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Archive for the ‘Appropriations/Budget’ Category

Shutdown Over!

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Late Wednesday this past week, the House and Senate passed a bill to reopen the parts of the government that were closed in the shutdown.

H.R. 2775 was the bill. Originally a bill to require verification of household income for people receiving health insurance subsidies under Obamacare, it became the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014.

President Obama signed it on Thursday, making it Public Law 113-46.

So what does it do?

  • Most importantly, it funds the federal government until January 15, 2014 at the same level as in fiscal year 2013. That’s about $11,200 per U.S. family in spending.
  • It also suspends the limit on the federal government’s debt until February 7, 2014. (Coincidentally, the debt topped $17 trillion this week—about $168,000 per U.S. family, or nearly $54,000 per person.)
  • The act sets up a process for verifying the incomes of people who apply for health insurance subsidies under Obamacare, the topic of the original version of the bill.
  • It provides back pay to the 800,000 government workers who were furloughed during the shutdown.
  • It also creates a joint budget conference to work on possible compromises and report back to Congress by December 13, 2013. (Editorial: This will fail.)
  • There are a number of spending items in the bill. The United States Army Corps of Engineers was granted an authorization increase of $2.2 billion in funding to improve a series of locks and dams on the Illinois-Kentucky border. Another $450 million was allocated to help repair the damage in Colorado from the 2013 Colorado floods. The United States Department of the Interior got $36 million and the United States Forest Service $600 million to cover fighting forest fires and their damage.
  • The law also provides a payment of $174,000 to Bonnie Lautenberg, the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who died this year.
  • The act allows Congress to enact a “disapproval” resolution that would end the suspension of the debt ceiling. (Editorial: It won’t.)
  • The act extends the sunset date on the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act one year, to Dec. 8, 2015.
  • And, notably, it declines to block President Obama’s proposal for a one percent pay increase for most federal civilian employees on January 1, 2014. The raise, coming after a three-year federal pay freeze, was proposed by President Obama in August 2013 and automatically goes into effect unless blocked by Congressional budget legislation.

Now, about those editorial comments.

Congress won’t pass a resolution disapproving and ending the suspension of the debt ceiling. The Senate’s majority does not want the debt limit to constrain federal spending, so it will bottle up any resolution to do so.

The budget conference won’t materially change budget debates. Republicans and Democrats are just too far apart, and neither one sees more political benefit in compromising. It’s a reunion of the “supercommittee,” which failed last year.

So the end of the government shutdown and the suspension of the debt ceiling set the date for the next dance: early 2014.

Happy re-opening of the federal government! See you early next year for the next round!

From Shutdown to Debt Limit

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

The government shutdown that began when the House and Senate couldn’t agree on federal spending for fiscal year 2014 continues. It’s an odd shutdown, as we noted last week, but it is what it is.

The House continues to introduce and pass “mini-CRs”—continuing resolutions that temporarily fund small parts of the government. The latest examples: H. J. Res. 90, The Federal Aviation Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; H. J. Res. 91, The Department of Defense Survivor Benefits Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; H. J. Res. 92, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; and H. J. Res. 93, The Mine Safety and Health Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014.

But a new dimension on the action has emerged: the debt limit.

Federal law limits how far into debt the U.S. government may go, and the government has regularly bumped up against this limit. Earlier this year, though, the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 suspended the debt ceiling from February 4, 2013 until May 19, 2013.

On May 19, the debt ceiling was formally raised to approximately $16.699 trillion to accommodate the borrowing done during the suspension period. The ceiling was raised only to the actual debt at that time, and the Treasury Department had to take extraordinary measures to continue paying the government’s bills. Treasury predicts that these measures will allow the government to pay out on its obligations until October 17, though other estimates differ.

So Congress is considering lifting the debt ceiling once more. The latest debate occurred last week in the Senate. The debate there was all about you.

