Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
How the 111th Congress Changed Our Lives
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Congress usually draws the most attention for the things it doesn’t accomplish. The 111th session was no different, but all the partisan bickering, deadlock, and frequent threats of filibuster overshadowed one reality: these legislators actually got a heck of a lot done. With the new session beginning on January 3rd, it's time to ask: How has the 111th Congress changed our lives? Here are just a few of the ways that lawmakers made America different over the past two years.
- Amended the statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination, allowing the time window for filing such a lawsuit to reset every time the employer issues a paycheck.
- Provided an economic stimulus of $787 billion in tax cuts, credits and incentives, state and local fiscal relief, and more federal spending targeted at infrastructure, energy, transportation and more. (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009)
- Banned federal funding of stem cell research. (Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009)
- Expanded eligibility for Chapter 13 bankruptcy by excluding home mortgage debt from the current maximum debt limitations. (Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009)
- Provided health insurance to an additional 4 million children and pregnant women under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. (Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act)
- Expanded Americorps and provided funding for several more volunteer and civil service organizations. (Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act)
- Passed new credit card regulations to protect consumers from arbitrary interest rate increases and other fees. (Credit CARD Act of 2009)
- Gave the FDA regulatory control over the tobacco industry, set new requirements for cigarette warning labels, and limited cigarette advertising. (Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act)
- Extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009, HIRE Act,Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010)
- Instituted the Cash for Clunkers program, allowing US residents to trade in their old, less fuel-efficient vehicles for newer, more efficient ones. (Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009)
- Extended first-time homebuyer’s tax credit until April 2010. (Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009)
- Offered payroll tax breaks and other incentives for businesses to hire unemployed workers. (HIRE Act)
- Applied more economic sanctions to Iran in response to the country’s growing nuclear program. (Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010)
- Expanded federal benefits for military veterans and their families, which included provisions for expanded mental health services, transportation to care in rural areas, and a new study of barriers to access for women veterans. (Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010)
- Overhauled US healthcare system by prohibiting the denial of coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, expanding Medicaid eligibility, establishing health insurance exchanges, providing incentives for businesses to provide employees with health care, and more. Also instituted a tax penalty for citizens who do not purchase health insurance, with exemptions for those who earn too little in income or have other compelling reasons. (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act)
- Consolidated financial regulatory agencies, increased regulation and transparency of financial markets and credit rating agencies, and added new consumer protections and other measures to prevent future financial collapses. (Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act)
- Extended all of the Bush tax cuts and a variety of other tax credits for another two years, extended unemployment benefits for another 13 months, and set the estate tax at 35 percent for two years with an exclusion amount of $5 million. (Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010)
- Funded nutrition programs and free lunch programs in public schools through 2015 and set new nutrition standards for school food. (Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010)
- Repealed the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning openly gay citizens from serving. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010)
- Committed to providing $7 billion in medical treatment and compensation for 9/11 first responders. (James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act)
- Ratified a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. (New START)
Has the 111th Congress changed your life directly? Did you use Cash for Clunkers or the first-time homebuyer's tax credit? Are you planning to join the military post-DADT? Are you 25 years old and excited to get back on your parents' health care plan? Tell us below!