A bill can inspire widespread public interest without being passed. That is the lesson from last week's 10 most-searched bills on THOMAS, the Library of Congress' Web site dedicated to tracking legislation. The most popular bill last week was Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah's Debt Free America Act, which has been stuck in committee since February and has yet to find a cosponsor. Likewise, two prior versions of last week's No. 10 bill, the Public Officer Family Health Benefits Act, have failed since 2005, and the current version, which has seen no action since October 2009, also appears unlikely to pass in fall's lame duck session. Among the 10 most-searched bills on the site last week, four have either failed to pass or have stalled in committee.
Below are last week's 10 most-searched bills on THOMAS.gov, according to data compiled on October 17.
1. Debt Free America Act (H.R. 4646)
Previous ranking: 4
Sponsor: Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
This bill has been on THOMAS's top 10 since August 30, but this is the first time it has reached No. 1. 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 transactions involving stock. The bill would also, as of December 31, 2017, repeal the individual income tax. Fattah's act 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 in 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: 5
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, this act requires that all individuals have health insurance and prohibits insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, two provisions that both will 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. Shortly after President Obama signed the bill, attorneys general from 13 states joined together to file a suit in a Florida federal court, claiming that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional. The number of states involved in that suit has since grown to 21. Virginia has also filed its own challenge to the law, and a federal judge indicated on Monday that he would rule on that suit by the end of the year. [See who gets the most from health professionals.]
3. Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2010 (H.R. 4667)
Previous ranking: 1
Sponsor: Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA)
As the title suggests, this bill seeks to increase the rates of veterans' benefits such as disability compensation and dependent compensation, as well as the clothing allowance for some disabled veterans. The bill passed the House unanimously in March, 407-0, and also passed the Senate with unanimous consent and without amendments on September 22. President Obama signed the bill on September 30, and its changes will go into effect on December 1, 2010.
4. Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 (H.R. 5297)
Previous ranking: 2
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.
5. Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009 (H.R. 45)
Previous ranking: 8
Sponsor: Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL)
Named after a Chicago teenager 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.
6. Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (H.R. 3081)
Previous ranking: 3
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 left to allow federal programs and offices to operate until they pass the full spending bills. With the House and Senate now adjourned to allow members to campaign for the midterm elections, passing the FY 2011 budget will be the task of the lame-duck Congress when members return after elections.
7. Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 4173)
Previous ranking: 7
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. It aims to create a watchdog council at the Federal Reserve and also to mitigate the dangers of "too-big-to-fail" financial institutions by providing a way to liquidate failed firms. [Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.]
8. Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872)
Previous ranking: 10
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.
9. America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200)
Not on list last week
Sponsor: Rep. John Dingell (D-MI)
This bill is the original health care 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 health care 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.
10. Public Safety Officer Family Health Benefits Act (H.R. 3162)
Not on list last week
Sponsor: Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI)
Stupak, a former Michigan state police trooper and founder of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus, introduced this bill in July 2009. The bill has been in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform since its introduction. This act would allow family members of public safety officers killed in the line of duty to be covered by federal health benefits. Stupak sponsored similar measures in 2007 and 2005. In neither of these instances did the bills move beyond committee.