Upon taking office in 2009, the Obama administration wasted no time in attacking one of the primary issues facing the country, foreclosures. The administration introduced the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) in an effort to help homeowners refinance their mortgages if they owed more on their home than the property is worth (also known as an “underwater mortgage”). Congress allocated $50 billion for foreclosure prevention and the Obama administration projected that the program would help three to four million homeowners. Yet, to date, the program has only used $1 billion and helped about 607,000.
In January 2010, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United removed restrictions on political spending by groups that are not officially affiliated with a political party or candidate. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010). Because of this decision, outside organizations, including corporations, unions and non-profits, are now unlimited in spending to influence elections.
Last December the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules regarding net neutrality, intending to “provide greater clarity and certainty regarding the continued freedom and openness of the Internet.” The FCC’s order boldly states that the enclosed rules, “will empower and protect consumers and innovators while helping ensure that the Internet continues to flourish,” but they also take an immediate stand against the “gatekeepers” who control access and rights online.
On Thursday, November 17th, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee regarding his agency’s role in providing $535 million in government-sponsored loans to the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, Solyndra. While his opening remarks can be found on the Department of Energy’s website, it was his answers to nearly five-hours of congressional questioning that occupied most of the country’s attention.
As the United States begins its withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, newly discharged veterans are returning home to discover that they are unable to find jobs in a bad economy. Congressman Marlin A. Stutzman (R-IN3) . . . recently lamented that “data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) show[s] that 35.6 percent of America’s Gulf Era II veterans ages 20 to 24 were unemployed.” * * * In the face of such numbers, both the White House and Congress have acted to counteract this trend.
On Veterans’ Day, President Obama launched new administration initiatives to aid unemployed veterans, and the Senate passed the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.”
Thwarted again, the contentious Keystone Expansion pipeline project (Keystone XL) has been further stalled by an investigation by the Inspector General, and will likely surpass the State Department’s self-imposed year-end deadline. The State Department recently avowed to reevaluate environmental impact reports allegedly drafted with conflicts of interest. The Inspector General’s office said the review would “determine to what extent the department and all other parties involved complied with federal laws and regulations” in writing the report.
The past few years have seen a litany of contentious bills in Congress. The most recent one is H.J. Res 2, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that House Republicans introduced in January 2011. The full House voted on it for the first time on November 17th, and, on a nearly party-line vote, the amendment fell just twenty-three votes short of the two hundred eighty-four required to pass.