The POPVOX Blog

Articles From August 2011

  1. POPVOX Screenshots

    I needed to pull together some screenshots to help me explain how POPVOX works... thought some of you might be interested in the 360 degree view as well.  Let me know what you think!  And thank you so much for using POPVOX!

  2. POPVOX featured in Entrepreneur Magazine

    We will have some news to share soon on the mobile app. In the meantime, wanted to share this article from Entrepreneur magazine, which describes how we crowd-funded the app with Appbackr.

    POPVOX in Entrepreneur Magazine
  3. IDEA Funding Lowers Tobacco Use?

    A bill now trending on POPVOX has a few people scratching their heads:  S. 1403, the IDEA Full Funding Act (regarding funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education), is also being referred to as "The Saving Lives by Lowering Tobacco Use Act."  What gives?

    There is a simple answer.  The bill's sponsor, Senator Tom Harkin, introduced a bill to fund the IDEA program and included a "pay-for" in the bill (a tobacco tax) in hopes of getting a revenue-neutral "score" form the Congressional Budget Office .  A neutral score means the bill does not have a net cost, and may increase likelihood of passage or at least counter any potential financial objections.

    It's hard enough to get a bill passed in Congress, especially one that costs money.  That has been the case for many years but even more so today.  See discussions of " PAY-GO " policies throughout the years.  So, if you have a good idea for a policy, you still need a pay-for.  That means finding something to cut or a new source of revenue (like a tax.)

    This is the main reason why the Ways and Means Committee in the House is often preceded by the adjective "powerful."  According to the Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution, all revenue measures must originate in the House of Representatives, and those revenue measures are under the jurisdiction of Ways and Means.

    So, S. 1403 includes a pay-for and the bill actually IS both the IDEA Funding bill AND the Saving Lives by Lowering Tobacco Use Act.

    But here's a quiz to see if you were paying attention: Could the bill ever pass and be enacted into law as S. 1403? Probably not, because an "S" bill (meaning it was introduced in the Senate) that raises revenues has not "originated in the House" as proscribed by the Constitution. So, S. 1403 could be incorporated into another bill that starts in the House, or a similar bill with a House number could be sent over by the House, but S. 1403 as it stands would probably get "blue-slipped". See more about that in a post from last year on the Food Safety bill.
  4. Issue Spotlight: Back to School!

    It's back to school time, POPVOXnation! As you (or your kids, or the kids in your neighborhood) head back to school, we wanted to get in the back-to-school spirit and spotlight some education and student bills. Please weigh in on these bills on POPVOX -- and share them with your friends, family and networks.

    About Issue Spotlights on POPVOX

    From time to time, we like to send POPVOX users an update of new bills by issue area. As in this example, if you weighed in on a bill about firearms, then you might receive an email from me alerting you to other firearms bills. (Full disclosure: while I think this idea is brilliant, it isn't mine. It was suggested by several POPVOX users -- so keep the suggestions coming!)

    I'll be posting these issue suggestions here, in addition to my bill picks for the day (as I explained in  an earlier post ).

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    Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn’t imply an endorsement in any way. Rather, we’re simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of an overwhelmingly complex legislative system. (Another way is to check out the “Trending Bills of the Week” .) As always, thanks for using POPVOX and I hope you stay in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter . If you'd these issue spotlights and other bill updates from POPVOX delivered to you via email, get started here to subscribe.
  5. Majority Leader Cantor: Fall Regulatory Bills

    The Hill's On The Money blog does a great job today of picking out the bills mentioned in the Sunday Washington Post opinion piece by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor:   Removing the obstacles to economic growth .

    Since Erik Wasson and Andrew Restuccia did the work to find the bills, we will take it one step further and give you the  links so you can take action and tell your Member of Congress how you want him or her to vote.

    • Repealing the ‘3 percent withholding rule' : "At issue is a tax-law change from 2006 that requires governments, including at the state and local level when using federal funds, to withhold 3 percent of payments to contractors when buying goods and services. It has been delayed repeatedly and is now scheduled to go into effect in 2013." (quote from the OTM post .)  WEIGH IN: H.R. 674
    • Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011 ( H.R. 2681 )
    • Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act ( H.R. 2587 )
    • Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act ( H.R. 10 )

    As always on POPVOX, when we let you know about pending bills we are neither endorsing or opposing -- just giving you the chance to make your voice heard.

  6. Today's Issue Spotlight: Taxes

    Spotlighting an Issue on POPVOX

    From time to time, we like to send POPVOX users an update of new bills by issue area. As in this example, if you weighed in on a bill about firearms, then you might receive an email from me alerting you to other firearms bills. (Full disclosure: while I think this idea is brilliant, it isn't mine. It was suggested by several POPVOX users -- so keep the suggestions coming!)

