By Tony Romm - 09/28/09 11:33 PM EDT
Below are some of the many legislative battles The Hill has witnessed over its 15-year history.
• American Reinvestment and Recovery Act — This $787 billion stimulus package has come to define the first year of the Obama presidency.
Not a single House Republican voted for the final bill, and only three Senate Republicans — Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) — defected in support of Democrats’ efforts. Months later, Specter would become a Democrat.
• Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — The fair-pay law sought to correct a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that shortened the statute of limitations in pay-discrimination cases.
• Emergency Economic Stabilization Act — Amid the stretch run of the presidential election, the sub-prime mortgage crisis peaked, following the federal takeovers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.
The George W. Bush administration and the Democratic-led Congress crafted an unpopular $700 billion bill that struggled to pass. After several stops and starts and round-the-clock legislating, Bush signed what became known as the Wall Street bailout bill.
• Fair Minimum Wage Act — Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) spearheaded the Senate effort to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour — the first such increase in over a decade.
• Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act — Democrats campaigning in 2006 sought to capitalize on the corruption charges that plagued the GOP, and specifically lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Under the 2007 law, lobbyists must file quarterly reports about both their activities and political contributions. It also puts restrictions on former elected officials lobbying their former colleagues and imposed a permanent prohibition on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and their offices.
• Detainee Treatment Act — The fallout from the U.S. military’s interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prompted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to introduce this law as an amendment to the 2006 Defense appropriations bill. Bush administration officials, spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney, strongly objected to the measure.
• Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act — After the 9/11 Commission revealed serious flaws in the U.S. intelligence agencies, lawmakers passed a sweeping overhaul.
The result was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, the largest overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community since the creation of the CIA. Introduced by Sen. Collins with the help of then-Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), the law created the National Intelligence Director position to oversee operations.
• Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act — This 2003 law is the most sweeping overhaul in Medicare’s history. Its primary feature: a voluntary prescription drug entitlement program — Medicare Part D — for seniors.
AARP’s endorsement of the $395 billion bill was crucial, but it still lacked the votes to pass when it hit the House floor at 3 a.m. during an intense November roll call. President Bush was awoken, making calls to Republicans on the floor. At 6 a.m., a couple Republicans changed their votes and the bill passed.
• Jobs and Growth Tax Relief and Reconciliation Act — This tax cut was harder to pass than the 2001 version — mostly because the nation was running a deficit.
But ultimately, Republicans triumphed. Only seven of the House’s 205 Democrats supported the tax policy, which advanced out of the House by a margin of only 31 votes. The bill — submitted via reconciliation in the Senate — passed the upper chamber as a result of Vice President Cheney’s tie-breaking vote.
• Iraq War Resolution — As President Bush condemned Saddam Hussein before the U.N. General Assembly in September 2002, lawmakers debated the White House’s request for a resolution authorizing force against the Middle Eastern country. This vote divided Democrats, and some political analysts have since contended that if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) had rejected the measure, she, and not Barack Obama, would have been sworn into office last January.
• USA Patriot Act — It has been almost eight years since Congress approved this 2001 law, which granted the president and law enforcement agencies considerable authority to investigate suspected terrorists.
Today, the law has attracted criticism from both sides of the aisle. Many Democrats allege it undermines privacy, while a number of Republicans insist the law is crucial to defending the country from acts of terrorism.
• No Child Left Behind — The No Child Left Behind Act was President Bush’s staple overhaul of public education, designed in part to standardize achievement goals and improve student performance nationwide.
Initially, many Democratic lawmakers signaled their support for the general thrust of Bush’s proposal, but disagreed with its strategy — especially its voucher provision. A series of meetings between Democrats, including Sen. Kennedy, and the White House resulted in the voucher provision’s omission.
• Authorization to Use Military Force Against Terrorists — In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress in a joint resolution authorized the president exceptionally broad powers to root out international terrorism — the first target of which was the Taliban in Afghanistan. Only one House member — Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — voted against the resolution.
• Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act — Tax cuts were one of the most prominent pledges George W. Bush made during his presidential campaign and first term in office. He promptly got his wish in 2001, when the GOP-led Congress enacted a 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut that overhauled income tax brackets, reduced the estate tax and boosted child tax credits.
To escape any impediment from the Byrd rule — which bars provisions from reconciliation that significantly add to the deficit after 10 years — lawmakers opted to sunset the cuts in 2011.
• Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act — After the Federal Trade Commission advised Congress to address a number of vulnerabilities confronting children online, Sen. McCain and then-Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.) introduced this 1998 law, which requires websites to obtain parental consent if they intend in any way to use a child’s personal information.
• The Balanced Budget Act — This 1997 spending plan capped off about a year’s worth of fierce budget standoffs between the Democratic White House and the Republican-led Congress. The struggle began when lawmakers submitted to then-President Bill Clinton a pair of budget-related bills that authorized serious cuts to federal programs in order to decrease the federal deficit and debt. Clinton, however, vetoed those measures — a move that shut down the government in 1996.
The GOP eventually conceded, mostly as a result of that year’s election pressures, but what soon emerged was the historic Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which also created the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
• Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — Sen. Kennedy’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act established new rules for how patients’ health information could be used, shared or disclosed among healthcare providers. The debate pitted insurance companies, which supported record digitization, against a number of doctors groups, which feared the bill would undermine patient confidentiality.
• Defense of Marriage Act — Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) authored this 1996 law, which defined marriage as a legal union of one man and one woman. A Republican Congress fast-tracked the bill out of committee and through the House and Senate, where it cleared with sizable bipartisan margins. To the dismay of some Democrats, President Clinton signed the proposal into law that year. Barr has since apologized for passing DOMA, which he recast in 2008 as a violation of personal freedoms.
• Telecommunications Act of 1996 — Sixty-two years passed before Congress successfully updated its seminal 1934 Communications Act, which created the Federal Communications Commission. That update — the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — opened up the communication marketplace and destroyed a host of regulations that previously limited media ownership.
• Personal Responsibility Act — The GOP introduced this welfare reform bill as part of its Contract With America.
After the Republican House and Senate both approved the bill, President Clinton vetoed it. However, the bill re-emerged in 1996, when Rep. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) introduced his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. That bill — which Clinton did sign — created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.
• Unfunded Mandate Reform Act — Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Ind.) introduced this 1995 law, another byproduct of the Contract With America. It requires Congress to appropriate federal money to states if federal lawmakers’ mandate exceeds more than $50 million per year.
• Lobbying Disclosure Act — A Republican Congress significantly broadened the definition of “lobbyist” in its 1995 reform effort. The new rules — which replaced Congress’s 1946 lobbying law — defined as a lobbyist anyone who spends about one-fifth of his or her time influencing lawmakers and their staff, or any high-level staff who receive about $5,000 in a six-month period from lobbyist payrolls.