How our state's members of Congress voted week ending March 23

Here’s how Washington state members of the U.S. Senate voted on major issues in the week ending March 23. (A little background about why I’m re-posting this can be found here.)


MEDICARE COST CONTROLS: Voting 223 for and 181 against, the House on March 22 sent the Senate a bill (HR 5) to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board established by the 2010 health law to use expert advice from outside of government to slow the growth of Medicare costs. Starting in 2015, this panel will have power to restrain any annual spending increases for Medicare that exceed official per-capita projections tied to factors such as inflation and the gross domestic product. Congress cannot reduce the sum of the panel’s proposed cuts but can change individual parts after clearing high parliamentary hurdles. President Obama has not yet named any of the 15 panel members, who will serve fulltime and need Senate confirmation for their six-year terms. House and Senate leaders of both parties will recommend 12 of the 15 nominees and the president will unilaterally select the others.

The bill also limits medical-malpractice awards, in part, by capping noneconomic (punitive) damages at $250,000; shortening statutes of limitation for filing suits; making it easier for judges to cap attorneys’ contingency fees and requiring plaintiffs seeking punitive damages to prove that the defendant acted with “malicious intent” and deliberate negligence in causing the injury.

Sue Myrick, R-N.C., called the panel “an unaccountable board tasked with limiting procedures and treatments in order to control costs. It’s a top-down, unconstitutional, ineffective and inefficient way to solve Medicare’s fiscal problems. And if you think that this board won’t make recommendations to limit the use of expensive but life-sustaining treatments, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said House Republicans want to abolish the panel “because they simply want to eliminate Medicare. They want to provide vouchers instead of benefits. They want to shift costs to the beneficiaries. They want to put Medicare into a death spiral and leave insurance companies in charge of seniors’ care. Then it would be the insurance companies that could then ration care.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-3, Doc Hastings, R-4, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-5, Dave Reichert, R-8

Voting no: Rick Larsen, D-2, Norman Dicks, D-6, Jim McDermott, D-7, Adam Smith, D-9

Not voting: None

DISPUTE OVER MEDICARE: Voting 180 for and 229 against, the House on March 22 defeated a bid by Democrats to prevent the Republicans’ bill on Medicare cost controls (HR 5, above) from contributing to any these outcomes: Rationing healthcare; adding a voucher system that would partially privatize Medicare; ending guaranteed Medicare benefits for seniors or younger persons who are disabled, or increasing Medicare premiums, deductibles, coinsurance or copayments.

Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said “we can strengthen and preserve Medicare without ending the guarantee — a guarantee, by the way, that is neither Republican nor Democratic, but it’s an American guarantee.”

Phil Roe, R-Tenn., objected to changing “a very simple bill” that would keep “Washington-based bureaucrats (from) getting in between the physician-patient relationship.”

A yes vote backed the Democratic motion.

Voting yes: Larsen, Dicks, McDermott, Smith

Voting no: Herrera Beutler, Hastings, McMorris Rodgers, Reichert

Not voting: None

MEDICAL-MALPRACTICE CHANGES: Voting 179 for and 228 against, the House on March 22 refused to delay the section of HR 5 (above) changing states’ medical-malpractice laws until after the secretary of Health and Human Services has issued a report on the extent to which the changes would affect healthcare premiums. The underlying bill would limit noneconomic (punitive) damages for plaintiffs at $250,000, among other changes it requires of states under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said the bill “ought to frighten anyone who believes in the rights of states to govern themselves and the rights of individuals to be compensated for loss. This bill tramples over the rights of states to enact laws governing their own tort systems, and it severely restricts individuals’ rights to be compensated for all the losses caused by healthcare providers.”

Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said, “We have seen that real medical-liability reform can and will reduce costs. It will stop the vicious cycle of frivolous lawsuits and defensive medicine (and) make our healthcare system more efficient and actually reduce unnecessary spending.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Larsen, Dicks, McDermott, Smith

Voting no: Herrera Beutler, Hastings, McMorris Rodgers, Reichert

Not voting: None


RELAXING RULES, RAISING CAPITAL: Voting 73 for and 26 against, the Senate on March 22 passed a bill (HR 3606) to relax major financial-reform laws of the past ten years in order to help small and mid-sized businesses rapidly enter capital markets, attract investors and, theoretically, create jobs. The bill defines a new category of firms with annual revenues under $1 billion that could float initial public offerings (IPOs) without first having to meet Securities and Exchange Commission requirements in areas such as auditing and transparency. For these companies, the bill would waive several investor-protection and corporate-governance rules set by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley and 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-regulation laws. The former was Congress’s answer to financial calamities such as Enron and dot-com meltdown, and the latter was its response to the sub-prime-mortgage and Wall Street collapses that helped cause the Great Recession.

This bill lowers standards for providing investors with audited financial statements; eases reporting requirements on executive compensation; allows companies to “crowd-fund” by using social media and the Internet to solicit large pools of small investors; increases the amount of capital a company can raise and the number of shareholders it can have without registering with the SEC and raises from 500 to 2,000 the maximum number of shareholders in community banks.

Additionally, the bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank through mid-2016 while gradually increasing its lending authority to $140 billion. The bank is a federal agency that provides taxpayer-backed credit on favorable terms to help U.S. companies sell goods and services abroad. The bank has generated profits for the Treasury in recent years. The bill also extends a Small Business Administration program that provides companies with long-term financing for purchasing real estate and other fixed assets.

Jon Tester, D-Mont., called the bill “a strong, bipartisan commitment to creating jobs by ensuring that small businesses have access to critical capital that they need. This legislation has tremendous potential to create jobs and spur economic growth and innovation.”

Carl Levin, D-Mich., said: “In the guise of job creation, this legislation rolls back important investor protections and transparency requirements that are fundamental to our capital markets,” and is “a recipe for widespread fraud that could undermine the integrity of stock markets, frighten investors away from the market and kill jobs instead of creating them.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Maria Cantwell, D

Voting no: Patty Murray, D

Not voting: None

INTERNET STOCK CLAIMS: Voting 64 for and 35 against, the Senate on March 22 added requirements to HR 3606 (above) for stricter auditing and transparency on the part of start-up companies seeking to raise capital from large pools of small investors over the Internet — a practice known as crowd-funding. For example, the amendment requires an officer of the company to stand behind the touts of the public offering, places caps on the amount individuals can invest as a proportion of their incomes and sets up third-party intermediate portals as buffer zones between the company and solicited investors.

Sponsor Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said his amendment is needed because “if crowd-funding becomes a situation where inaccurate information is put forward, where there is no accountability, where there are pump-and-dump schemes, then the reputation of crowd-funding will be deeply damaged and the opportunity for capital formation will be equally affected.”

No senator spoke against the amendment.

A yes vote was to adopt the amendment.

Voting yes: Cantwell, Murray

Voting no: None

Not voting: None

— Thomas Voting Reports, Inc.

Scroll to top