This is a sampling from Bay Area News Group's Political Blotter blog. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/politics.

Dec. 13

Who says the House can't agree on anything?

Though apparently not making progress on a solution to the "fiscal cliff," the House voted 402-0 today to pass a bill that would cut down on wasteful spending, in part, by creating a governmentwide "Do Not Pay List" to block improper payments before they go out and to stop payments to deceased individuals, such as for Social Security.

"Taxpayers deserve to know that their money is being spent wisely and monitored closely," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, one of the bill's original co-sponsors, said in a news release. "Every dollar counts. This bill will help us lower our debt by cutting down on billions in wasteful spending."

HR 4053, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act, will better identify, prevent and recover payment error, waste, fraud and abuse within federal spending by making sure federal agencies have policies in place to prevent and recover improper payments.

The Government Accountability Office has reported that federal agencies logged an estimated $125.4 billion in improper payments in FY2010.


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This legislation builds on a similar law passed two years ago, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010, which was part of the Blue Dogs' Blueprint for Fiscal Reform -- a 15-point plan to balance the budget and lay the groundwork for sound long-term fiscal policies.

Dec. 13

No, you're not going deaf -- a new law taking effect today turns down the volume on television commercials.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., held a news conference this morning on Capitol Hill to highlight the implementation today of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which requires broadcast, cable, satellite and other video providers to keep the volume of commercials at a level consistent with the rest of their programming.

"Earsplitting television ads have jolted and annoyed viewers for decades," Eshoo, the law's original author, said in a news release. "With this new law, loud TV commercials that make consumers run for the mute button or change the channel altogether will be a thing of the past."

National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith said broadcasters have taken the lead in addressing the issue's technical challenges. National Cable and Telecommunications Association President and CEO Michael Powell thanked Eshoo and Whitehouse "for enacting sensible legislation that will improve the consumer TV experience. Our industry will continue to work closely with the FCC and the entire TV ecosystem to prevent loud commercials from being a disruption."

Loud commercials have been a top consumer complaint to the Federal Communications Commission for decades and were listed as such in 21 of the FCC's 25 quarterly reports between 2002 and 2009. According to a 2009 Harris Poll, almost 90 percent of TV viewers are bothered by high commercial volumes, prompting 41 percent of viewers to turn down the volume, 22 percent to mute the TV and 17 percent to change the channel altogether. Before this law, the official FCC policy recommended that consumers mute commercials if they found them to be excessively strident.

President Barack Obama signed Eshoo's legislation into law in December 2010, and the FCC passed its final rules implementing the law in December 2011.