Congress is back in session this week, and lawmakers are deciding which legislation should be top priority in the closing weeks of the 111th Congress. Constituents who want to stay in-the-know about the most pressing items on the lame-duck docket can visit THOMAS, the Library of Congress website dedicated to tracking legislation, which features both summaries and the full text of all proposed bills, as well as voting records for all members of Congress. Tax cuts, an unemployment benefits extension, and a budget for the new fiscal year are among the top issues that the lame duck Congress might address, and are also items that could affect a large number of Americans.
Below are last week's 10 most-searched bills on THOMAS.gov, according to data compiled on November 14.
1. Debt Free America Act (H.R. 4646)
Previous ranking: 1
Sponsor: Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
This bill has been on THOMAS's top 10 since August 30 and has been at No. 1 for four consecutive weeks, despite having received little attention in Congress. The Debt Free America Act aims to eliminate the $13 trillion national debt within seven years by levying a 1 percent tax on all financial and retail transactions, except for those involving stock. The bill would also repeal the individual income tax as of December 31, 2017, and create a bipartisan task force that would make recommendations about how to limit federal spending. Fattah's legislation was introduced in February 2010 and immediately referred to committee, with no action taken on it since. However, the proposal has generated outrage in the blogosphere at the idea of a tax on transactions. The bill has been discussed on a wide range of Web sites, from minor political blogs to the popular myth-debunking site Snopes.com
2. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590)
Previous ranking: 2
Sponsor: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY)
More commonly known as the healthcare reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law on March 23, 2010. Among the many changes it makes to the existing healthcare system, the law requires that all individuals have health insurance and prohibits insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, two provisions that both go into effect in 2014. More than a dozen provisions are scheduled to take effect in 2010, with the rest to be phased in through 2018. The bill has become a hot-button issue during this year's midterm elections--many incumbents who voted for the bill have seen that vote used against them on the campaign trail. Republican congressional leaders like Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell have stated their aim to "repeal and replace" the law. [See a slide show of 10 things that are (and aren't) in the healthcare bill.]
3. Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2009 (S. 1435)
Not on list last week
Sponsor: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS)
The Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act was introduced in July 2009 and immediately referred to committee, and has seen no action since then. The act seeks to ban the creation of many types of human-animal hybrids, such as human eggs fertilized with animal sperm, animal eggs fertilized with human sperm, and animals with human brains or reproductive organs. Brownback has denounced these practices as "unethical" and "unnatural," saying that this area of research needs to be governed by legislation showing "a respect for human life." In recent years, scientists have created human-animal hybrids as ways to better test certain drugs or grow human organs. The legislation would still allow for many of the most common current uses of animals in medical research, such as the use of animal parts, like heart valves, in humans.
4. Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009 (H.R. 45)
Previous ranking: 3
Sponsor: Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL)
Named after a Chicago teen who was gunned down in 2007 on a public bus, this act would tighten gun ownership provisions in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a 1993 law that mandated background checks on gun buyers. The Blair Holt act would require anyone possessing a firearm to first obtain a firearm license. The bill was introduced at the start of 2009 and has remained in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security since February of that year.
5. Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872)
Previous ranking: 4
Sponsor: Rep. John Spratt (D-SC)
The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which contains amendments to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (No. 2, above), was passed one week after the Patient Protection Act. Among the key changes that H.R. 4872 made are the closure of the Medicare "donut hole" and a reduction in the penalty for not having insurance. This bill also reforms the student loan system, including among its many provisions the elimination of the program via which federal student loans were administered through private institutions.
6. Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (H.R. 3081)
Previous ranking: 5
Sponsor: Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)
Congress hasn't passed spending bills to fund the government for the new fiscal year, which began on October 1. So they passed this temporary appropriations bill before they went on recess so that federal programs and offices can operate until they pass the full spending bills. Passing the FY 2011 budget is one of the chief tasks of the lame-duck Congress, which has just returned to Capitol Hill.
7. Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 4173)
Previous ranking: 8
Sponsor: Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA)
Also known as the "Restoring American Financial Stability Act," or more commonly as the "financial regulatory reform bill," this legislation was signed by President Obama on July 21, six months after its initial introduction. This law is intended to address the causes of the 2008 economic crisis. To that end, the bill seeks to provide a way to liquidate failed firms and has also created a watchdog council at the Federal Reserve, the Financial Stability Oversight Council. This council is accepting public comments this week regarding how it should write the "Volcker Rule," which limits banks from making certain types of risky investments.
8. America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200)
Previous ranking: 7
Sponsor: Rep. John Dingell (D-MI)
This is the original healthcare reform bill, which Rep. Dingell introduced in July 2009. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate around the same time, and both bills failed to pass. This bill included key features that were not in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the healthcare reform bill that was eventually signed into law (No. 2, above), most notably a government-run insurance option and the creation of an insurance exchange--a public marketplace in which insurers would sell their plans.
9. Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 (H.R. 5297)
Previous ranking: 6
Sponsor: Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA)
The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act includes provisions to establish a $30 billion fund to increase loan availability to small businesses. The act also includes an initiative to help fund states' lending programs and several forms of tax relief for small businesses, such as increased deductions for business start-up costs. This bill passed the House in June and passed the Senate in amended form on September 16. On September 23, the House agreed to the Senate version, named the "Small Business Jobs Act of 2010," and President Obama signed it into law four days later.
10. National Emergency Centers Establishment Act (H.R. 645)
Not on list last week
Sponsor: Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
The National Emergency Centers Establishment Act would establish six national emergency centers on military bases around the country to provide shelter and humanitarian assistance in the event of major disasters. In his introductory remarks, Hastings characterized the bill as a way to be better prepared in the event of another catastrophic event like Hurricane Katrina. The bill may have seen a bump in popularity because of a recent episode of "Conspiracy Theory," a TV show hosted by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. In its November 12 episode, the show alleged that the National Emergency Centers Establishment Act would establish "FEMA camps," which it also characterized as "prison camps."