June 2013, Congressional Votes

June 24

Recent Senate Votes

Froman Nomination – Confirmation – Vote Confirmed (93-4, 1 Present, 2 Not Voting)

Last Wednesday, the Senate took a short break from the immigration bill to confirm President Barack Obama’s nomination of Michael Froman to be United States Trade Representative. He replaces Ron Kirk, who resigned in March. Froman was previously Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. He is now tasked with the Cabinet-level position handling international trade agreements and investment issues on behalf of the administration.

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

U.S. Immigration Policy – Motion to Table Cornyn Amendment – Vote Agreed to (54-43, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate’s last vote of the week on Thursday was the approval of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s motion to table (kill) Texas Republican John Cornyn’s amendment that would require the Homeland Security Department to verify certain standards, including a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal border crossers and a biometric screening system at all seaports and airports, are met before illegal immigrants could be granted permanent legal status. The largely partisan vote included only two Democrats, Manchin (W.Va.) and Pryor (Ark.) voting no; four Republicans voted yes: Flake and McCain (Ariz.), Graham (S.C.) and Paul (Ky.).

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

Recent House Votes

Abortion Ban – Passage – Vote Passed (228-196, 10 Not Voting)

The House detoured briefly from debating the farm bill to pass a measure that forbids abortions performed at 20 weeks after fertilization or later. The bill makes an exception for cases where the woman’s life is in danger or where rape or incest has been reported to authorities. Under the measure, physicians who violate the ban would face a maximum five-year prison sentence, fines or both. Six Republicans voted against the legislation, while six Democrats voted in favor. The justification for the 20-week limit was the belief that an unborn fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although the medical veracity of this theory is debated, a handful of states have passed laws with the same benchmark. The White House issued a veto threat on the bill, and Democrats who control the Senate are expected to ignore the measure.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

Farm Bill – Passage – Vote Failed (195-234, 6 Not Voting)

After working through more than 100 amendments, the House nevertheless rejected a five-year, $939 billion reauthorization of agricultural and nutrition programs. Sixty-two Republicans rebelled against their leaders and voted against the bill. All but two dozen Democrats voted no as well. Nutritional aid to the poor was the major point of conflict for the bill’s passage for both sides of the aisle. Although the bill cuts $33 billion from current law, the chamber’s most conservative Republican members argued spending reductions did not go far enough. Democrats, however, claimed that the bill’s $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – made mainly by changing eligibility requirements – would disproportionately harm low-income families. Democrats also objected to a provision that mandated work requirements for SNAP recipients. Like the Senate bill, the measure would have ended direct payments to farmers, replacing them with revenue protections that would assist farmers when county revenue levels fall 15 percent to 25 percent below a five-year benchmark. It also consolidated several rural conservation programs. With the bill’s defeat, the House now will have to draft a new bill, adopt the one the Senate passed earlier this month, or pass another one-year extension like Congress had to do last year.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

June 17

Recent Senate Votes

Farm Bill – Passage – Vote Passed (66-27, 7 Not Voting)

The Senate gave overwhelming approval to the five-year reauthorization of farm, conservation, and nutrition programs, setting up a legislative showdown with the House. The final vote, which cleared the measure 66-27, came after two weeks of debate and more than 200 amendments offered on the Senate floor. Seven senators missed the vote because of travel delays. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would cost $18 billion less than the 2008 farm policy law (PL 112-240), which expires Sept. 30. Senators trimmed $4 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food aid to the poor, by requiring that recipients receive a minimum payment of $10 from a heating assistance program to be eligible for SNAP. Nutrition assistance will be a major sticking point with the House version, which cuts SNAP by $20.5 billion. The Senate bill ends $5 billion a year in direct payments made to farmers and landowners, channeling off those funds to create a hybrid of insurance-like plans and other price controls to help farmers protect against steep market drops. It would reduce support for farmers earning more than $750,000 annually, following a study on the effects of implementation. Unlike the House measure, the bill requires subsidized insurance program participants to meet soil and water conservation requirements. It also replaces dairy price support programs with new insurance and a supply management plan to reduce price-depressing supply surpluses. Before passing the bill, the chamber adopted, 48-38, an amendment from Vermont Democrat Patrick J. Leahy that would provide for ultra-high-speed broadband service in a rural Internet pilot program.

