Recent Senate Votes
Veterans Job Training – Motion to Waive - Vote Rejected (58-40, 2 Not Voting)
The Senate spent much of last week working on this bill that would have created a so-called jobs corps to assist Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in finding post-service employment. After invoking cloture on a motion to proceed to the bill, a substitute amendment by Veterans Affairs Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., was introduced. Among other things, the amendment would have required states to issue certain licenses, such as for plumbing or truck driving, to veterans without the normal requirements if eligible applicants had at least 10 years’ experience in related military activities. Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., raised a point of order against the amendment that its costs exceeded the amount of funding allowed under current budgetary limitations. Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., then moved to waive the point of order, which would have allowed the amendment to be debated. 60 votes are required to waive budgetary points of order, however, and proponents of the bill fell two votes shy. Sustaining the point of order effectively killed the bill.
*(Okay, veterans can use CLEP tests to get degrees based on their military activities to look for work, but not licenses based on their military activities, so they can actually work. Yeah, that makes sense.)
Foreign Aid Suspension - Vote Rejected (10-81, 9 Not Voting)
Despite only having one must-pass item to clear before recessing – namely a continuing resolution to keep the government running, the Senate was in session into the wee hours of Saturday morning. This was initially due to the insistence of Rand Paul, R-Ky., on getting a vote for his bill to suspend foreign aid to Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt. Eventually an agreement was reached to hold a vote on the bill, which was soundly defeated due to bipartisan opposition.
*(Gotta keep those regime-change dollars flowing!)
Iran Nuclear Threat - Vote Agreed to (90-1, 9 Not Voting)
This resolution from Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would reaffirm U.S. opposition to the Iranian nuclear program and states that the current regime of diplomacy and sanctions must continue until Iran meets certain benchmarks. These benchmarks include suspension of uranium enrichment, compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions and full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. The resolution pointedly states that none of its language constitutes an authorization for the use of force. Rand Paul was the lone “nay” vote.
*(Does it really matter, amid Israel's war mongering, whether or not the "language constitutes an authorization for the use of force?")
Continuing Resolution - Vote Agreed to (62-30, 8 Not Voting)
After rejecting the Paul foreign aid measure and passing the Graham Iran resolution, the Senate was able to take up the continuing resolution that would fund government operations for the next six months at more or less flat levels (funding would increase by 0.6 percent for most programs.)
Recent House Votes
Student Loan Exemption for Deceased Veterans – Suspension - Vote Passed (400-0, 29 Not Voting)
This bill, passed under suspension of the rules and therefore requiring a two-thirds majority for passage, would exempt student loan debt from gross taxable income for veterans who die as the result of a service-related disability. Loan forgiveness would be back-dated to October 7, 2001, and families/survivors of the deceased would have up to one year after enactment of the bill to file for refunds. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain.
*("Prospects uncertain"?! -- Damn! Even if you die in a made-up and/or unnecessary war, your family still may not get your student loan forgiven? Nobody in those too-big-to-fail banks had to worry about that shit! SMDH)
Public Funding for Political Conventions – Suspension - Vote Passed (310-95, 24 Not Voting)
Another suspension bill would prohibit the use of monies in the Presidential Election Campaign Fund for financing presidential nomination conventions, e.g. the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Under current law each major party is entitled to $4 million to stage their conventions and minor parties are entitled to an amount proportionate to their popular vote percentage in the previous election. An earlier House bill passed last December (Roll Call 873) would have eliminated the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, and thus the public financing of elections entirely. Unlike that measure, which was unanimously opposed by Democrats, the more modest bill passed last week attracted about half of all Democrats voting as well as all Republicans. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has introduced a companion measure with bipartisan support in the Senate.
*("Each major party is entitled to $4 million -- to stage conventions?!" People can't eat, work, or live affordably -- and they are entitled to all this?! As my grandmama used to say, Lawd ha' mercy!)
