Washington (CNN) – Congress is making two years worth of decisions now, while the rest of the world is at the mall, packing up the car and otherwise bracing for Christmas and New Year's.
This week's American Sauce cuts through the political noise to give you you a 20-minute summary of the massive news which has been almost eclipsed by the holidays: Government spending. Don't Ask Don't Tell. A major vote on illegal immigration. Taxes. Unemployment. Click here to listen. Click below to see a written cheat sheet.
Health care anyone? This Sauce episode also breaks free from the D.C. media peloton and digs into last week's Virginia court ruling that impacts the new health care law. Finally, we interview a soon-to-be unemployed congressman. Defeated in November, he and his dwindling staff now work out of a single cubicle in an almost Orwellian room packed with lawmakers on their way out of Congress.
Click to listen, or keep reading for our cheat sheet.
American Sauce: Holiday News Cheat Sheet 2010
1. Don't Ask Don't Tell –
– Votes: Senate voted 65-31 Saturday to let the military end "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and allow gays to serve openly in U.S. forces. The House passed the measure 250-175 on Dec. 15.
– GOP Senators who voted for repeal: Brown (Massachusetts), Burr (North Carolina), Collins (Maine), Ensign (Nevada), Kirk (Illinois), Murkowski (Alaska), Snowe (Maine), Voinovich (Ohio).
– Becomes Law: President Obama expected to sign Wednesday.
– Becomes Reality: In a few months. Defense Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen and President Obama must sign off on implementation. The repeal can be enacted 60 days after that certification.
– Note: This may be one of the only permanent decisions Congress makes in these waning weeks. Lawmakers are putting off longer-term decisions on other issues, like some below:
2. Tax Cuts and Unemployment Megadeal.
– Votes: House voted 277-148 on Dec. 16th. Senate passed the deal 81-19 on Dec. 15th.
– Note: Those voting 'yes' in the House were 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans. A true bipartisan vote on a major bill.
– The Bill: Is H.R. 4853. Read it, look at the summary here
– What It Does:
* Keeps tax rates where they are for two years. Does that by extending the Bush Tax Cuts and protecting some of the middle class from the Alternative Minimum Tax for two years.
* Extends unemployment benefits for a year.
* Cuts payroll taxes by 2 percentage points for a year. Payroll taxes to go from 6.2% to 4.2% during 2011.
* Extends a number of tax credits for businesses ranging from broad research credits to ethanol incentives to specific tax help for NASCAR and motor sports.
– Cost: The bill will add $858 Billion to the federal debt over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.
3. Government Spending and Earmarks
– Votes: The House and Senate are expected to continue current government spending through March 4, 2010. Thus, no increase or decrease in spending until then.
– Death of earmarks: Democrats and some veteran Republicans wanted to pass a $1.1 Trillion omnibus spending bill containing thousands of "earmarks". But anti-earmark and anti-spending pressure pulled away enough votes so that Democratic Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill altogether. It never received a Senate vote and died immediately.
– So what now? Once Congress votes to continue current funding via a continuing resolution, the issue of government spending is punted to the next Congress. Members will have to vote on federal spending again before March, or face a government shutdown.
4. DREAM Act
– What it would do: Allows illegal immigrants who were brought here as children (before the age of 16) and who have lived in the United States for five years to have a path to citizenship and access to in-state college tuition.
– Votes: The DREAM Act died in the Senate on Saturday, failing to overcome a Republican filibuster. Supporters needed 60 votes; the final cloture vote was 55-41. The House voted 216-198 on Dec. 8 to pass the DREAM Act.
– Read the Bill
– What Now?: With Republican gains in the House and Senate and with general GOP opposition to DREAM, the bill seems unlikely to return to life in the next two years.
STAY TUNED: on START Treaty and the 9/11 Workers Health Care bill. Their fates and timing of votes in the next few days are uncertain.
ONE LAST BIG ISSUE: Health Care lawsuits. Last week, there was action in two courts on the new health care law, dubbed the Affordable Care Act. To catch up on the cases, the arguments and the multiple conclusions, listen to this week's American Sauce. Click here to listen, and cast a sort of cyber vote for substance in news.