House of Representatives

NSA update: Government fights transparency, House plans vote to codify domestic spying

Americans have been inundated with stories about the Obamacare meltdown, there has been some news about the NSA and domestic surveillance programs in the last few days, and none of it is good.

TechDirt reported on Tuesday that Justice Department is fighting a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order to release the government’s secret interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Section 215 of the 2001 anti-terrorism law has been used to justify domestic spying programs employed by the NSA, despite a clear limitation on whom the government can collect information. At some point since its passage, however, the government came up with its own interpretation that says something entirely different.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who sponsored the law, contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision only allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.

“The phone records of innocent Americans do not relate to terrorism, whatsoever; and they are not reasonably likely to lead to information that relates to terrorism,” said Sensenbrenner in a speech last month at the Cato Institute. “Put simply, the phone calls we make to our friends, our families, and business associates are private and have nothing to do with terrorism or the government’s efforts to stop it.”

House passes Keep Your Health Plan Act, Obama threatens veto

Keep Your Health Plan Act

In a 261-257 vote, the House of Representatives passed the Keep Your Health Plan Act, which would allow insurers to extend the policies that had been canceled because they didn’t comply with the mandates and provisions of Obamacare.

The Keep Your Health Plan Act, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), would permit insurers to let consumers keep health plans in effect before January 1, 2013 through 2014. It wouldn’t force insurers to offer the plans, but it would give these plans “grandfathered status,” meaning that they wouldn’t have to compliant with Obamacare’s minimum mandates.

“The president broke his word, had a chance to fix the problem, and only did more damage to his credibility,” said Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) after the passage of the measure. “Today, the House made a big, bipartisan statement about the need to make things right.”

“The Keep Your Health Plan Act represents an important step toward providing relief to those who have lost their plans and face much higher premiums, but the real solution is to scrap the president’s fundamentally-flawed health care law and focus on effective, patient-centered reforms that will protect all Americans from this train wreck,” he added.

The measure would also allow insurers to extend coverage under these plans to new customers, which Democrats complained would undercut the Obamacare.

Thirty-nine House Democrats broke with President Obama and party leaders and supported the measure. Four Republicans voted against it, one of whom was Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), who explained his vote on his Facebook page.

Bill Clinton to Barack Obama: Let Americans keep their health plans

Just days before the House of Representatives prepares to vote on the Keep Your Health Plan Act, Bill Clinton is urging President Barack Obama to get behind a change that would keep the promise he made to Americans.

Clinton insists that Obamacare is better off now than before, which is a line that the White House touted yesterday. He also defended the issues with federal exchange website,, comparing it to the launch of Medicare Part D in 2006, though this defense doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

But Clinton touched on the insurance cancellations of that millions of Americans are experiencing, using a conversation he had with a young person who is paying more for coverage than before Obamacare as an example.

Third problem is for young people — most, but not all young — who are in the individual market hose incomes are above 400% of the poverty level. They were the ones who heard the promise — if you like what you have you can keep it,” former President Clinton, a Democrat who served from 1993 to 2001, told

“I met a young man this week who has a family, two children, bought in the individual marketplace. His policy was cancelled and one was substituted for it, and it doubled his premium,” he recalled. “Now, I asked him, I said, Same coverage? He said yeah. But I asked, are your co-pays and deductibles the same? He said they were much, much lower.”

House will vote next week on Keep Your Health Plan Act

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has announced that the House of Representatives will vote next week on a measure that would allow Americans to keep their health insurance coverage amid a flood millions of cancellation notices.

“Next week, the House will consider the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013, sponsored by ,” Cantor tweeted on Wednesday, later promoting a tweet from the House Energy and Commerce Committee that said the measure “will allow health care plans currently being offered to continue next year, providing choices [and] peace of mind.”

The Keep Your Health Plan Act, H.R. 3350, seeks to stem the insurance cancellations that many Americans are now experiencing because the plans weren’t compliant with the Obamacare’s very strict “grandfathered plan” regulations. The bill currently has 88 co-sponsors, all of whom are Republicans.

70% of voters support individual mandate delay

The problems with the federal Obamacare exchange website have driven even more Americans to back a one year delay of the individual mandate, a controversial provision of the law that requires virtually all Americans to purchase health insurance coverage.

CISPA making a comeback…again

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) could soon be coming back up in Congress thanks to efforts by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).

After quite speculation at the end of last monthMother Jones reported on Monday that Feinstein confirmed that she and Chambliss were working to revive the measure, which is sure to get under the craw of Internet activists and civil liberties groups.