    I'll be posting these issue suggestions here, in addition to my bill picks for the day (as I explained in an earlier post ).

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    Today's Issue Spotlight: Taxes

    • Freedom to Invest Act (HR 1834) amends the tax code to allow a temporary dividends received deduction for 2011 or 2012
    • Fair Tax Act (HR 25 and S 13 ) promotes freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and enacting a national sales tax to be administered primarily by the States
    • End Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act (HR 601) repeal fossil fuel subsidies for large oil companies
    • Freedom Flat Tax Act (HR 1040) provides taxpayers a flat tax alternative to the current income tax system
    • H.J.Res. 16 proposes an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the 16th article of amendment
    • Death Tax Repeal Act (HR 177) repeals the Federal estate and gift taxes
    • Fairness in Taxation Act (HR 1124) imposes increased rates of tax with respect to taxpayers with more than $1,000,000 taxable income

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    Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn’t imply an endorsement in any way. Rather, we’re simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of an overwhelmingly complex legislative system. (Another way is to check out the “Trending Bills of the Week” .) As always, thanks for using POPVOX and I hope you stay in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter . If you'd these issue spotlights and other bill updates from POPVOX delivered to you via email, get started here to subscribe.
  7. The Hill: House Judiciary Committee bills for Fall

    Pete Kasperowicz on The Hill's Floor Action blog has a great look today at bills that the House Judiciary Committee plans to consider when Congress returns.

    Be sure to read the article Judiciary Panel Preps Jobs Agenda , and weigh in on the bills mentioned with POPVOX:

    Two bills the article mentions as "not likely to surface this year" are:

    On patent reform, the post mentions that new legislation is expected in September "that cracks down on online infringement."

  8. How many laws does Congress make every year?

    This year we're on track for a banner year in the number of bills introduced and also for fewest bills enacted into law. That means Congress has been both busy and gridlocked.

    So far this year Congress has introduced 4,288 bills. That's a lot. Over the last decade Congress has typically introduced 4,000-9,000 bills in a year. Since the year is half over, we're on track for the upper end of that. But few of those bills ever get voted on, and fewer enacted. 20 bills have been enacted into law this year so far, another 312 bills have had some sort of substantive action such as coming out of committee or having a vote in one chamber but not yet in the other. ( 7 of those came to a vote but failed. It’s rare that bills fail because party leadership doesn’t bother to call for votes on bills they know they don’t have the votes for.) The remaining 3,956 are waiting for their moment to shine —- it’s up to the committee chair in the committee they are assigned to to bring the bill up for consideration.

    Congress operates in two-year terms. 2011 is the first year of the “112th Congress." The table below shows the breakdown for the last 13 years.

    Congress No Major Action Some Action Failed Enacted
    106th (1999-2000) 7460 922 28 558 (6%)
    107th (2001-2002) 7750 841 5 350 (4%)
    108th (2003-2004) 7045 932 13 476 (6%)
    109th (2005-2006) 9141 930 22 465 (4%)
    110th (2007-2008) 9218 1382 39 442 (4%)
    111th (2009-2010) 9239 998 26 366 (3%)
    112th (so far) 3956 305 7 20 (0.5%)

    Just keep in mind that the 112th Congress is only 1/4th over, so the comparison to other years is tricky. Since 1999, Congress has been consistently passing about 5% of the bills it introduces, though it’s been introducing substantially more since 2005. The 103rd-108th Congresses (1993-2004) were actually more of a temporary lull. Before that, in the 102nd Congress, Congress introduced 9600 bills. So we’re not really seeing a general upward trend here in number of bills introduced, just a return to what had been fairly normal in years before.

    The number above include bills (“H.R.” and “S.” bills) and exclude resolutions because they don’t go through the same life cycle and generally don’t end up being enacted as law.

    (I originally posted this analysis at http://www.govtrack.us/blog/2011/08/04/kill-bill-how-many-bills-are-there-how-many-are-enacted/ .)

  9. POPVOX Issue Spotlight: Elections and Campaign Finance

    Spotlighting an Issue on POPVOX

    From time to time, we like to send POPVOX users an update of new bills by issue area. As in this example, if you weighed in on a bill about firearms, then you might receive an email from me alerting you to other firearms bills. (Full disclosure: while I think this idea is brilliant, it isn't mine. It was suggested by several POPVOX users -- so keep the suggestions coming!)