Here’s what that means: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed a debt limit suspension similar to the prior one, but this would go until December 31, 2014. What’s important about that date is that it’s beyond the next election. Majority Leader Reid wants to have debt limit debates without the pressure of a pending election hanging over that debate. He wants less pressure (in either direction) from you.

Senate Republicans want the opposite. They think the next debt limit debate should happen with election pressures mounting.

So last week, Senate Republicans refused to allow continued debate on S. 1569, the Default Prevention Act of 2013. (The Senate’s “cloture” rule requires 60 votes, which means Republican support, for debate to continue.) Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) prefer a debt limit suspension until January 31, 2014. That means more election pressure hanging over the debate because there’s an election the following November.

So the federal government is nearing the limit of its ability to take on new debt. There is argument about whether this means a default, in which the United States government stops paying creditors, or just disorganized cuts in other payments the government is required to pay.

As always, it’s up to you to decide what should happen here, and to communicate your wishes to your elected representatives.

The Non-Shutdown, the Super-Shutdown, and the House’s Latest Tactic

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

A week in, it’s on odd federal government shutdown, that’s for sure. In some respects, it’s less of a shutdown than it seems, and in others, it’s more of a shutdown. The House has a plan. We’ll see what comes of that.

By one account—a Republican Senate Budget Committee source—as much as 87% of the government is actually up and running. That’s when you measure in dollars. It’s not that much of a shutdown.

The non-shutdown is due in part to the fact that some spending, such as entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, operate under permanent spending authority. There is no need for Congress to pass annual appropriations bills to keep these programs running, so they’re not shut down.

Also, on the eve of the shutdown Congress passed and the president signed H.R. 3210, the Pay Our Military Act. That law funds the military during any period without regular authority to spend. There’s another big chunk of the federal government not shut down.

Meanwhile, there’s a super-shutdown going on. Some government workers aren’t staying home. They’re on the job, barricading public parks and national forests, a policy that has raised accusations that the government is trying to maximize Americans’ discomfort.

The Iwo Jima memorial, for example, is a patch of grass ringed by a road. At any given hour on any given day, you wouldn’t find a federal employee anywhere. A government shutdown would mean the grass goes uncut and some maintenance wouldn’t be done. It shouldn’t mean that veterans can’t visit the iconic statue representing World War II victory in the Pacific. That’s apparently why the Syracuse Honor Flight pushed the barricades aside and visited the memorial as they pleased.

States and localities are offering to pick up the slack at national parks, and meeting with mixed results.

Meanwhile, the standoff between the House and the Senate and president continues. The latest tactic the House is adopting takes a page from the Pay Our Military Act: it’s introducing and passing bills that fund parts of the government that seem to matter most.

The politics are interesting. Passing a lot of bills to fund the more popular government programs helps the House make the case that they are trying to keep the government open and that it is the Democrats and President Obama holding the government “hostage” to get what they want in the Obamacare debate. That’s a hard case to make, though, and House Republicans are in the weaker position.

As always, it’s up to you.

Here’s a list of those bills and their spending per U.S. family, where available. You can make your thoughts known by voting and commenting on the bills and by editing the wiki articles about them:

H.R. 3230, The Pay Our Guard and Reserve Actspends $45 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 70, The National Park Service Operations, Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $22.50 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 71, The District of Columbia Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 72, The Veterans Benefits Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $21 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 73, The National Institutes of Health Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $72 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 74, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 75, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $52 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 76, The National Nuclear Security Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $65 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 77, The Food and Drug Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $10 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 78, The National Intelligence Program Operations Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 79, The Border Security and Enforcement Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $118 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 80, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, and Indian Health Service Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $48 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 81, Making continuing appropriations for the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Office of Environmental Management of the Department of Energy for fiscal year 2014, and for other purposes

H. J. Res. 82, The National Weather Service Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $5.50 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 83, The Impact Aid Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $10 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 84, The Head Start Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $40 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 85, The Federal Emergency Management Agency Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $106 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 86, The Consumer Product Safety Commission Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 87, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 88, Making continuing appropriations for operations of the United States Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy for fiscal year 2014

It’s a Shutdown, Then!