“I am working with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on bipartisan legislation to facilitate the sharing of cyber related information among companies and with the government and to provide protection from liability,” Feinstein told Mother Jones. “The legislation will…still maintain necessary privacy protections.”

This is the second attempt this year to move CISPA through Congress. The House of Representatives passed CISPA back in April, over a veto threat from the White House due to a lack of privacy protections. The Senate, however, shelved the measure shortly thereafter.

House GOP leaders unable to gain support for funding, debt ceiling measure

House Republican leadership was dealt an embarrassing blow yesterday when they had to pull their own spending plan and debt ceiling package off the floor because they didn’t have enough votes to pass it.

The day began with House leaders talking about their own bill, despite progress between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The House package would have funded the federal government until January 15 and extended the debt ceiling until February 7, roughly the same dates as the Reid-McConnell deal.

But there were a couple of aspects to the package drew opposition from the White House and Senate Democrats, including the two-year delay of the medical device tax and the ending the special subsidies for members of Congress. The House plan would have also required President Barack Obama to purchase coverage through the ObamaCare exchange.

The House proposal caused Reid and McConnell to postpone their talks, prompting some senators to question House leaders for getting involved when a deal in the Senate was close. Reid blasted Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) from the Senate floor, accusing him and other House leaders of trying to “torpedo bipartisan progress with a bill that can’t pass the Senate and won’t pass.”

“I’m disappointed with John Boehner, who’d, once again, try to preserve his role at the expense of the country,” added Reid.

Reid, McConnell deal progresses, conservatives express skepticism

It appears that there is a deal in the works between Senate leaders that would temporarily raise the debt ceiling and fund the federal government while yet another “super-committee.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been working behind the scenes since a bipartisan compromise offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) fell apart over the weekend. The two leaders are cautious because whatever they agree to has to pass the House of Representatives.

“We have had an opportunity over the last couple of days to have some very constructive exchanges of views about how to move forward,” said McConnell from the Senate floor on Monday. “Those discussions continue, and I share [the] optimism that we’re going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.”

The basis of the deal, according to various media reports, is a Continuing Resolution that funds the federal government until January 15 and extending the debt ceiling until February 7, though some outlets are reporting February 15. The sticking point for Senate Republicans is maintaining the sequester cuts and the $988 billion funding level for FY 2014.

There are also some minor changes to ObamaCare that are being considered, but Politico notes that negotiations on those provisions could fail, which would take the controversial law off the table.

No, control of the House of Representatives isn’t in play next year

The political stalemate in Washington that has led to a government shutdown has Democrats salivating at the prospect of winning back the House of Representatives in the 2014 mid-term election., a leftist organization, released a set of polls earlier this week showing that 24 Republicans could be vulnerable next year, alleging that the government shutdown “has significant electoral implications” in the district they represent. The polls, which were conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP), were immediately seized upon by Democrats, who need a net-17 seats to win control of the chamber.

While it’s true that many polls show Republicans taking the brunt of the blame of the government shutdown — though a recent CNN poll shows that blame is pretty close to evenly spread — Stu Rothenberg, a political analyst and namesake of the Rothenberg Political Report, disputes the notion that control of the House is up for grabs.

“Is the House in play now? Of course not. My newsletter’s most recent race-by-race assessment, completed just days before the shutdown began, found that the most likely overall outcome next year is a small gain for one of the parties,” wrote Rothenberg, who spent a fair amount of the column picking apart the Public Policy Polling surveys.

House passes measure to pay death benefits to soldiers’ families

Fallen Soldiers

Death gratuity payments to the families of soldiers killed in action may soon be restored, bringing an end to one of the real world implications of the ongoing political stalemate in Washington.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved H.J. Res. 91 — “Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act.” This measure, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) appropriates money to the Defense Department to pay gratuities and benefits for the families and/or survivors of American soldiers killed in action.

The House passed the measure after Defense Department acknowledged that it had delayed payments to the families of four Americans who were killed last weekend in Afghanistan. Survivors of American soldiers are entitled to a one-time, tax-free payment of $100,000 within three days of the servicemembers’ death.

The a spokesperson for Defense Department said that they lacked legal authority to make the payments because no appropriations bill had been passed by Congress. House leaders disputed that claim, noting that Congress had passed and President Barack Obama had signed a measure — the “Pay Our Military Act” — to provide the Defense Department with the authority to pay the military, including survivors benefits.

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