Welfare Work Requirements – Disapproval Resolution - Vote Passed (250-164, 15 Not Voting)
The issue of welfare was a persistent theme in the presidential campaign for months – with the Republican nominee Mitt Romney accusing President Obama of removing work requirements from the program and allowing people to collect money with no strings attached. At issue was a July 12 memorandum issued by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which oversees the welfare program, whose technical name is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The memo laid out a proposed waiver program for states that meet certain requirements for boosting TANF employment goals. Republicans claim that HHS does not have the waiver authority it claims in the memo, and that the proposal should have been formally submitted to Congress since it amounts to an agency rulemaking. The latter assertion was supported by a Government Accountability Office report. Partisans on both sides have either decried or supported the waiver proposal, including the two chief architects of 1990s welfare reform, former President Clinton and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. The action taken by the House last week would repeal the move by HHS. In order for the repeal to become law, however, a similar resolution would have to pass the Senate and be signed by the president, both highly unlikely.
*(All I'm going to say about this one is -- it's already been pretty interesting how this has been twisted by both parties on the "campaign trail.)
STEM Visa Program - Suspension - Vote Failed (257-158, 14 Not Voting)
Immigration has always been a partisan battleground, but one area the parties seemed to have formed agreement in the 112th Congress was on the need to boost immigration by high-skill workers, particularly those in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R.-Tex., had been working with Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for months on just such a proposal. As with so many bipartisan efforts in the last two years, however, talks foundered. Both chairmen support creating roughly 50,000 visas for graduates of U.S. institutions with advanced degrees in STEM fields. The detail that derailed talks is that Smith wanted those visas to come at the expense of an existing program, the diversity visa lottery, which sets aside slots for people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. Schumer and other Democrats wanted to simply create new slots for the STEM graduates while holding the diversity lottery harmless. Last week Smith and House leadership decided to try their luck on the floor with a suspension vote for Smith’s proposal; it ended up falling 20 votes shy of the two-thirds needed for passage. Given the bipartisan support for the overall idea, it is possible talks could resume in the lame duck session, though the crowded agenda makes any decisive action unlikely before next year.
*(Way to foment "divide and conquer" at home and abroad, no?)
Manhattan Project National Park – Suspension - Vote Failed (237-180, 12 Not Voting)
Another failed suspension vote came on this bill to set aside federal land in New Mexico, Washington state, and Tennessee for a national park commemorating the Manhattan Project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. Most suspensions are non-controversial, and Democrats in particular are usually in favor of creating parkland, but opponents of the measure said it would send the wrong message to allies such as Japan, which suffered mass casualties as a result of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The bill fell 41 votes short.
*(At least most folk had the common decency to stop this crass display of American arrogance)
Energy Regulatory Rollback – Passage - Vote Passed (233-175, 21 Not Voting)
The final bill passed by the House before the November elections was a summation of sorts regarding one of Republicans’ core electoral and policy arguments – namely that regulations, particularly those concerning energy production – are hurting the economy. H.R. 3409 is a smorgasbord containing the texts of five different bills, four of which had previously passed the House (Roll Calls 249, 573, 741 and 800, all in 2011). The original bill would prevent the Interior Secretary from issuing any regulations before 2014 that would result in damage to the coal industry, e.g., reductions in coal mining jobs, the amount of coal available for consumption or export, etc. The other proposals would: prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gases as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, as well as effectively repeal automobile efficiency standards that would increase gas mileage to 54.5 mpg by 2025; create a cross-agency council for analyzing EPA regulations and their effect on the economy, as well as pre-empting a handful of EPA rules from being finalized and nullifying others already finalized; prevent EPA from regulating coal ash - a byproduct of coal combustion that some states use to make asphalt – instead allowing the states to regulate it as they see fit; and limiting EPA authority over water-quality standards. The Senate will not take up the bill when it returns, and the president has issued a veto threat.
*(Listen to Marsha Coleman-Adebayo on the Clean Air Act from the 9:15 - 11:13 click in this interview with Tavis Smiley)
Sportsmen's Act of 2012 - S.3525
Before breaking for recess, the Senate invoked cloture on the motion to proceed to this catch-all bill sponsored by Jon Tester, D-Mont. It would loosen a variety of regulations on hunters and fishermen, particularly regarding their activities on public lands.
*(Hmmm, "(1) authorize a state to pay up to 90% of the costs of acquiring land for, expanding, or constructing a public target range;" -- better get your orange reflector jackets! "Requires such projects to secure, through rights-of-way or the acquisition of lands or interests from willing sellers, recreational public access to existing federal public lands that have significantly restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes." -- wonder what happens if sellers aren't "willing?" What? It could happen!)
- Congress members back legislation that could benefit themselves, relatives
- Nextel firemen could teach Congress a thing or two