing to legalize robcalls to cellphones. The bill, which has been titled the "Mobile Information Call Act" would amend the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which restricts robocalls to any phone service "for which the called party is charged for the call," including cell phones, by adding an exemption for calls that are "made for a commercial purpose that does not constitute a telephone solicitation." The bill would also pre-empt all state-law restrictions on such calls.

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Must Keep the Threat Alive

September 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Earlier today Congress officially disposed of the most recent budget standoff that was threatening to shut down the government. And without skipping a beat, they also began prepping for the next one.

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Supercommittee Meeting Secretly

September 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The "public access and transparency" rules that the deficit supercommittee adopted when they first convened contain a major loophole. If they want to block the media and the public out of their meetings, all they have to do is vote to do so and they can operate in total secrecy. Not surprisingly, invoking that loophole seems to have become their standard operating procedure.

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Chinese Currency Bill Up Next

September 27, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When Congress comes back next week, they're not going to move directly to the Obama jobs bill. Instead, they're going to take up a different measure that could potentially lead to U.S. job creation and is more likely to pass -- the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011.

The bill is designed to give the Administration authority to take corrective action against artificially undervalued foreign currencies, particularly the Chinese renminbi. It is widely believed that the fair market value of the renminbi is being supressed by the Chinese government in order to give them an advantage in foreign trade. According to a new report from the Economic Policy Import, the U.S. trade deficit with China has killed 2.8 million American jobs since 2001. It's likely that many of those job positions, which were in manufacturing, could be recreated if the renminbi were valued more fairly.

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Things Are Not As They Seem

September 27, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

On January 1, 2013, a perfect storm of major federal policy shifts are set to occur. The Bush tax rates are scheduled to expire, raising taxes on all income earners. The debt-ceiling trigger -- assuming the supercommittee gridlocks -- would go into effect, causing massive cuts to government across the board. And a host of other tax credits important to businesses and the middle class are scheduled to expire as well. It's no coincidence that all of this is happening right after the 2012 elections. It's designed, on some level, to facilitate a grand bargain to extend the status quo that can be passed by an unaccountable lame-duck Congress (and possibly President), with the maximum amount of time before voters will get another chance to weigh in.

Ryan Grim has a fantastic piece outlining how things may go down:

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Shutdown Averted

September 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After FEMA announced earlier in the day that it could stretch its remaining disaster funding out through Friday, the end of the fiscal year, the Senate reached a deal that will keep the government open and operating, for now at least. The deal sidesteps what was the sticking point -- whether or not extra FEMA funding for the rest of the year should be offset with cuts to other programs -- and, once passed by the House, will keep the government funded until November 18th.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

September 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Last Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] refused to let the Senate vote that day on his amendment to the House spending bill. Republican and Democratic leaders needed the weekend to cool off a little bit and then work through this," he said. "There is a compromise here." According to the Washington Post, however, the two sides made "no progress" over the weekend. So now here we are, with the government set to shut down in five days and FEMA about to run out of disaster relief funds tomorrow, but still with no agreement on how to pass the spendin

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As expected, the Senate this afternoon voted to table (i.e. kill) the House's stopgap funding bill by a vote of 59-36. The disagreement is over a provision that would partially offset funding for the FEMA disaster relief fund, which is running dry due to all of the natural disasters we've experienced rover the summer. Senate Democrats and some Republicans argue that approving disaster-relief offsets would set a bad precedent that could delay Congress from getting aid to victims of future disasters. Without the bill, FEMA will run out of funds as early as Tuesday and the entire federal government will shut down on Friday at midnight.

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Senators Say DOJ is Lying About the PATRIOT Act

September 22, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

It's always nice to see members of Congress challenging secrecy, lies, and privacy violations from the executive branch. As Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden [OR] and Mark Udall [CO] wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday accusing him of using secret legal opinions to miselad the public on how the PATRIOT Act is really being used.

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With just nine days left until the federal government runs out of money, the House of Representatives this evening rejected a temporary spending bill that would keep the government operating. The vote was 195-230. Nearly all Democrats voted "no" due to deep cuts in disaster relief funding and a program that helps auto manufacturers make more efficient vehicles. Dozens of Republicans also voted "no" because they did not think the bill cut enough spending in general. The plan now appears to be to swap the cuts to the auto efficiency program with cuts from some other program and see if they can flip enough Democrats to pass it. But even if that works, we're still far from an agreement between the Senate and the House that will be needed to avoid a shutdown.

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Is This Bill Discriminatory?

September 21, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Included in an authorization bill that the Senate Homeland Security Committee is marking up today is a provision that would require DHS to take special measures to counter violent domestic extremism, particularly among communities that practice a certain religion. Here's the language:

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The Coming Free Trade Swindle

September 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Free-trade deals generally help some American companies increase their exports and create jobs. However, history shows that they tend to do far more to increase imports, which may help consumers access cheaper goods and manufacturers access cheaper parts, but has a net negative impact on jobs in the U.S. In the first decade that NAFTA was in effect, for example, nearly 900,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost due to accelerated trade imbalances with Mexico and Canada, our then-new free-trade partners.

But while workers tend to lose out in the deals, big American companies benefit by gaining access to new markets of cheap labor overseas. That's why the Chamber of Congress and dozens of major U.S. corporations like Wal-Mart, Microsoft and GE have been pushing Congress for years to finalize the free-trade deals with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama that were drafted under the Bush Administration. In recent months, the Obama Administration has begun championing the deals, calling on Congress repeatedly to pass them as a way to boost employment.

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No Action on The American Jobs Act This Month

September 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Yet another sign that Congress isn't taking the jobs crisis seriously, this time from the Senate Democratic Whip, Dick Durbin [D, IL], on CNN:

CROWLEY: When is his jobs bill getting on the Senate floor? [...]

DURBIN: I think that's more realistic it would be next month.

CROWLEY: Next month. OK.

 

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The Week Ahead in Congress

September 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Looks like it's going to be yet another week without any significant jobs measures on the calendar. The House this week will be keeping itself busy with the usual raft of routine suspension measures and the obligatory anti-regulation bill at the end of the week. They'll aslo be voting on another continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down at the end of the month, the sixth so far this session. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is bringing up a bill that would exempt tariffs on imports from developing countries, paving the way for Congress to pass free trade agreements with Panama, Korea, and Colombia. There will also be votes on an amendment to add assistance for American workers who lose their jobs because of trade deals, and another from Sen. Jeff Sessions [R, AL] that would exempt Bangladeshi sleeping bags from the tariff exemption in order to protect a sleeping bag manufacturer in his state.

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In a move designed to get corporations jazzed up about donating to Republican candidates and not much else, the House of Representatives today passed a bill to weaken the National Labor Relations Board, which is in charge of enforcing the labor laws and remedying instances of unfair labor practices. The bill, which its sponsor, Rep. Tim Scott [R, SC-1], has titled the "Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act," would amend the labor laws so that employers could legally take retaliation against workers trying to form a union by relocating or outsourcing their jobs. The vote was 238-186.

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