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

So it’s going to be a government shutdown. At the end of the day Monday, the Treasury Department’s authority to spend money to fund the operations of government will expire. How did we get here?

First, Congress didn’t pass any of the ordinary spending bills, as it’s supposed to do in the summer. Oh, it seemed like Congress might follow the schedule early in the year, but progress quickly halted. The new fiscal year starts Tuesday, October 1st.

So two Fridays ago (September 20th), the House passed a “continuing resolution” (H.J. Res. 59) that would fund the government until December 15th. It also defunded Obamacare.

“No deal!” said the Senate, which sent the bill back, stripped of the provisions defunding Obamacare. It would have paid for the government’s operations until November 15th.

So on Saturday, with about 48 hours to go before the end of the fiscal year, the House sent the bill back to the Senate. The latest version would fund the government through December 15th, and it would delay the individual mandate in Obamacare and the insurance exchanges, which are currently supposed to go into operation on Tuesday. It would also eliminate a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that helps to pay for Obamacare.

The White House has threatened to veto that bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that the bill will die in the Senate.

The last word was that the Senate’s leaders want to pass a “clean” continuing resolution in the afternoon on Monday, forcing the House to pass the Senate’s latest version or take responsibility for the shutdown starting at midnight Monday night.

But just how shut is shutdown?

“Essential” services of the government stay up and running during a shutdown, and on Friday the New York Times published a graphic showing how many workers in what agencies would be furloughed.

Ninety-seven percent of NASA’s 18,134 workers would stay home. But the scientists on the international space station would keep working. They are, after all, not in a position to take some days off.

At the opposite extreme is the Veterans Administration, which has 332,025 workers. Only 4% of them would be furloughed. Your VA nurses will still be working.

The Defense Department splits right down the middle, with half its workers deemed non-essential. The times reports that the military’s environmental engineers would stay home. Military recruiters stay on the job.

Incidentally, the House passed H.R. 3210 early Sunday morning, a bill to continue spending on military pay in the event of a government shutdown.

So a government shutdown is a mess, but Congress walks up to that cliff nearly every year. It’s been a decade since Congress passed a budget on time, according to the National Priorities Project’s post last week, “Government Shutdown is a Failure of Democracy.” A shutdown is upon us, and it’s something like business as usual for the federal government.

We Were Wrong—and the Government May Soon Shut Down!

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

No, it’s not our failure to read the tea leaves that threatens a government shutdown. But when we updated you on the spending situation last week, we thought that the House leadership would move a government funding bill that avoids a fight on Obamacare. They didn’t.

Instead, the House last week passed a spending bill that would fund the government through December 15th but that disallows spending to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

H.J. Res. 59, the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014, funds the government through mid-December, defunds Obamacare, and prioritizes debt payments if the government shuts down.

(The cost of running the government through December 15th? A little over $7,000 per U.S. family.)

The House’s goal is to let blame fall on the Senate if the government shuts down. “Democrats in the Senate want Obamacare so bad that they’ll hold up spending on everything else in government just to keep it going.”

The Senate, meanwhile, is going to try to pass a bill that doesn’t defund Obamacare. Sending that bill back to the House may make it look more like the House’s fault if the government shuts down.

Katy, bar the door. It’s time to fight!

You’re the referee. If you go and vote on H.J. Res. 59, be sure to leave a comment explaining your vote.

At this writing, the vote is running pretty strongly against the bill. But is that because people don’t want that much spending? Because they don’t like the House’s plan? Or did the votes come in before H.J. Res. 59 had the Obamacare defunding provisions in it?

Comment on the bill or comment below. Let people know what you think!

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Last week, we heard from the office of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) with a response to a recent post on all these spending issues.

In “Your Last FY 2014 Spending Update,” we noted the appropriations subcommittee chairmen who hadn’t moved a bill this year. Rep. Kingston was one of them. But he wanted to.

