Senate Bill Summaries:

Measuring Cosponsorship and Voting in the Congress for a Legislative Scorecard of the 113th Congress

Brought to you by That's My Congress and Irregular Times

The following is a list of the legislation we reference in generating our ratings for members of the United States Senate in the 113th Congress of 2013-2014. We pay attention to how senators cosponsor and vote behavior on these bills, classifying their actions as either liberal or conservative in the American context.

Liberal action is measured as support for legislation in the promotion of freedom, knowledge and security. Freedom is achieved when constitutional protections are respected and when people are treated with equality under law. Knowledge is pursued through rigorous support for science and education. Security comes from the protection of environmental resources, the strengthening of economic opportunity for people and the preservation of peace from erosion by wasteful, destructive militarism.

A legislative action is classified as Conservative if it erodes freedom, knowledge and security. When constitutional protections are disregarded, when discrimination under law is fostered, when the pursuit of knowledge is abandoned and science overruled, when wealth for a few matters more than prosperity for all, and when military adventurism becomes the articulation of foreign policy, our nation is headed a morally wrong and self-destructive direction.

Click on the title of each bill for complete and up-to-date information, including bill text and status. To review our scorecard ratings for your Senators on Capitol Hill, click here.

S. 1130

The New York Times has documented a system of secret laws and secret courts, created by the White House without the knowledge or consent of the American people. A FISA court of eleven justices, all appointed by the authoritarian-leaning Chief Justice John Roberts, have been authorizing massive warrantless surveillance programs that collect information on Americans' phone calls, e-mails, text messages and similar communications. The FISA judges did not turn down a single one of the many government surveillance requests in the year 2012. The same judges have created new law, ruling that if the government has "special needs," the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution can be overruled. This law is secret -- it is literally forbidden for anyone to tell you about the law's existence (the New York Times only obtained the information through unauthorized leaks). An opportunity exists for the Senate to change this arrangement through the Ending Secret Law Act. Introduced as H.R. 2475 in the House and S. 1130 in the Senate, the Ending Secret Law Act would, if passed, require the disclosure of the secret legal opinions of the FISA court to the public, with classified secrets blacked out. That way, the American people would at least be able to know what new powers the government has assumed for itself.

Legislative Tags: constitution, big brother, court, fisa, fourth amendment, secret law, nsa, secrecy, special needs, surveillance, transparency

S. 1238

At a time when family budgets are already tight and a university education is becoming even more unaffordable, 49 members of the U.S. Senate voted to double student loan annual interest rates from 3.4% to 6.8%. This bill, S. 1238, would have kept student interest loan rates at their previous low rate -- but 49 senators voted NO, to make college loans even less affordable for those students who need them the most.

Legislative Tags: student loans, undergraduate, education, values, interest rates, rate hike, social investment, affordability

S. 296

S. 296, the Uniting American Families Act, would act as a relief valve from illegal immigration by creating greater avenues for legal immigration. The idea is to broaden the list of family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are allowed to enter the country and obtain their own lawful permanent resident status, including permanent same-sex partners under family-based immigration provisions.

Legislative Tags: immigration, lgbt, discriminatory, immigrants, reuniting, families, permanent residents, legal immigrants

S. 301

A bicameral coalition in the U.S. Congress is trying to take away the citizenship of babies born right here in the USA. Their vehicle: the ironically-named Birthright Citizenship Act.

For a hundred and fifty years, the way U.S. citizenship works has been simple and straightforward: if you are born in this country, you are a citizen. Being American isn't about having the right ancestry, the right parents, the right blood; it's about the idea that no matter who you are, you can go as far as your dreams take you. It's about the idea that everyone born in America has the same rights.

But some members of the Senate aren't content with the long historical tradition of American citizenship. They want to deny the constitution's presumption of citizenship rights, to take away the citizenship of kids born in America. That's not an exaggeration. S. 301 is a bill designed to remove the guarantee that what makes you an American is being born in the USA. This bill, ironically named the Birthright Citizenship Act, actually takes away birthright citizenship from people born in the USA if their parents aren't permanent residents or citizens.

If passed, S. 301 would import the old German Heimatland model of citizenship only through by proper bloodline. Over generations, this bill would create entire classes of people whose parents and even grandparents were born in the USA but who are denied the full rights of citizens.

America has been down that road before; we called that system slavery. Should we go down that road again?

