Congressional Digest

PRO & CON UPDATES


    Is the Law of the Sea Treaty Sunk in the Senate?

The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOS), the regime governing international water rights and management of maritime resources, has been a controversial subject in the United States for more than 30 years and spanning five presidencies. This summer, it has once again garnered headlines, as competing political factions in the U.S. Senate lock horns over a possible ratification vote. We focus on the details of the convention, and the key arguments for and against it, in the September issue of International Debates. When international negotiations for the LOS Convention were completed in 1982, President Ronald Reagan refused to…

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    Cybersecurity Bill Blocked by Senate Filibuster

By , Editor,
August 03, 2012
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On July 26, right before adjourning for a five-week recess, the Senate failed to failed to pass legislation to establish security standards to prevent large-scale cyber attacks on the Nation’s critical infrastructure, including the electrical grid and transportation system. Despite a final push by the White House and the military, the 52-to-46 vote fell short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster and advance the bill to final passage. The legislation ― S. 3414, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, sponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman (CT-I) ― was a national security priority of the Obama Administration. (See the December…

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    UN Pulls Half Its Observers Out of Syria as Conditions Worsen

By , Editor,
July 26, 2012
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This week, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous announced the removal of half of the 300 observers taking part in the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). He said that the move was a result of reduced UN patrols since June 15 due to the increasingly dangerous conditions on the ground. He added that the forces would return if the security situation improved. The move comes on the heels of a UN Security Council vote on July 20 to authorize the observer mission for an additional 30 days, extending its term from the original 90 days set forth…

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    Senate Twice Blocks Consideration of Campaign Finance Reporting

By , Editor,
July 21, 2012
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Twice last week, the Senate failed to allow legislation to require greater disclosure of large campaign contributions. On July 16, by a vote of 51 to 44, and on July 17, by a vote of 53 to 45, Republican senators blocked consideration of S. 3369, the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, or DISCLOSE, Act. Sixty votes were required to take up the measure and proceed with a debate and vote. Introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI-D), the bill is a response to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission…

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    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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