In a letter he sent to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) late last month, Kingston argued for moving his Labor-Health and Human Services spending bill and against the use of a continuing resolution to try to defund Obamacare.

“I have spent the bulk of this year preparing legislation that meets all the primary goals of our conference. This legislation is far stronger than a continuing resolution,” Kingston wrote.

And he wasn’t understated about the day’s hottest issue: “The bill COMPLETELY DEFUNDS OBAMACARE.”

There’s almost always more to the story, and our assessment that Kingston had failed to move a bill was simplistic. He has to work with others to get that done, and we see that at least in late August he implored House leadership to move his bill.

It’s good to see Rep. Kingston arguing for following the regular schedule on spending bills. Following the schedule and avoiding last-minute spending battles would give the public more opportunity to oversee what the Congress does—a good thing no matter where you are on the issues.

We don’t know whether Rep. Kingston heard about our reporting from a constituent or just saw it online. The lesson for WashingtonWatchers is that members of Congress do pay attention to what people think, and they want us to know better how they’re working to represent their districts in Congress. All is not lost for democracy. Thanks, Jack Kingston!

Spending, But Not on Obamacare

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Last week, the House leadership cancelled its planned vote on a “continuing resolution,” a bill that would fund the government temporarily while Congress came up with final spending decisions for fiscal year 2014.

The reason why? A significant part of the House Republican caucus wants to defund Obamacare using this must-pass spending bill.

But the House can’t defund Obamacare on its own. Were the House to pass a spending bill that cut off Obamacare funds, the Senate would not, and the government would shut down. If the Senate were to pass it, President Obama would veto it, and the government would shut down.

That may be fine with some, but the House leadership apparently wants to avoid this outcome. They probably believe they would get more political heat than political credit if they allowed a government shut-down to happen.

So this week, they’ll be figuring out how to pass a continuing resolution that temporarily funds the government, including Obamacare.

We don’t know what that bill will look like, but the one that got pulled last week—H.J. Res. 59, the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014—spent enough money to run the government until December 15th.

That’s 78 days. At the rate of spending during fiscal year 2013, 78 days is a little over $750 billion dollars. And $750 billion is a little over $7,200 per U.S. family.

So that’s some perspective on the significance of these bills to your pocketbook. The same amount of spending is likely to be in the plan for the bill the House takes up this week—to fund the government until December 15th. It may even be H.J. Res. 59 again.

The House is slated to do some spending this week, and chances are the spending will include funds for Obamacare. But who knows? It may not.

The FY 2014 Spending Plan

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Congress failed to make funding decisions for fiscal 2014 on its regular time-frame, and now the debate on Syria has jumped to the front of the line. That means Congress is going to make some very last-minute decisions about spending in the fiscal year that starts October 1st. Even more last-minute than they had already planned.

The Hill’s “Floor Action” blog reports that the plan is for a three-month “continuing resolution.” That is, a bill that continues existing spending at about the current rate. Between October 1st and the end of the year, congressional leaders would then figure out what spending for the rest of the 2014 fiscal year will be.

The continuing resolution will be offered to your member of Congress and senators as a take-it-or-leave-it deal. There will be few opportunities for amendments, as there would be if each of the appropriations bills had been passed this spring and summer.

A debt-ceiling debate is also looming, and House Republicans plan to extract spending concessions from President Obama and the Democratic Senate when it does. That will be an interesting feature of congressional activity in the fall.

So while the Senate debates its authorization of military action in Syria (text here) this week, the House will debate and pass an as-yet-unseen continuing resolution.

Below, though, is an illustration of the bills that might have been passed had Congress followed the proper schedule. Perhaps one day, if Americans ask for it—and it’s your responsibility to ask for it if you want it—Congress will pass annual spending bills on time, so that there can be proper, transparent debate on the spending priorities of the federal government.

