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Three-Week Stopgap in the Works

March 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Following the Senate's rejection of two long-term government funding proposals -- one from Republicans and one from Democrats -- congressional negotiators are back to working out another stopgap bill to keep the federal government from shutting down. The current stopgap bill is set to expire next Friday. According to reports, the plan now is to move a three-week funding extension that continues the same rate of cuts from the current extension -- about $2 billion per week below 2010 levels -- and gives Congress until early April to work out a longer-term solution.

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Almost a year after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the misinformation campaign about what's in it just won't stop. The most recent example is from Rep. Michelle Bachmann [R, MN-6], who claims that the Democrats snuck more than a hundred billion dollars in the bill and passed it secretly without public review. But Bachmann's either lying or she has no idea what she's talking about because her claims are just flat-out false.

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While all the attention on the Republicans' union busting agenda has been focused on the states, Republicans in Congress have been quietly moving forward with anti-union legislation on the federal level. In February, the House Transportation Committee marked up a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that contains an innocuous looking provision that would actually titl union formation rules further in the favor of anti-union interests. 

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Subsidizing the Donor Class

March 8, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Yesterday I wrote about a bill scheduled for a vote this week that would eliminate a program that provides bridge loans to unemployed homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure. The program has $1 billion in total lending authority, and homeowners are required to pay the government back when they become employed again. House Republicans say they're going after the program a matter of fiscal responsibility. But here's the thing -- at the same time that they're trying to cut $1 billion in loans for the unemployed, they're fighting to protect a $100 billion program that provides tax breaks to homeowners, with benefits flowing overwhelmingly and disproportionately to the wealthy.

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One of the foreclosure relief programs that House Republicans are looking to shut down this week has been a widely-recognized failure. It was supposed to provide incentives for mortgage lenders to voluntarily renegotiate loans for underwater homeowners, but it never caught on. The other program, however, hasn't gone into effect yet, but because it doesn't require the cooperation of lenders it's expected to be more successful when it does. The program, which is called Emergency Mortgage Relief, would provide government bridge loans to help unemployed homeowners avoid foreclosures. Since we can't evaluate it in action, here's a closer look at how's it's supposed to work once it starts up.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

March 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

There's pretty much one game in town this week: negotiating a plan to keep the government funded and operating beyond the March 18 deadline. That debate will continue to rage in the back halls of Congress this week, with Democrats and Republicans still about $30 billion off on their preferred top-line spending levels and with a myriad of differences on what to cut and what to save.

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The Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency power to regulate air pollutants that are hazardous to public health. In 2009, after conducing a scientific, peer-reviewed study as ordered by the Supreme Court, the EPA determined that six greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations" and they have begun drawing up regulations. But a group of lawmakers is trying to defeat the science with legislation, and they're gaining influential allies on both sides of the aisle.

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Why Congress Doesn't Care About the Unemployed

March 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Nation's Chris Hayes offers a good explanation for why most members of Congress don't seem particularly concerned abut the high rates of unemployment we've been seeing and will probably continue to see for several years:

This disconnect between the jobs crisis in the country and the blithe dismissal thereof in Washington is the most incomprehensible aspect of the political moment. But I think there are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it.

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Military-Industrial Complex Wins Again

March 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

I know this is old news now, but Irregular Times has brought my attention to an overlooked vote that I think is worth noting. During the House's recent continuing resolution vote-a-rama, one of the amendments that was brought up for debate and quickly shot down was one from Rep. Ron Kind [D, WI-3] that would have eliminated two weapons systems progams that the military has said, in no uncertain terms, that it does not want. They are the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (a.k.a. the EFV) and the Surface Launch Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile System (a.ka. the SLAMRAAM) and eliminating them would save the government $13 billion, with most of the savings coming from the EFV elimination.

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Two More Weeks of Federal Government

March 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate has followed up on the House's action yesterday and passed a two-week stopgap spending bill that cuts about $4 billion from the current funding level, mostly by eliminating some of last year's earmarks. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 91-9, with 3 Democrats5 Republicans and 1 Independent-Democrat voting against. President Obama will sign the bill, averting a government shutdown that would have taken place otherwise beginning this Friday. But don't be fooled -- this is a temporary agreement and the negotiations to fund the government beyond these two weeks are extremely contentious. A government shutdown is still the most likely scenario.

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The Republicans' No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act will no longer propose to redefine rape to block women on Medicaid from receiving abortions unless the rape was "forcible" or deny abortion access to incest victims who are 18 years or older. But it would still radically rewrite abortion laws in the U.S. by expanding the definition of "taxpayer funding for abortions" to include all tax deductions, credits and other benefits, even in cases where the abortion services portion of an insurance plan is paid for entirely with private funds. The bill is scheduled for a committee mark-up later this week.  

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Senate Takes Up Controversial Patent Legislation

February 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate has begun debating a bill that would fundamentally alter an important area of U.S. intellectual property laws, and it's pitting small businesses and independent inventors against a broad coalition of powerful interests like drug companies, big software companies and some unions. The bill, known as the Patent Reform Act of 2011, would amend several areas of patent law, the most significant of which would be a change from the current application system that awards patents to the fist person to invent something to a new system that would award a patent to the first person to file an application.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

February 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Congress comes back from their week off today, and it appears that the Republicans in the House and the Democrats in the Senate have just about struck a deal to keep the government operating, at least temporarily. On Friday, Republicans proposed a two week continuing resolution with $4 billion in cuts from the current funding level and on Sunday Senate Budget Committee Chaiman Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND] sounded ready to work with that offer. "It is acceptable to me to have $4 billion in savings in a two-week package, sure. The makeup of that, you know, is up for discussion and negotiation. That negotiation is ongoing. And I'm confident we'll achieve conclusion on that," Konrad said. His comments follow a positive reaction to the Republican proposal from Majority Leader Harry Reid on Friday.

While the final details of this are being worked out, here's how the House and Senate will be keeping themselves busy on the chamber floor. First, the House schedule:

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Shutdown Averted?

February 25, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

It's looking like the government may not be shutting down after all, at least not on March 4. House Republicans today unveiled their bill to extend government funding for two weeks, and the response from Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid's office is considerably more positive than what we've been hearing lately. The bill would cut a little more than $4 billion from the current funding level over a two week period and it does not include any of the controversial language that the Republicans included in their full-year funding bill, like defunding Planned Parenthood or blocking the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

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Still Worlds Apart

February 24, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

If progress is being made on keeping the government up and running beyond the March 4 deadline, it's not being shared with the public. Both Democrats and Republicans have spent the week digging in their heels and pledging to move forward on their separate, conflicting paths, virtually guaranteeing that we will see a government shutdown while things are being worked out.

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