How Our State’s Members Of Congress Voted Last Week

Here’s how area members of Congress voted on major issues in the week ending June 22. (A little background about why I’m re-posting this roll call report can be found here.)


ENERGY v. ENVIRONMENT: Voting 248 for and 163 against, the House on June 21 passed a bill (HR 4480) to expand oil and gas drilling offshore and on federally owned land in the West, shelve new environmental regulation of refineries, give energy production priority over other uses of public lands and require draw-downs from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to be accompanied by increased oil production. The bill also would change the legal rationale of the Clean Air Act by requiring air-pollution rules to be justified mainly by their economic impact rather than by their benefits for public health, which has been the standard since 1970. The bill awaits Senate action.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said: “After years of watching the president fail to embrace a pro-growth energy policy, the American people do deserve more. The future of our country depends on a true all-of-the-above energy strategy that promotes domestic energy production, job creation and economic growth. … We can promote domestic energy development in an environmentally sensitive way.”

Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the GOP-controlled House has conducted more than 100 votes in the past 18 months on measures to advance the oil and gas industry at the expense of the environment. “The result is a grave and growing peril to our environment, to public health and to our economy. The massive wildfires, floods, droughts and heat waves that have been afflicting our country are a harbinger of what is to come.”

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

OIL-INDUSTRY TAX BREAKS: Voting 166 for and 243 against, the House on June 21 rejected a Democratic motion to bar the five largest oil companies from receiving new drilling leases under HR 4480 (above) unless they first relinquish their federal tax breaks. Those taxpayer subsidies total about $4 billion annually for BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell.

Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said the five companies last year “made a combined record profit of $137 billion” while “thousands of middle-class Americans slid out of the middle class and into poverty. While ExxonMobil was busy using at least 20 tax shelters to lower their tax rate to a mere 13 percent, over 20 million people were living on less than $9,000 a year. That’s not America.”

Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said: “You know what will help people move forward? It’s making sure that they can afford the gasoline that they put into their tank, that they’re not trying to sacrifice groceries for gasoline. A one-penny increase in the price of gasoline will cost American consumers and businesses millions and millions of dollars a day.”

A yes vote backed the Democratic motion.

Voting yes: Larsen, Dicks, McDermott, Smith

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

Not voting: None


CLEAN-AIR REGULATIONS: Voting 46 for and 53 against, the Senate on June 20 turned back a Republican bid (SJ Res 37) to nullify the Environmental Protection Agency’s first national regulations for curbing air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Twenty years in the making, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are set to take effect this year, with plants allowed at least three years to comply with them. More than half of U.S. power plants already have installed the scrubbers or other cleansing technology needed for compliance. The rules will limit discharges of particulate matter, gases such as hydrogen chloride and cyanide and metals such as mercury, arsenic and nickel. Critics argue the rules will cost tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs and drive up the cost of electricity. The EPA says they will greatly reduce the incidence of asthma attacks, mercury poisoning, heart disease, cancer and other ailments while generating tens of thousands of short-term construction jobs.

Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said the rules are “simply a bad regulation … refuted by the very science used to justify (their) promulgation. Moreover, (the) economic effects would be negative and far-reaching, while … estimated benefits would be minimal and hardly worth the significant costs.”

Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said: “The Tennessee Valley Authority has already committed to install this equipment by 2018. But TVA alone can’t clean up Tennessee’s air, because dirty air blows in from other states.” He said the rules “will hasten the day when Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville are not three of the top-five-worst asthma cities … and Nashville is not competing to be in the top 10.”

A yes vote was to nullify the air-pollution rule.

Voting yes: None

Voting no: Maria Cantwell, D, Patty Murray, D

Not voting: None

FIVE-YEAR FARM BILL: Voting 64 for and 35 against, the Senate on June 21 passed a bill (S 3240) to renew federal agriculture and nutrition programs for five years at a projected cost of nearly $1 trillion over ten years, down $23 billion from current spending levels. About $800 billion of the outlay is for food stamps and other food and nutrition programs, with the remainder allocated to programs to protect farm incomes, boost exports, expand domestic markets, promote land conservation and fund rural development. The bill ends the decades-old system of direct payments that has been sending $5 billion annually to farmers regardless of whether they grow crops, relying instead on taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance to help growers and farm investors turn a profit in the face of weather risks and price drops beyond their control.

Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said: “This is a reform bill. We cut $23 billion in mandatory spending. These are real cuts, no gimmicks. We have eliminated four commodity programs (and) streamlined conservation programs from 23 to 13. … In total, approximately 100 authorizations for spending and appropriations are eliminated.”

Mike Lee, R-Utah, objected to the bill’s continuation of the Forest Legacy Program, which funds forest conservation on farmland in 49 states at a cost of $200 million annually. He said the federal government is “already a massive landowner. … It owns nearly 30 percent of the land mass within the territorial boundaries of the United States.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Cantwell, Murray

Voting no: None

Not voting: None

CROP-INSURANCE SUBSIDIES: The Senate on June 20 voted, 66 for and 33 against, to reduce taxpayer subsidies of crop insurance for farmers earning over $750,000 annually. The amendment to S 3240 (above) would trim premium subsidies by 15 percent for these individuals, who comprise about 1 percent of the 1.5 million farmers expected to purchase crop insurance over the next five years to protect their incomes. The bill anticipates taxpayers covering about 60 percent of the cost of crop insurance.

Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said: “The very wealthiest of farmers … are the people most likely to buy less crop insurance, not more. Yet we subsidize them at the same rate as we do the middle-income and lower income farmers. … If you want to tackle the debt, here is a way that will allow us to save $1 billion and not put anybody at risk.”

John Thune, R-S.D., said that by undermining crop insurance, the amendment could hasten the return of emergency bailouts of farmers and ranchers, which cost taxpayers $36 billion from 1994 to 2003. “Since the emergence of the Crop Insurance Program, we have seen those … ad hoc emergency bills go away. The Crop Insurance Program is the centerpiece of this farm policy.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Cantwell, Murray

Voting no: None

Not voting: None

FOOD STAMPS ELIGIBILITY: Voting 43 for and 56 against, the Senate on June 19 refused to require states to apply stricter asset tests for determining food-stamp eligibility. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, is federally funded but state-run. This amendment to S 3240 (above) sought to end a policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility” used by 40 states to automatically qualify low-income households for food stamps. The policy allows households to possess a certain value of assets and still receive food stamps if they are poor enough to receive some other federal poverty benefit. More than 46 million persons in over 22 million households now receive food stamps.

Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said spending for food stamps has quadrupled since 2001, “increasing twice the rate (of) the other major poverty program, Medicaid. … It is now the second-largest federal welfare program. An individual on food stamps, with all other government programs they may be eligible for, can receive as much as $25,000 a year.”

Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the amendment “would dramatically affect children and families. For example, it (could mean somebody had to) … give up their car when they are trying to get to work in order to be able to put food on the table for their families. It makes no sense.”

A yes vote was to tighten food-stamp eligibility standards.

Voting yes: None

Voting no: Cantwell, Murray

Not voting: None

— Thomas Voting Reports, Inc.

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