May 2013, Congressional Votes

May 28

Recent Senate Votes

Farm Bill – Amendment Vote – Vote Agreed to (59-33, 8 Not Voting)

The Senate began working its way through amendments last week to a five-year reauthorization of food and nutrition programs, with a view toward passing the bill after the Memorial Day recess. This year’s farm bill is very similar to last year’s version, with some exceptions including greater support for Southern crops such as rice, cotton and peanuts. The bill would reduce spending on food stamps by about $4 billion and would reduce the deficit by $17.9 billion over ten years. The last amendment vote of the week changed the bill to reduce by 15 percent the amount of crop insurance subsidies for farmers with adjusted gross incomes above $750,000 a year. The amendment includes a clause stating that the new limitation would not take effect if the Agriculture secretary determines that it would result in a decline in overall crop insurance coverage or increase the total cost of the program. Other amendment votes last week included: a Gillibrand, D-N.Y. amendment to block the food stamp cuts (defeated, RC 131); an Inhofe, R-Okla. amendment to turn the food stamp program into a block grant to the states (defeated, RC 132); and a Sanders, I-Vt. amendment to permit states to require labeling of genetically-modified foods (defeated, RC 135). President Obama supports the Senate bill. The House is working on its own farm bill (H.R. 1947), which passed out of committee on May 15. The House measure would reduce the deficit by almost twice as much as the Senate bill, including more than $20 billion in cuts to nutrition programs.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss voted NO
Sen. Johnny Isakson voted NO

Recent House Votes

Keystone Pipeline Approval – Final Passage – Vote Passed (241-175, 1 Present, 16 Not Voting)

Returning to an issue from last Congress, the House passed a bill last week to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport diluted bitumen (or “tar sands”) from Canada through the American heartland to refining facilities on the Gulf Coast. Approval of pipelines do not normally spark so much controversy, but Keystone requires presidential approval because it crossed an international boundary, thus placing President Obama in the middle of a fight that places labor unions and environmentalists, two of his key constituencies, on opposing sides. H.R. 3 would seek to remove Obama from the approval process by declaring a presidential permit was not a necessity. It would deem various documents and reports that have been issued by federal and state entities over the last two years as satisfying the various regulatory thresholds to begin construction of the pipeline. It would essentially cut the Environmental Protection Agency out of the oversight process, and would force the Army Corps of Engineers to issue construction permits within 90 days of an application being filed. The president has threatened to veto the bill, though the Senate is unlikely to take it up in any case.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted YES

Student Loan Interest Rate Reform – Final Passage – Vote Passed (221-198, 15 Not Voting)

In its last action before the recess, the House passed a bill to overhaul student loan interest rates. Interest rates are currently set to rise from 3.4 to 6.8 percent this summer. H.R. 1911 would set rates for Stafford loans at the level of the 10-year Treasury Note plus 2.5 percent (capped at 8.5 percent), while PLUS loans would be set at 10-year Treasuries plus 4.5 percent (capped at 10.5 percent). Though Republicans stated that the bill was modeled on reforms from President Obama’s FY 2014 budget, the president has threatened to veto the bill . It is not clear what the Senate intends to do about interest rates at this time.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

May 20

Recent Senate Votes

Water Resources Development Act – Passage – Vote Passed (83-14, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate laid down its marker last week for a full reauthorization of Army Corps of Engineers water projects with a broad, bipartisan majority. S. 601, shepherded to passage by liberal Environment and Public Works chairman Barbara Boxer of California and conservative ranking Republican David Vitter of Louisiana, reauthorizes port and harbor dredging, levees, dams, and storm repair for periods ranging from five to ten years. It also makes numerous reforms to current permitting procedures in an attempt to reduce the amount of time needed to get projects approved and under way. Several of the latter provisions are controversial, particularly language that would impose financial penalties on laggard agency heads. For that reason a compromise was negotiated to sunset the streamlining reforms after 10 years. Another major change concerns the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), the primary funding vehicle for dredging coastal and Great Lakes ports. Though conceived as a dedicated fund for harbor maintenance, in practice congressional appropriators in recent years have diverted HMTF dollars to unrelated projects. S. 601 would slowly end that practice, increasing the amount of funding dedicated to harbor maintenance by $100 million annually for six years, after which time all HMTF revenue would be so directed. Action now moves to the House side, where Transportation and Infrastructure committee chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. has begun having hearings but appears in no rush.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss voted YES
Sen. Johnny Isakson voted YES

CMS Nominee – Confirmation – Vote Confirmed (91-7, 2 Not Voting)

The Senate confirmed Marilyn Tavenner to be the next administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Tavenner will play a prominent role in overseeing implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. She is the first Senate-confirmed CMS administrator since 2004.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss voted YES
Sen. Johnny Isakson voted YES

Energy Department Nominee – Confirmation – Vote Confirmed (97-0, 3 Not Voting)

In its last action of the week, the Senate unanimously confirmed MIT physicist Ernest J. Moniz to be the next Energy secretary, replacing another physicist, Steven Chu.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss voted YES
Sen. Johnny Isakson voted YES

Recent House Votes

Obamacare Repeal – Passage – Vote Passed (229-195, 9 Not Voting)

