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The Voter’s Speakeasy featuring unbiased reporting and insight into life at Vote Smart from our staff, interns, and volunteers.

So, What's in the Tax Bill?

2017 December 13

By Alejandro Ortiz & Kathleen Powers   

Many may remember the classic song “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock!; it’s one of my favorites. It does a great job of explaining the legislative process. But if I were the writer of that catchy tune I would amend the chorus slightly:

“I’m just a bill. Yes I’m only a bill,

And I was rushed into Capitol Hill.

Well, now I’m back in committee

Because Congress violated some rules trying to claim a victory.”

It’s hardly a surprise that the leading party would try to rush a bill into law—both parties do it. This process cost Congress some time in their efforts to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. After the bill was debated in committee it passed for a second time in the House, but violated some budget rules and was edited and sent back for another final vote on December 20th. With this process, it’s easy to get confused about where the bill stands and what provisions remain. So I’m sure you have questions.

These bills are written in ways that make it difficult for many of us to understand or have any interest in reading. Luckily, our team of dedicated Key Votes researchers and advisors read every page of these bills and highlight the facts that impact you, so that you can continue your research from there.

This piece is not an analysis of every aspect of the the bill but outlines some ...

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How to Fact-Check with

2017 October 31 - Alejandro Ortiz

It’s time to stop looking at our time as the era of “fake news” and start looking at it as the era of “fact-checking.” It can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in the digital age, so it is our responsibility to not always take headlines and viral memes at face value. We at Vote Smart want to help arm you with the tools and resources to do this.

Misinformation online is abundant. Oxford University found that in 2016 “Twitter users got more misinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content than professionally produced news.” That means that more people read manipulation and falsehoods than facts.

Sensationalized, misleading, or simply false headlines flooded our news feeds in 2016 and 2017, and Vote Smart is here to help you weed out the garbage. By browsing our database of public statements, key votes, and more, you can see if a published claim is truth or trash. We also provide you with the ability to fact-check politicians to see if they have followed up their words with action.

Common Ground e-Newsletter: What have we been up to?

2017 October 16

 What Have We Been Up To?

During the spring and summer of 2016, Vote Smart's staff and student volunteers were hard at work researching the facts on over 40,000 politicians ahead of the November elections.

They started with candidates’ biographical profiles, information on their education, profession, and more—information so accurate that it is used nationwide by organizations like Google, NBC, and the Department of Defense.

They researched politicians’ up-to-date statements: our database now has almost 1.2 million speeches, all searchable by issue and keyword.

They collected ratings from over 1,500 special interest groups that show what these groups are saying about politicians. Several major groups were researched via a unique, automated process to keep their information current in our database.

They added voting records on almost 1,000 pieces of legislation nationwide to our collection of 15,000 key votes. They wrote summaries for each that explain the votes in simple, layman’s terms anyone can understand.

They gathered the campaign financesthe millions of dollars politicians receive and who gives it to them—of every single candidate.

Political Research Wrap-Up: Politics as usual?

2017 October 09

 The White House and Capitol take on immigration, budgets, and taxes as we approach crucial off-year elections in November. Read on for a glimpse at some of our most recent key research.

Notable Public Statements:

  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) views the National Anthem protests as Un-American. Read full statement➤

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) statement after the Trump administration declared their intentions to end the DACA program. Read full statement➤

  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote a letter to President Trump urging for additional federal assistance to Puerto Rico. Read full statement➤

  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on the resignation of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price Read full statement➤

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) following the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the GOP tax reform framework. Read full statement➤

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) following the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the GOP tax reform framework. Read full statement➤

  • President Donald Trump discussed tax reform at a recent event. Read full statement➤

  • Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) pitched tax reform for middle class families in a recent interview with Face the Nation. Read full statement➤

Alabama Primary Runoff Endorsements

2017 September 25

 See who has endorsed the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Alabama before tomorrow's primary runoff.

Unconventional Elections in America

2017 September 22

Did you know that you may have to vote again in your primary if no candidate gets more than half the votes? If not, you may want to find out if this applies to you.

For example, there’s been such a close race for Jeff Sessions’ vacant Senate seat in Alabama that the Republican primary in August did not determine a winner. A primary runoff between the top two Republican candidates, Roy Moore and Luther Strange, is scheduled for September 26.

In over 115 races that Vote Smart has already tracked in 2017, we have encountered other unconventional election practices that voters may not be aware of. Earlier this month, Mississippi held a nonpartisan primary election for its State House Dist. 102 seat that will be determined by a runoff election in October.

Most Americans participate in a first-past-the-post system where winners in primaries and general elections are decided by a “plurality”—the candidate with the most votes wins. Several cities and states across the nation, however, have adopted alternative election methods. Read on for a brief explanation of the unique election practices that are currently used at the state and federal levels.

Political Research Wrap-Up: Not much of a recess for Congress.

2017 September 11

 While Congress was on recess, discussion over hurricanes, white supremacists, and North Korea kept them from enjoying it. Read our full Research Wrap-Up to catch up on what you may have missed.


Rising Tensions with North Korea: A Timeline

2017 September 05 - Alejandro Ortiz

From "fire and fury", to "locked and loaded", and most recently "All options are on the table", the President has had some tough and controversial words for Kim Jong-Un and North Korea after several Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) tests and now a hydrogen bomb test. Some critics worry that these words have worsened the rising tensions with North Korea; other critics simply worry that Twitter may not be the best outlet to issue these statements. Those who defend him feel that Trump’s words should reflect North Korea’s actions.

While members of Congress have debated the President’s statements, sanctions on North Korea have been strongly supported in both the Capitol and the White House in 2017. Following nuclear tests, the death of Otto Warmbier, and sanctions on North Korea, we’ve seen that tensions between the US and North Korea have only continued to snowball.   

This snowball has been rolling for far longer than 2017, however--while Americans threw literal snowballs celebrating New Year’s Day, Kim Jong-un issued a statement about his nuclear plans--setting the tone for the rest of the year. Skip forward 6 months and several missile tests and we arrive at another holiday--the 4th of July. As Americans launched fireworks in their backyards, North Korea celebrated by testing its first ICBM.

To visualize the series of events that followed, we have compiled a timeline below outlining the rising tensions between the US and North Korea since the launch and the statements made and actions taken as a result.

Did the Senate vote to repeal Obamacare?

2017 July 27 - Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz

On July 25, your social media feed was likely filled with victory cries from those seeking to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the still-evolving Senate version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Opponents also took to social media with messages of defeat. However, the debate is anything but finished.

So what’s actually going on with the Senate healthcare bill? Is the Affordable Care Act repealed? And, what is the Senate voting on?

Well, it’s tricky, so bear with me—I’m not even sure if someone currently voting in the capitol can easily explain where the debate stands. I’ll simplify the issue and provide a brief timeline of how we got to where we are today.

Political Research Wrap-Up: Republicans win five of the seven races in June, Trump talks foreign policy.

2017 July 10

 Republicans win five of the seven races in June, seats remain virtually unchanged. President Trump talks foreign policy.

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