    I'll be posting these issue suggestions here, in addition to my bill picks for the day (as I explained in  an earlier post ).

    _________________________________

    Today's Issue Spotlight: Elections and Campaign Finance

    • Fair Elections Now Act (S 750) reforms the financing of Senate elections
    • Fair Elections Now Act (HR 1404) reforms the financing of House elections
    • Competitive Elections Act (HR 2788) prohibits a Congressional candidate from making campaign expenditures for the election from amounts that were not raised during the election cycle for that office
    • HR 2038 provides for limitations on expenditures in House elections
    • HJ Res 65 amends the Constitution to prohibit Congressional candidates from accepting contributions from individuals who do not reside in the State or Congressional district
    • S 194 terminates taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns and party conventions

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    Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn’t imply an endorsement in any way. Rather, we’re simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of an overwhelmingly complex legislative system. (Another way is to check out the  “Trending Bills of the Week” .) As always, thanks for using POPVOX and I hope you stay in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter . If you'd these issue spotlights and other bill updates from POPVOX delivered to you via email, get started here to subscribe.
  10. Using Storify: Bills Mentioned in the Iowa #GOPDebate

  11. Communicating with Congress: Modernizing Congress's workflow and infrastructure

    When the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) hosted a conference in 2008 on constituent mail, some normally very professional folks got very heated. Businesses on the outside thought it was their right to get mail from the public in front of Congressional staff, and Congressional staff lamented that with limited resources it is just a little difficult to read through 300 million emails a year.

    I attended that conference in 2008 with a mild fever and two days before a major exam for my PhD. (I had failed that test once and if I had failed it again I would have been kicked out of the program.) But I had an inkling that it was going to be an important event, it was, and of course here I am several years later now creating one of those businesses delivering constituent mail to Congress. (I wouldn't have guessed at the time that this is what I would be doing now, though Marci was probably hatching the idea around then.)

    Yesterday marked an important culmination of events that started in 2008. Since the conference, CMF has been bringing together those businesses, the vendors that provide software to Congress to process incoming mail, and House and Senate institutional support offices to figure out how to modernize the way businesses like POPVOX get constituent mail into Congress, and at the same time to do it in a way that makes it easier for Congressional staff to do their jobs.

    It has been many decades since Members of Congress would read their own mail. If they read all of it now they wouldn't have time to sleep. There is literally more mail for each Member of Congress coming in in a day than one person could read, much less reply to. Consider that a Congressman can represent up to about 700,000 people, and a Senator nearly 35 million. It's good that Congress gets a lot of mail, in the sense that everyone has the opportunity to tell their Member of Congress how they feel. But Congressional staff need the right tools to be able to make heads or tails of the hundreds-to-thousands of messages they receive each day, and then to write replies as best they can. There are a dozen companies whose sole product is to help Congressional offices process their mail.

    CMF's "communicating with Congress" meeting yesterday made substantial progress in figuring out how to do mail better. The crux of the project is getting the right information into mail. Namely, if a letter is about a bill in Congress that bill should be clearly identified. If a letter is a part of an advocacy organization's campaign, Congressional staff want to know who organized the campaign. Yesterday's discussion focused on how services like POPVOX would communicate those messages in a more modern electronic system than we have today. But the complication is that POPVOX is not the only business interested in this, and everyone has their opinion on the right way to do it. Unfortunately everyone involved is pretty smart so the opinions are all good. Finding consensus was the easiest part of the conversation yesterday. Today, each of the 541 Congressional offices does things differently. In the system we're heading toward, we're hoping for some standardization on the House side so that one technological solution can be applied across the board. (This conversation has been going on since the mid 1990's, actually. What I'm describing here isn't all entirely new, but the technical details beneath it are.)

    So this is one of the many things we're working on in the technology department of POPVOX. You know, as if we didn't have enough to do just building an awesome website.

  12. What Difference Does it Make Anyway?

    We just received an email that seemed to sum up the general mood at the moment:

    A POPVOX user's response to an update email:

    what difference does it make ?  the country is falling apart and congress is too busy going on vacation to give a crap.