Obviously, we lied a few weeks ago when we said it was your last FY 2014 spending update, because this seems to be another…

Bill House Senate
Budget Resolution* H. Con. Res. 25 ($26,705) S. Con. Res. 8 ($28,439)
Agriculture H.R. 2410 ($489) S. 1244 ($1,231)
Commerce/Justice/Science H.R. 2787 ($560) S. 1329 ($588)
Defense H.R. 2397 ($5,570) S. 1429 ($5,546)
Energy & Water H.R. 2609 ($364) S. 1245 ($379)
Financial Services H.R. 2786 ($388) S. 1371 ($431)
Homeland Security H.R. 2217 ($450) H.R. 2217($452)
Interior & Environment
Labor/HHS/Education S. 1284 ($7,161)
Legislative Branch H.R. 2792 ($33) S. 1283 ($31)
Military/Veterans H.R. 2216 ($1,474) H.R. 2216($1,496)
State/Foreign Operations H.R. 2855 ($418) S. 1372 ($461)
Transportation/HUD H.R. 2610 ($1,090) S. 1243 ($1,114)

*Budget resolutions set overall spending amounts but do not spend money.
†The Senate received and passed a version of the House bill rather than introducing its own.

Your Last FY 2014 Spending Update

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Probably…

When Congress returns to Washington, D.C., the second week of September, there will be very little time before the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year, which is October 1st. The regular process for determining federal government spending has, once again, failed.

That “regular process” would be the House and Senate each passing twelve spending bills, then conferring with one another to come up with final spending bills by late summer.

Well, most bills were introduced, but a few weren’t.

Neither the House nor the Senate saw an Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. That’s the responsibility of the House subcommittee chairman, Rep. Michael Simpson (R-ID) and the Senate subcommittee chairman, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). The other failure was Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who did not produce a bill as chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee.

The House passed four of the bills that were introduced there. The Senate passed none of its bills.

So what’s going to happen? The top congressional leaders will get together behind closed doors and decide either to pass a continuing resolution—which temporarily funds the government, generally at prior levels—or to pass an omnibus spending bill, with every single spending bill rolled into one.

Both of these diminish the public’s ability to oversee the government. And maybe that’s the reason they do it that way. It’s easier to fail at the spending process each year than it is to take public input on the spending priorities of the country.

Here are the spending bills that so introduction. Perhaps they’ll form the basis of the final spending decisions for fiscal 2014. And perhaps not…

Bill House Senate
Budget Resolution* H. Con. Res. 25 ($26,705) S. Con. Res. 8 ($28,439)
Agriculture H.R. 2410 ($489) S. 1244 ($1,231)
Commerce/Justice/Science H.R. 2787 ($560) S. 1329 ($588)
Defense H.R. 2397 ($5,570) S. 1429 ($5,546)
Energy & Water H.R. 2609 ($364) S. 1245 ($379)
Financial Services H.R. 2786 ($388) S. 1371 ($431)
Homeland Security H.R. 2217 ($450) H.R. 2217($452)
Interior & Environment
Labor/HHS/Education S. 1284 ($7,161)
Legislative Branch H.R. 2792 ($33) S. 1283 ($31)
Military/Veterans H.R. 2216 ($1,474) H.R. 2216($1,496)
State/Foreign Operations H.R. 2855 ($418) S. 1372 ($461)
Transportation/HUD H.R. 2610 ($1,090) S. 1243 ($1,114)

*Budget resolutions set overall spending amounts but do not spend money.
†The Senate received and passed a version of the House bill rather than introducing its own.

The Very Latest on FY 2014 Spending

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

When last we checked in on Congress’s budgeting progress, it was taking steps—slow ones—toward doing things right. President Obama was late with his budget, but the House and Senate both introduced and passed their budget resolutions.

Budget resolutions set the amounts for spending bills, and the two houses have both gotten to work on appropriations.

But they’re not moving very fast, and there is little sign that they’re going to get together and come to mutual agreement so they can pass identical bills.

If they don’t pass the bills on time, what happens then? The leadership in the House and Senate get together and decide where the money is going to go.