The House took its three dozenth or so vote last week on repealing the 2010 health care overhaul. We noted in this space last week that, as introduced, the bill appeared not to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a body created by the law to reduce supply-side Medicare expenditures. It is not clear whether this was a clerical error, or perhaps whether House Republicans had a separate bill dealing with IPAB – Phil Roe of Tennessee has introduced such a bill, and IPAB repeal did pass the House last Congress – but the version of H.R. 45 that passed leaves no such ambiguity. Democrats Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah – both very conservative by their caucus’s standards and in very competitive districts – joined all Republicans in voting ‘yes.’ As with each previous attempt at wholesale repeal, this bill will go nowhere in the Senate. The president issued a perfunctory veto threat.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

SEC Cost-Benefit Analysis – Passage – Vote Passed (235-161, 37 Not Voting)

In its final action of the week, the House took aim at one of Wall Street’s main regulators, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). Republicans have long complained that federal regulations are impeding economic recovery. In that spirit, H.R. 1062 would require the SEC to change its rulemaking procedures by conducting cost-benefit analyses before issuing new rules and two years after a rule takes effect. The bill would also require the agency to review existing rules and alter or repeal them if they are not working. Democrats largely opposed the bill, though 17 did cross over to support the bill. Opponents largely framed the measure as a Trojan horse for dismantling the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations. The administration is opposed to the bill, and it is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

May 13

Recent Senate Votes

Internet Sales Tax – Final Passage – Vote Passed (69-27, 4 Not Voting)

Last week the Senate completed action on bipartisan but controversial Internet sales tax legislation. More than two-thirds of senators (all but five Democrats and about half of Republicans) agreed that states should be allowed to require online firms to collect the same sales taxes as their domiciled brick-and-mortar businesses. States would be required to provide free tax-calculation software to affected businesses. Firms with gross annual receipts of $1 million or less would be exempted from the new requirements. Prior to final passage the Senate adopted an amendment from Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, one of the measure’s co-sponsors, which would extend the implementation timeline from three to six months and specify that requirements for filing returns and making tax payments must be the same for online and offline firms. President Obama supports S. 743, but House Speaker John Boehner and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., have both expressed skepticism toward the legislation.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss voted YES
Sen. Johnny Isakson voted YES

Water Infrastructure Projects – Amendment Vote – Vote Rejected (56-43, 1 Not Voting)

After passing the Internet sales tax bill, the Senate moved on to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a catch-all piece of legislation usually passed every five years dealing with everything from dams and levees to port dredging. Traditionally one of the biggest magnets for pork barrel projects, this version of WRDA is the first since both chambers of Congress adopted earmark moratoria. Similar to last year’s highway bill, WRDA makes various changes to existing law in order to speed up project approval, including the imposition of financial penalties on tardy agencies. The bill also attempts to capture a larger share of the revenue that accrues to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund each year for actual harbor maintenance – a seemingly novel concept, yet one that Senate appropriators initially objected to, as they have grown accustomed to diverting much of the trust fund’s receipts to unrelated accounts. Several amendments were voted on last week, including this one from Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn that would enable individuals to bring guns on to Army Corps of Engineers-administered water projects. The amendment failed due to a 60-vote requirement. At week’s end the legislation had stalled over Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu’s insistence on a vote for her amendment that would prevent a rise in flood insurance premiums. Though a cloture vote is currently scheduled for May 14, it appears that there is some agreement on a vote for the Landrieu amendment. The White House leveled several criticisms of the bill in its policy statement , though a manager’s amendment from Barbara Boxer and David Vitter, the chair and ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, may have addressed some of these issues.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss voted YES
Sen. Johnny Isakson voted YES

Recent House Votes

Private Sector Comp Time – Final Passage – Vote Passed (223-204, 5 Not Voting)

The House passed a measure last week to allow private sector employers to provide comp time to their workers in lieu of overtime pay. Under current law, such an arrangement exists for most workers in the public sector and a few in the private sector. Republicans classified the measure as providing flexibility to both employers and employees, while Democrats and their allies in the labor movement suspect an attempt to weaken workers’ rights. In particular, they claim that there is no guarantee an individual will receive time off when he desires it and that employers could put pressure on workers to accept comp time instead of overtime. The White House seems to agree with these critiques, as it has threatened to veto the bill.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

Debt Payment Prioritization – Final Passage – Vote Passed (221-207, 4 Not Voting)

In its final action of the week, the House took another foray into debt limit politics. The “Full Faith and Credit Act” would mandate that in the event of the government hitting the debt limit, the Treasury Secretary would prioritize payment to holders of government debt and to Social Security recipients above all other obligations. These payments would in fact be exempt from the debt limit, such that the government could theoretically continue functioning, if only in order to issue Social Security checks and service the debt. No Democrats backed the measure, and the administration has threatened a veto.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

Upcoming Votes
Water Resources Development Act of 2013 – S.601
The Senate will continue debating the water infrastructure bill this week. If no agreement on amendments is reached beforehand, a cloture vote on the measure will take place May 14.

Nominations –
The Senate may vote on the nominations of Ernest Moniz for Energy secretary and Marilyn Tavenner to oversee the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which manages the two health care programs.

To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 – H.R.45
The House is scheduled to vote on a bill to repeal “Obamacare.” Curiously the bill as currently written appears not to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a body created by the law to make binding recommendations on Medicare cuts, which congressional Republicans have previously targeted individually for repeal.

SEC Regulatory Accountability Act – H.R.1062
The House is also scheduled to take up a measure that would amend the charter of the SEC to force the agency to conduct cost-benefit analyses before issuing new regulations.

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