Sunday, June 27, 2010

This Week in the People's House

This Week in the People's House
By Bobby Frederick

The House convened on Monday, June 21st (first votes at 6:02 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22nd) and adjourned on Friday, June 25th* (last vote at 7:09 p.m. on Thursday, June 24th), registering 19 votes for the week. For the third week in a row, Democrat leadership cancelled votes for Friday in the House. The House was in session for a total of 26 hours and 22 minutes.

This week, the House passed a controversial bill in response to the Supreme Court’s also controversial Citizens United vs FEC Supreme Court ruling from January 21, 2010. The 5-4 decision overturned existing law to effectively allow corporations and unions to spend freely on campaign commercials.

Republicans cheered the decision as a victory for free speech while Democrats vowed to fashion a legislative fix so that election spending by corporations [and presumably unions] would not, in the words of President Obama, "drown out the voices of everyday Americans." For three weeks House Democrats struggled to find the votes to pass their response measure, but after carve outs for certain groups, a promise by the Senate to act on the measure and a voice of support from the Administration, H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act passed (more after the jump).

Current Balance of the House stands at 433 members : 255 Democrats, 178 Republicans and 2 vacancies (NY-29 & IN-3).

*On Monday the House was in session for 3 minutes to approve the Journal and say the pledge of allegiance. Similarly, on Friday, the House was in session for 3 minutes to receive a message from the Clerk and recite the pledge.

Rule Bills

Brief History:
For more than a century, corporations have been legally banned from contributing money to federal campaigns. The Taft-Hartley Act spelled out the same prohibition to labor unions in 1947. In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka BICRA or McCain/Feingold) banned "soft" (read unregulated) money and set limits for "hard" (read regulated) money. Limits on "hard" money for the 2010 cycle can be found here. BICRA also banned unions and corporations from producing "electioneering communications" which are defined as ads that mentioning a federal candidate 60 days prior to the general and 30 days leading up to the primary election.

Citizens United vs FEC:
Fast Forward to the 2008 election when conservative interest group, Citizens United produced "Hillary: The Movie" a film critical of then presidential-candidate Hillary Clinton. The group wanted to advertise the movie and offer it free via cable, but under BICRA's 30 day pre-primary rule, this was against the law. Citizens United sued and the case reached the Supreme Court. After 2 sets of oral arguments, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United saying that from now on, they (along with corporations and unions) can spend money on ads (through their general treasury fund as opposed to setting up a Political Action Committee) that advocate for or against a federal candidate at any time before the election. However, the provision preventing corporations and unions from donating directly to a campaign still stands.

Bill Summary:
During his State of the Union Address, President Obama memorably took the Supreme Court to task over their decision which had Justice Samuel Alito shaking his head. In response, House Democrats pushed the DISCLOSE Act which places stricter disclosure rules on corporations and unions that engage in campaign advertising. Under this legislation, individuals or groups that fund these ads must be identified in a disclaimer. Corporations and unions must also reveal those donors that give $600 or more in a single year for campaign activities. Foreign controlled corporations would be banned from making contributions to U.S. campaigns.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) announced its vehement opposition to the DISCLOSE act and successfully sought an exemption from its requirements. House Democrats, not being able needing the votes of conservative Democrats to pass the legislation, coalesced to the NRA's demands, altering the language of the bill, and ultimately exempting other groups such as AARP, the Sierra Club and the Humane Society. These carve-outs had both conservative and liberal special interest groups railing against the legislation.

On the House floor, Democrats supported DISLCOSE saying it was necessary to prevent corporations from a "take over [of] the political system." Republicans opposed DISCLOSE by decrying the backroom exemptions and arguing that the bill restricted free speech.

DISCLOSE narrowly passed 219-206 (Voting Yes- 217 D's & 2 R's : Voting No- 36 D's & 170 R's). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised action on this legislation in the Senate. In order for DISCLOSE to take effect before the 2010 election, Congressional Democrats and President Obama must act quickly.


The House suspended the rules to pass 13 measures, including: Supporting men's health week, recognizing Juneteenth Independence Day, supporting goals of high-performance building week, require Treasury to certify purchases under small business lending fund program, recognizing national home ownership month & national Caribbean-American Heritage month, granting subpoena power to the national commission set up to investigate the BP oil spill, calling card consumer protection act, supporting hurricane preparedness week, recognizing the 50th anniversary of the US Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. For vote tallies, click here (376-384, 387 & 392).

The House also passed, 417-1, a suspension that would prevent the 21% cut in Medicare payments to physicians (aka the "doc fix") through the end of November. The House was forced to pass this measure after the Senate failed to pass their tax extenders legislation (which would have included this provision).

The House passed a conference report to the President, via suspenion that would place tougher economic sanctions on Iran. The Vote was 408-8-1.

Big News Recap

Washington was rocked this week as General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his duty as Commander of US forces in Afghanistan after a Rolling Stone article surfaced in which McChrystal and his staff were dismissive and critical of certain Administration officials including Vice President Biden.

General David Petraeus will take over, leaving his job as commander of CENTCOM in Tampa, Florida to run war operations from Kabul, Afghanistan. Petraeus will be confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday.

This shake-up in Afghanistan comes as the US offensive in Kandahar has stalled and June has become the deadliest month of the nearly nine-year war, for coalition forces as 80 have lost their lives so far.

On June 21st, would be Times-Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad pled guilty and promised more Islamist extremist attacks.

BP Oil Spill- Day 67; Finally, in a bit of "good news" for the Gulf clean-up efforts, tropical storm Alex looks likely to miss the spill site.

Upcoming Action in the People's House

With just 128 days until the 2010 Midterm Elections and a mere 34 days left on the House Session Calendar, time is running short for legislative priorities.

This coming week, the House will vote on approving the Conference Report to H.R. 4173, the Financial Regulatory Reform Bill.

After a couple of weeks of delay, the House is likely to consider H.R. 4899, the War Supplemental Bill which contains $84.3 billion in emergency funding (money for surge in Afghanistan, state funding, Pell Grants, border enforcement, etc).

No comments:

Post a Comment