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DOMA Repeal Scheduled for First Ever Hearing

July 15, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For the first time ever, a committee in Congress will hold a hearing on repealing the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and requiring states to recognize all marriages that are considered valid in the state where the marriage was conducted. The bill in question, entitled the "Respect for Marriage Act," is scheduled for a July 20 hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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The McConnell Debt Plan

July 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

At this point we're pretty much all aware that raising the debt ceiling is nothing new. Democrats do it and Republicans do it. It's been done 9 times in the past decade, and corralling the votes to pass the increases each time has been treated as a burden of the majority. The unique problem this time around is that Congress is split between the parties and it's not clear who the majority is. But regardless of the politics of the situation, it's something that pretty much everyone in Congress agrees must be done. And that's the reality that Senate Minority Leader Micth McConnell's [R, KY] plan, which seems to be the leading proposal right now, reflects.

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A year and a half after the landmark health care reform bill was signed into law, Congress is moving forward with new bipartisan legislation to increase consumer access to cheaper generic medications. The bill, entitled thePreserve Access to Afordable Generics Act, is meant to prohibit brand-name drug comapnies from paying off generic drug companies to not bring their cheaper, substantially-similar products to market. It is scheduled for markup by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and will likely be approved.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

July 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate will continue their dog-and-pony-show debt debate this week, kicking things off today with a vote on a motion to officially begin debate of a non-binding "sense of the Senate"resolution stating that people earning more than $1 million should "make a more meaningful contribution" to balancing the budget. That vote will likely be approved with a simple majority of Democrats, but the resolution will undoubtedly be filibustered to death and not be allowed a final vote on passage because even allowing an up-or-down vote on a symbolic resolution on raising taxes on the rich is a step too far for the anti-tax Republicans. Once that resolution is officially killed, the Senate will most likely move on to a stand-alone bill to raise the debt ceiling, knowing full-well that it stands no chance of being approved.

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Please Enjoy This Phony Debt Debate

July 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Republicans have been hammering Democrats and the Obama Administration for negotiating the debt limit and deficit deal behind closed doors and out of the public view. They have a point. Unless there's something you're bringing to the table that you'd rather hide from the public, why not put a camera in the negotiating room and broadcast the talks?

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About the only things getting real bipartisan love in Congress these days are Hollywood-backed bills to make the government a more powerful force in online copyright enforcement. I wrote about one already that would make streaming of copyrighted content a felony with jail time as a possible penalty. The other is S.968, the PROTECT IP Act,that would empower the Department of Justice to demand search engines and domain registries to block websites they determine are "dedicated to infringing."

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The Week Ahead in Congress

July 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate had originally set this week aside as a vacation period, but Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] decided last week that keeping the Senate around to work on debt ceiling negotiations was more important than more time off, so he's called the Senate back. The Senate and the House both convene today with only 9 working days left before the July 22nd deadline that the White House has set for Congress to pass a debt limiting increase in order to avoid default in early August. Needless to say, debt talks will be ongoing all week, and there's still a lot on the table to discuss -- how much the ceiling should be increased by, whether it should last beyond the 2012 elections or not, and, of course, what spending and revenue measure should be attached to it.

While those discussions happen behind the scenes, both chambers have set full legislative floor schedules for themselves as well. The House will be voting on the massive $649 billion Department of Defense spending bill for 2012, among other things, while the Senate kicks things off with a resolution to authorize U.S. military involvement in Libya.

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The Senate has canceled their week-long July 4th vacation so they can continue working on a deal to raise the debt ceiling, the deadline for which has been pushed forward to July 22nd. But while those discussions take place in back rooms out of the public view, the full Senate will publicly debate a bill to provide congressional authorization of U.S. involvement in the war in Libya for up to one year.

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The Committee of Veterans' Affairs yesterday voted in favor of reporting legislation to expand collective bargaining rights for health care workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would amend a section of U.S. law that Democrats say the Veterans' Department is misusing to block certain VA health workers from negotiating over basic pay issues, like overtime, weekend pay, and physician incentive pay.

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DREAM Act Gets Its First Hearing Ever

June 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The DREAM Act, a bill that would give citizenship status to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, received its first ever Senate committee hearing yesterday. The bill has been stalled in Congress since 2001. Yesterday's hearing indicates that Democrats, with support from the White House, are launching a major effort to rally support around this ahead of the 2012 elections.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

June 27, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House of Representatives is out of session this week and they'll be out for the better part of next week as well. Today is the House's 54th day off from legislating since convening in January, not including weekends. The Senate will be in session this week, but it's unclear at this point what they'll be working on. There will be no votes today. The only thing on the schedule for the afternoon is a floor speech from Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT], which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET and last for up to 90 minutes.

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Just as new revelations are emerging about the possible link between the most widely-used pesticide in the U.S. and human birth defects, Congress is working to liberalize pesticide-use policy to allow farmers and local governments to spray near public waterways without having to seek special permission under the Clean Water Act. On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee unanimously approved H.R 872, a bill "to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to clarify Congressional intent regarding the regulation of the use of pesticides in or near navigable waters, and for other purposes." The House of Representatives passed the bill on March 31st by a vote of 292-130.

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Another Jobs Bill Killed

June 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

On June 6th, the Senate opened debate on the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011, a bill to reauthorize and expand a long-running and consistently successful job-creation agency, the Economic Development Administration. The EDA has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, and this reauthorization bill was introduced with bipartisan co-sponsorship and passed out of committee without any dissent from Republicans. But after two weeks of debate, the bill was unanimously filibustered by Republicans and has been pulled from the floor.

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Richard Cohen at Politico has a piece this morning on what is probably the most important trend in Congress right now. According to the article, Republicans, from the leadership down, are warming up to the idea of raising revenue through increasing corporate tax rates and closing loopholes. "The targeting of long-protected tax breaks — for ethanol, research and development, manufacturing and foreign company income — is a sign that key House Republicans are ready to break with the orthodoxy of past tax debates while ditching special interests that have long held sway in tax reform discussions," Cohen writes. So what does it mean for the hottest issue among users of OpenCongress -- extending unemployment insurance for the very-long-term unemployed who have exhausted all available benefits without finding new work?

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The Week Ahead in Congress

June 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House kicks things off this week with a handful of suspension votes -- mainly on renaming post offices -- and then gets down to more serious business starting Wednesday. On their schedule for the second half of the week is companion legislation to the Senate-passed bill to revamp the US patent system, a bill to reduce environmental protections so that oil companies can more easily obtain permits to drill off the coast of Alaska, and the 2012 Defense Department spending bill. Despite cutbacks in just about every other area of government, the Defense bill would actually increase the Department's budget by $17 billion over last year's level, from $513 billion to $530 billion. And that doesn't include the extra $119 billion that is being tacked on as "emergency spending" for continuation of the Global War on Terror.

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