Debate on spending is hard enough to follow as it is. It’s that much harder when they don’t pass the bills on time and have to pass a “continuing resolution” to temporarily fund the government, or an omnibus spending bill that decides on all the issues at once.

What can you do about? You could complain!

Your representative and your senators don’t know that you care unless you raise a stink about it. Your call alone isn’t enough to change things, but enough calls might be enough.

So what you should do after you complain, is you should tell your friends to complain. Share this post with them and encourage them also to call their representative and senators.

The Capitol switchboard number is: 202-224-3121. Just call and ask for the office you want to reach. Be polite and say you’d like the regular appropriations process to be followed and not to have a continuing resolution or an omnibus bill.

No time like the present to start a revolution!

Unfortunately, normal, timely, and responsible administration of the annual spending process would be revolutionary…

In the meantime, here are the spending bills that have been introduced in each house of Congress. It’s not looking too bad compared to recent years in which Congress has completely fallen down, but they’re well behind schedule again and once again likely to fail at passing the bills on time.

Bill House Senate
Budget Resolution* H. Con. Res. 25 ($26,705) S. Con. Res. 8 ($28,439)
Agriculture H.R. 2410 ($489) S. 1244 ($1,231)
Commerce/Justice/Science H.R. 2787 ($560) S. 1329 ($588)
Defense H.R. 2397 ($5,570)
Energy & Water H.R. 2609 ($364) S. 1245 ($379)
Financial Services H.R. 2786 ($388) S. 1371 ($431)
Homeland Security H.R. 2217 ($450) H.R. 2217($452)
Interior & Environment
Labor/HHS/Education S. 1284 ($7,161)
Legislative Branch H.R. 2792 ($33) S. 1283 ($31)
Military/Veterans H.R. 2216 ($1,474) H.R. 2216($1,496)
State/Foreign Operations S. 1372 ($461)
Transportation/HUD H.R. 2610 ($1,090) S. 1243 ($1,114)

*Budget resolutions set overall spending amounts but do not spend money.
†The Senate received and passed a version of the House bill rather than introducing its own.

Spending on Spying? Not So Fast!

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

When the House debates the Defense appropriations bill this week, an interesting coalition may cause the first test of the nation’s policies on government surveillance of all Americans’ phone calling. You should pay attention. After all, the government is paying attention to you!

News that the National Security Agency has been collecting all Americans phone records rocked the Washington, D.C. beltway a few weeks ago. And while lots of people are focusing on the “Where’s Waldo” story of leaker Edward Snowden, the controversy around domestic surveillance has continued to unfold.

Last week, for example, the House Judiciary Committee held a contentious hearing at which members of Congress grilled representatives of the intelligence community about their practice of gathering data about all Americans’ communications in the name of turning up foreign plots against the country. On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had reauthorized the warrant allowing collection of data about all calls made on the Verizon network.

Congress is uncertain and divided on what to do about domestic NSA spying, but they might have to decide soon. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats are in a position to force a vote on it.

Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), who we called out as a transparency candidate before his election to Congress, is something of a ringleader here. He has asked the House Rules Committee if he can offer an amendment on the Department of Defense appropriations bill dealing with NSA spying.

(The Rules Committee decides what the terms of debate are on the House floor, including what amendments can be considered. The NSA is part of the Department of Defense, so this is the bill on which to do it.)

The Rules Committee could refuse him, but he has a coalition of Republican and Democratic NSA skeptics who might then vote down the entire bill. So Amash and his team have House leadership over a barrel. He may just be able to force a vote on NSA spying.

What does that mean for you? Now is the time to let your member of Congress know what you think about this issue!

If you don’t know who your representative is, here’s a state-by-state list. You can reach him or her by calling the Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) and asking for his or her office. Tell the person who answers that you want to talk about the NSA, then tell the right person what you think. (Be polite.) They’ll pass it along, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get your way!

In the meantime, here’s the current vote on H.R. 2397, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.