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

Recent House Votes

FY 2014 Defense Authorization – Passage – Vote Passed (315-108, 11 Not Voting)

After voting on a series of amendments, including rejecting one from Adam Smith, D-Wash. to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba by the end of 2014, the House passed this bill authorizing spending on the Defense Department and national security programs for fiscal year 2014. Ignoring the White House administration’s threat to veto the bill, they passed a $638.4 billion measure that includes $85.8 billion for war costs, requirements for the Defense secretary to detail military intervention options in Syria, and new guidelines and harsher penalties for sexual assault in the armed services. Sexual assault amendments from Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, making it an offense to abuse one’s authority in the chain of command and establishing mandatory minimum sentences of discharge, dismissal and confinement for certain offenses, respectively, were adopted.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted YES

June 10

Recent Senate Votes

Student Loan Rates Bill – Cloture – Vote Rejected (40-57, 2 Not Voting)

After a protracted battle, Congress last year passed a compromise extension of the current rate –3.4 percent – until July 1, 2013. After this date, interest rates on these loans will double. With that deadline looming, both parties are yet again wide apart on a method for setting interest rates permanently. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., authored this alternative to House Republicans’ bill for setting some federal student loan rates. The House plan (H.R. 1911) pegs Stafford subsidized and unsubsidized loans to the rate of 10-year Treasury notes plus 2.5% and plus 4.5% for Direct PLUS loans. Coburn’s bill more or less split the difference, pegging Stafford and Direct PLUS loans to the 10-year Treasury rate plus 3.0% at the time of loan origination. With current Treasury bill rates at 1.75 percent, Coburn argued that college students enrolling this fall would lock in a rate of 4.75 percent for the life of the loan. Senate Democrats continue to reject any approach to setting student loans permanently that ties interest rates to financial markets. Only Democrat Thomas R. Carper of Delaware crossed the aisle to vote for the bill, while five Republicans voted against the measure.

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

Student Loan Rates Bill – Cloture – Vote Rejected (51-46, 2 Not Voting)

In May, Senate Democrats introduced their alternative to a House Republican plan for setting Federal Direct Stafford Loan interest rates. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., would have extended the 3.4 percent rates on Stafford Loans for another two years. It would have paid for the estimated $8.3 billion cost of this extension by closing tax loopholes on some pensions and corporate accounts and by applying an excise tax on oil produced from tar sands. The vote to invoke cloture failed almost entirely along partisan lines, with only Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia breaking ranks to vote no with all Senate Republicans. Although it failed, the bill is a line in the sand for the Senate majority, which strongly opposes the market-based House plan that would tie interest rates to the market interest rate of 10-year Treasury bills and allow rates to rise up to 10.5 percent for some loans. Congress now has three weeks to find a compromise solution before rates double on July 1.

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

Recent House Votes

FY2014 Military Construction & Veterans Affairs Appropriations – Passage – Vote Passed (421-4, 8 Not Voting)

After approving one amendment from Mark Amodei, R-Nev., specifying $44 million in funds dedicated to reducing disability claims backlogs in Veterans Benefits Administration offices, the House passed its first fiscal 2014 spending bill last Tuesday to fund military construction and Department of Veterans Affairs programs with $157.8 billion. It provides $73.3 billion in discretionary funds, including $55 billion for veterans health services, and $84.5 billion in mandatory spending covering veterans service compensation, benefits and pensions. Adding in another $10 billion for military construction, such as $1.5 billion for military family housing, the House-approved legislation is $1.4 billion less than President Barack Obama requested and $2.4 billion more than the fiscal 2013 level that included cuts due to sequestration. It also provides $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for select VA medical care accounts for the 2015 fiscal year. The legislation now goes to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies; however, a markup still has not been scheduled for the bill.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted YES

FY2014 Homeland Security Appropriations – Amendment Vote – Vote Agreed to (224-201, 9 Not Voting)

After clearing their first spending bill, two days later the House moved onto their second, funding the Homeland Security Department. The House passed, on a mostly party-line vote, Iowa Republican Steve King’s amendment that would bar the use of funds to implement or enforce six internal Homeland Security Department policies, including one from June 12, 2012 that granted temporary legal status to the so-called Dream Act immigrants – people younger than 31 who are in school and arrived in the United States prior to turning 16, have graduated or have served in the military, and do not have a criminal record. King said in House floor debate on June 5, “The president does not have the authority to waive immigration law, nor does he have the authority to create it out of thin air.”

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

FY2014 Homeland Security Appropriations – Passage – Vote Passed (245-182, 7 Not Voting)

After the House completed votes on amendments, they passed Homeland Security appropriations legislation for the 2014 fiscal year, funding the department and related activities with $46.1 billion ($38.9 billion in discretionary funds and $5.6 billion in emergency disaster aid). The funds include $10.6 billion for Customs and Border Protection, $5.4 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $7.2 billion for the Transportation Security Administration and $9.9 billion each for the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. An issue that may cause problems with Senate approval is an approved provision to prohibit federal funding for ICE to provide abortions for detainees, except in extreme circumstances including rape, incest or endangerment of the life of the woman. Like the Military Construction-VA legislation, the future for the Homeland Security appropriations bill is uncertain and is not on the Senate schedule, as of yet.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. voted NO

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