    Even the lowercase font captured a sense of helplessness that so many feel.  I decided to post the response here in case it is helpful for others:

    Hi,
    I know you probably don't expect a response... but I just had to jump in because I think a lot of people are feeling the same way.  It's been a very rough few months.
    The one suggestion I would offer is that you attend a town meeting and let your Representative or Senator know how you feel.  They take August break to go back home and hear from constituents.  You can find the town meeting schedule on most Congressional websites (I would look for you but can't tell which district you are in from just the email.)
    Surveys of staffers (and my own experience when I was working on Capitol Hill) repeatedly show that in-person contact with constituents, including at a town hall meeting, have the greatest effect on Members' opinions.
    I know this is a frustrating time.  Now more than ever however, Members of Congress need real stories from real people to give them perspective on the decisions they will be making when they return.
    I'm not saying that attending a town meeting or weighing in on bills on POPVOX is a panacea, but I am encouraging you to stay engaged.  That you even took the time to write an email expressing your frustration shows that you care deeply.  Please continue to care, and to express your opinion, whatever it is, to your elected officials.  They need to hear from you.
    Kind regards,
    Marci
    One last note: I just want to dispel the notion that Congress is on "vacation."  The time Members of Congress and Senators spend in the districts and states over August speaking with constituents is some of the most important of their year.  They will return to Washington with their views shaped heavily by what they hear this month. Whatever their views or party, August is work.  They are home to listen to you.  Use this opportunity to make your voice heard in a calm and rational way.  It could have much more influence than you ever imagined.
  13. Introducing Issue Spotlights on POPVOX

    Spotlighting an Issue on POPVOX

    From time to time, we like to send POPVOX users an update of new bills by issue area. As in this example, if you weighed in on a bill about firearms, then you might receive an email from me alerting you to other firearms bills. (Full disclosure: while I think this idea is brilliant, it isn't mine. It was suggested by several POPVOX users -- so keep the suggestions coming!)

    I'll be posting these issue suggestions here, in addition to my bill picks for the day (as I explained in  an earlier post ).

    _________________________________

    Today's Issue Spotlight: Firearms Legislation

    -- HR 1445 prohibits the EPA from regulating, based on material composition, any type of firearm ammunition or fishing tackle.

    -- Recreational Lands Self-Defense Act protects the right of individuals to bear arms at water resources development projects administered by the Secretary of the Army (HR 1865).

    -- Citizens' Self-Defense Act protects the right to obtain firearms for security, and to use firearms in defense of self, family, or home, and to provide for the enforcement of such right (HR 2252).

    -- Citizens Protection Act repeals the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 and amendments to that Act (HR 2613).

    -- Second Amendment Protection Act restores the second amendment rights of all Americans (HR 2615).

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    Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn’t imply an endorsement in any way. Rather, we’re simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of an overwhelmingly complex legislative system. (Another way is to check out the  “Trending Bills of the Week” .) As always, thanks for using POPVOX and I hope you stay in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter . If you'd these issue spotlights and other bill updates from POPVOX delivered to you via email, get started here to subscribe.
  14. Tech Crunch--Facebook “Don’t Share This” Button Makes Brief Appearance In Netflix iOS App

  15. Miller-McCune--How to Reform Lobbying: Transparency

  16. The Budget Control Act of 2011 (Debt Ceiling Increase): Procedurally speaking

    Legislative language for the July 31 compromise deal on raising the debt ceiling is now available.

    Take action on POPVOX: https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/112/s627

    For those who are into Congressional procedure, note that this language is released as an amendment to an earlier Senate bill just like the original Boehner plan, as explained in an earlier post .

    Here's a recap of where this S. 627 has come from (source: THOMAS.gov )

    1. March 17, 2011: Introduced as the "Faster FOIA" bill by Senator Patrick Leahy
    2. May 26, 2011: Passed the Senate and sent to the House
    3. July 27, 2011: The bill came out of the House Rules Committee with an "amendment in the nature of a substitute" that replaced all of the "Faster FOIA" language with the Boehner debt ceiling proposal
    4. July 29, 2011: The amended bill passed the House
    5. July 31, 2011: The bill that had passed in the House did not get cloture in the Senate
    6. July 31, 2011: The compromise deal, the "Budget Control Act of 2011" was introduced as an amendment to S. 627

    For POPVOX, the somewhat indirect procedure has been a challenge.  Our system is set up to take bills that are introduced and automatically help people get their message to Congress on those bills -- but interesting procedures call for interesting solutions.  We have taken a few steps to workaround this unique circumstance:

    1) a second "bill page" has been created for S. 627 to help you send a message to Congress on the Budget Control Act of 2011.

    2) The original bill page for the original S. 627, the "Faster FOIA" bill, still exists.  Those who endorsed that bill or weighed in with comments have been notified and will be able to take action on the new bill.  (Normally the POPVOX system only allows you to take action one time on any bill.)

    We will continue to look for ways to make this process more seamless in the future. This situation just illustrates what we already know: Congress is hard!

    Now, please go weigh in on this important bill and let Congress know what you think.