Congressional Digest

PRO & CON UPDATES


    Health Care Overshadows Other Important Cases in Court’s Last Week

It’s been two weeks since the Supreme Court handed down the last decision of the 2011-12 term, the highly anticipated ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Much of the nation is still buzzing over Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to write the majority opinion upholding most of the law, and speculation and rumors have run rampant over the behind-the-scenes action that led up to the controversial decision. Did the chief justice switch his vote at the last minute? Was his majority opinion a surreptitious way of reigning in Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause?…

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    In the Nick of Time, Congress Approves Transportation Bill, Preserves Student Loan Rates

Right before adjourning for the Fourth of July recess, congressional leaders agreed to a two-year reauthorization of highway, transit, and surface transportation programs, as well as a deal that prevented the doubling of interest rates for new student loans. It was crucial that Congress act on these two measures by the end of June; otherwise, current authority for highway and mass transit projects would have elapsed, potentially jeopardizing 2.9 million jobs, and interest rates on Federal subsidized loans would have jumped from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent for more than 7 million students. First Transportation Bill Reauthorization Since 2005 Enactment…

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    Supreme Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act

In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional. The Court upheld the most controversial portion of the law — the requirement that as of 2014 all Americans must have health insurance or pay a penalty — as a valid exercise of Congress’s tax powers. The penalty, the majority held, is in fact a tax on those who do not have health insurance, as it is enforced through the tax code and assessed on Federal tax returns. In rendering this judgment, the Court…

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    NY Times Poll Shows Supreme Court Approval in Decline

By , Editor,
June 15, 2012
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As the Washington political class waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to hand down decisions in such hotly contested cases as the challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration law, there is evidence that the public at large is losing confidence in the Court as an impartial arbiter of justice. In a New York Times/CBS poll released last week, only 44 percent of Americans approved of the job the Court is doing — down from a highs in the mid-60s during the late 1980s. This rating is even lower than the results in a Pew…

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    President Implements DREAM Act Provisions by Executive Order

By , Editor,
June 15, 2012
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The Obama Administration announced today that it will stop deporting and start granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who meet specific criteria. The new policy is consistent with the DREAM Act, legislation to streamline the legalization process for young undocumented immigrants. That legislation has stalled in Congress since December 2010, when the Senate bill fell short (55 to 41) of the 60 votes needed to prevent a Republican filibuster. (For background on this issue, see the November 2010 Congressional Digest, “The DREAM Act.”) Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced the new policy, stating: “Our Nation’s immigration laws must…

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    Down to the Wire on Student Loan Rates

By , Editor,
June 03, 2012
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Unless Washington lawmakers intervene, subsidized Stafford student loan rates will double next month to 6.8 percent. Although President Obama and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, have both said that Congress must act, Democrats and Republicans so far have been unable to agree on how to offset the $5.9 billion cost of extending the current 3.4 percent rate for one year. How did this happen? In 2007, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that reduced the interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans, but only until July 1 of this year. With one out…

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    First Circuit Appeals Court Deals Blow to Defense of Marriage Act

By , Editor,
June 01, 2012
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In a decision that seems certain to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that a key provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. In a 3-to-0 decision, the appeals court struck down a portion of the Act that prevents individuals in same-sex marriages recognized by States from receiving Federal benefits conferred on married couples, such as being able to receive spousal Social Security benefits and file taxes jointly. The circuit court held that such a prohibition violated principles of Federalism and unlawfully targeted minority interests…

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    Roadblocks Ahead on Domestic Violence Bill

By , Editor,
May 21, 2012
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Legislation to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is currently at an impasse, following House passage of a bill substantially different from the Senate-approved version. Although Congress has renewed the Act in the past with overwhelming bipartisan support, this year’s effort has been marred by political divisions and controversy over whom the law should cover. (See the June 2012 issue of Congressional Digest, Violence Against Women.) On May 16, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed H.R. 4970 by a vote of 225 to 205. The bill represents a stark contrast to the Senate bill (S. 1925), which expands coverage…

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    Annan Briefs UN Security Council on Syrian Situation

By , Editor,
May 09, 2012
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Yesterday, former United Nations Secretary-General and current Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States on the Syrian Crisis Kofi Annan gave a report to the UN Security Council  on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria. Via a videolink from Geneva, Switzerland, Annan told the Council that the UN may be the “only remaining chance” to stabilize the Middle Eastern country. “There is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war, and the implications of that are quite frightening,” he said. “We cannot allow that to happen.” There are currently 300…

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    Obama Signs Afghanistan Pact, Sets Terms for Future U.S. Involvement

By , Editor,
May 02, 2012
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In an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on May 1, President Obama spoke to the troops and to an American television audience, and signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The visit took place on the first anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan, giving it historical and symbolic significance. The day was the latest milestone in what has been a costly and protracted war marked by surges, setbacks, and some success in stemming the tide of the insurgency and reestablishing Afghan Government control. In June 2011, President Obama announced a gradual drawdown…

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