Legislative Tags: jus sanguinis, birthright, citizenship, discrimination, babies, birth, constitution, heimatland, immigration, nativist

S. 332

The Climate Protection act would shift some of the tremendous economic cost of carbon dioxide to the ultimate source of that pollution - the fossil fuel industry - creating a charge of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide released, an amount to be increased to keep pace with inflation every year. The bill would also increase safeguards on the controversial practice of extraction of natural gas through horizontal fracturing – fracking, and raise 1.2 trillion dollars to pay for improved weatherization of one million homes per year, increased research and development in clean energy alternatives, public-private partnerships in efficient energy and transportation projects, and a clean energy rebate program to give American citizens a share of the carbon fee, actually putting money in Americans’ pockets to help them pay for the damage caused by climate change as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. The Climate Protection Act would thus both strengthen the American economy and take a substantial step toward confronting the growing crisis of climate change.

Legislative Tags: climate change, environment, energy

S. 375

S. 375, a bill introduced by Senator Jon Tester, would require senators to file campaign finance reports electronically with the Federal Election Commission, not on paper with the Senate. This may not sound like an important distinction, but the practical effect of the current system is to delay the processing of campaign contribution reports -- often until after an election is over -- and to make the discovery of unsavory campaign expenditures by reporters and citizens more difficult. Tester's bill, the continuation of a veteran effort by ex-Senator Russ Feingold in previous sessions of Congress, would increase efficiency within the government, increase transparency of information to reporters, and increase the accountability of Senators to American citizens.

Legislative Tags: campaign finance, senate, transparency, disclosure, electronic

S. 460

The Dow Jones Industrials Average is at record high levels. That money isn't trickling down, however. For working Americans, wages have been stagnant. Corporations and wealthy Americans are hoarding their money. Low wage levels haven't brought about job growth. The Fair Minimum Wage Act is a bill that would increase the minimum wage from its current $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour over the next two years. After that point, the minimum wage would automatically increase to keep pace with inflation. Because the minimum wage is not currently indexed to inflation, the real value of the minimum wage continues to fall every month that the Congress fails to act, depriving hard-working Americans of another meager meal.

Legislative Tags: minimum wage, wages, inflation, cpi, hardship, money

S. 523

For decades, paid spokespersons for multinational corporations have articulated many theoretical reasons why privately-run for-profit programs should be more efficient than government-run programs. However, empirical research into the matter has failed to consistently find an economic or operational benefit of privatization. Privatization of military operations, for instance, has led to infamous fraud, waste, delays and other abuses. Privatization of other government services has interfered with the oversight and transparency. Despite this, corporate interests in Congress continue to push privatization. In the late Winter of 2013, Senator John Thune introduced S. 523, a bill that if passed would require the privatization of government services in many agencies, without the context of study into whether such privatization would actually do any good.

Legislative Tags: privatization, government

S. 791

S. 791 is accurately called the Follow the Money Act, allowing citizens the opportunity to find out who's been spending money on politicians' campaigns. It's no secret that most political campaign spending has moved to so-called independent expenditures, but the corporate and wealth-class identity of those campaigns' funders has been a secret. S. 791 would require the disclosure of those amounts on a prompt basis, unveiling the sponsorship of politicians by moneyed interests.

Legislative Tags: campaign finance, independent expenditures

S.Amdt. 646 to S.Con.Res. 8

Just weeks after Americans learned that they had just endured the hottest year in all of U.S. history, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse introduced legislation to address the growing crisis of climate change. His legislative amendment would have recognized that Americans are already paying the price for carbon dioxide pollution, and would have shifted the expense to those who create the lion's share of the pollution, by creating an explicit fee for carbon dioxide emissions.

Legislative Tags: climate change, environment, carbon dioxide

S.J.Res. 17

A law passed to ban the burning of the American flag would be promptly struck down as unconstitutional because the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares that freedom of speech shall not be abridged.

Some consider free speech to be a positive attribute of the American way of life; others consider it to be a nuisance or impediment. S.J. Res 17 is a bill for those who think First Amendment free speech is an impediment. This legislation is an attempt to change the Constitution to create an exception to the guarantee of free speech, removing legal protection for speech that "desecrates" the flag of the United States. It would allow people to be thrown in prison for protesting policy in a way that displays disrespect to the American flag.

By declaring the flag to be a sacred object, the sponsors of this constitutional amendment would establish a national civic religion. The unintentionally ironic dogma of the new religion envisioned by S.J. Res. 17: it is necessary to dilute actual American freedom in order to protect the symbolic representation of that same freedom.

Legislative Tags: flag, desecration, sacred, first amendment, free speech, usa, nationalism