Congress is in recess this week, but the big news last week was the approval in the House of a measure that authorizes construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and a bill intended to provide funding to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

That bill has been tied to the issue of immigration, with Democrats refusing to sign on to a funding measure unless it is a so-called clean bill, unencumbered by amendments that step away from the president’s immigration policy.

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The deadline is Feb. 28. If a funding bill is not passed by then, the Department of Homeland Security will shut down.

Republicans, in the majority in both houses of Congress, have accused Democrats of filibustering, as Politico reported.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said on Twitter that Republicans should join House Democrats to “strengthen security, protect Americans” and fund the Department of Homeland Security “immediately.”

Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. issued a statement condemning Republicans.

“I cast my vote against taking up this bill because it plays games with the Department of Homeland Security at a time when we need all hands on deck to keep America safe,” he said earlier this month. “It’s irresponsible and dangerous for Republicans to risk a partial shutdown to score political points at the expense of immigrant families.”

Senate Wants to Make Child Pornographers Pay More

The Senate passed a single bill last week, the Amy And Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

That bill, S. 295, would “change the amount of restitution that individuals convicted of federal child pornography offenses must pay victims,” according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

“Under current law, restitution must be paid to the victim or victims in an amount that is equal to the full amount of their losses,” the CBO explains. “The legislation would expand the definition of what constitutes loss for the purposes of calculating restitution to include losses suffered over the victims’ lifetime.”

Last week, Blumenthal tweeted that he was “proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Amy & Vicky Act,” calling it a “crucial step in helping innocent victims of child pornography rebuild.”

The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate.

Congress Seeks to Put People on Mars

A resolution to fund the the National Aeronautic and Space Administration was presented in the House last week, H.R. 810, introduced by U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Mississippi, and referred to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Included in the $18 billion proposed budget is more than $4 billion earmarked for space exploration, particularly for a manned mission to the red planet. In fact, the resolution makes that goal official U.S. policy.

“It is the policy of the United States that the goal of the administration’s exploration program shall be to successfully conduct a crewed mission to the surface of Mars to begin human exploration of that planet,” the resolution reads.

A mission to Mars is one of President Barack Obama’s stated goals, as he told a joint session of Congress last week. In 2010, Obama proposed a manned mission to Mars, with the intention of reaching the planet by the year 2035.

“Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars,” he said.

Palazzo told the Clarion-Ledger that being a leader in space exploration should be a priority for the U.S., though he remained incredulous as to how a mission to Mars would become a reality.

“Right now, they say, ‘We’re going to Mars,’” Palazzo told the Clarion-Ledger. “Well, that’s great, but they haven’t said how we’re going to get there. So no one knows what to build, how to build it, when to build it or how to pay for it.”

Jordan Fenster is an award-winning freelance journalist. He lives with his family in Fairfield County. He can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.

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We are launching this feature in conjunction with our installation of new software from, which provides a database of information on bills and lawmakers from around the country, and the option to register with VoteTocracy to vote “yes” or “no” on bills your delegates are considering.

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