|Recent Senate Votes|
|Motion to Proceed; Disapproval Resolution EPA Regulations – Vote Rejected (46-53, 1 Not Voting)
The latest in Republicans’ war on the EPAs “war on coal” came last Wednesday with an attempt to halt rules intended to strengthen limits on emissions of mercury and other toxins by coal- and oil-fired utilities, among other sources. Led by James Inhofe, R-Okla., most Republicans argue that the EPA has overstepped its authority and is endangering both the livelihood of coal-dependent regions and even the reliability of the electricity grid. Five Democrats and five Republicans each voted with the other side. The president had threatened a veto of this measure. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. are reportedly working on a bill that would lengthen the compliance timeline of the new rules rather than stopping them outright.
Farm Bill Final Passage – Vote Passed (64-35, 1 Not Voting)
Following a binge of amendment votes (41 in all) over three days of debate, the Senate passed its version of a five-year agriculture and nutrition policy bill. After coming to agreement Monday on which amendments would be given floor time, the vote-a-rama began in earnest Tuesday, culminating in a Thursday afternoon vote on final passage (the same agreement required 60 votes for the bill to pass). At the heart of the sprawling, $969 billion bill is an overhaul of the farm safety net. Direct and countercyclical payments are out, their critics having successfully argued that they manipulated markets and were unnecessary at a time of sky-high commodity prices. Bill sponsors Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., opted for a lighter touch, creating two new crop insurance policies and a subsidy program meant to backstop traditional insurance. These changes have sparked regional disagreements, with Midwest and Great Plains senators supporting the changes and those from the South vehemently opposed. Southerners have been insisting that a program maintaining target prices is necessary to protect their rice and peanut growers, who are less subject to yield volatility and so less dependent on traditional insurance. It is expected that the House bill will have the types of provisions the Southerners are asking for. Two amendments would make changes long sought after by crop insurance critics. The first, from Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. would force policyholders to abide by the same conservation requirements that are currently tied to crop subsidies. The other, offered by Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Tom Coburn, R-Okla. would raise subsidized premiums for farmers with AGI above $750,000/year, pending a USDA study. Another major plank of the underlying bill is a roughly $4.5 billion reduction in food stamps. The program has come under fire from Republicans for its rapid expansion in recent years and the bill has specific provisions banning lottery winners from eligibility and stopping automatic enrollment of persons receiving heating assistance. The ball is now in the House’s court, and a markup is scheduled for July 11. President Obama has previously backed the Senate bill, though he called for more cuts than the upper chamber could stomach.
Cloture Flood Insurance Reauthorization – Vote Agreed to (96-2, 2 Not Voting)
The last piece of business for the Senate last week was a successful cloture vote on the motion to proceed to a multi-year reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program has been in the red since having to make huge payouts for Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Wilma and negotiations have been going on for months on a path forward that would bring NFIP to a position of long-term fiscal health. At this point there appears to be a tentative agreement, but at least one outstanding bone of contention concerns whether properties protected by levees and other flood-control structures should be required to buy insurance. (The House’s long-term bill, HR 5740, does not have this requirement.) The current extension expires July 31. If coverage is allowed to lapse, homeowners in flood-prone areas will be unable to buy insurance or renew policies.
|Recent House Votes|
|Land and Water Projects – Vote Passed (232-188, 12 Not Voting)
The House last week passed two smorgasbord bills that combined a number of disparate provisions under one legislative roof. The first bill concerned regulations on federal lands. Among other things, it would allow the usage of recreational vehicles in Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolinas Outer Banks; grant tracts of land in the Tongass National Forest to the Native Alaskan-run Sealaska Corporation, partially for logging purposes; and permit the “taking” of California sea lions, which have been preying on lucrative and fragile salmon populations in the Columbia River. The most contentious provision would waive 16 environmental and conservation laws on federal land within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders. Under the bill, these laws would not apply to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in their anti-terror and immigration enforcement missions. CBP would be allowed to build roads, fences and surveillance equipment without regard to such laws as the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. President Obama opposes this bill.
Domestic Energy Policy – Vote Passed (248-163, 21 Not Voting)
The second catch-all measure combined several provisions aimed at boosting domestic energy production. Drawdowns from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be coupled with an equivalent percentage of federal land being made available for oil and gas production. Various EPA rules would be suspended while a new task force studies their effect on gas prices. A process similar to the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review would be created to examine America’s long-term energy needs. Permitting for energy projects would be streamlined, including the creation of a $5,000 fee for filing protests against drilling permits. The bill would also allow live auctions conducted over the Internet for Bureau of Land Management leases and would mandate oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. Democrats offered a motion to recommit that would have prohibited the biggest oil companies from receiving new leases under the bill unless they waived certain tax benefits. Not surprisingly that idea didn’t have legs with Republicans. Conversely, the bill itself will go nowhere with the Democratic Senate. If it does somehow pass both houses, the president has issued a veto threat.
Motion to Instruct Conferees Highway Bill – Vote Passed (260-138, 34 Not Voting)
Late last week it appeared that there was momentum toward agreement on passage of a two-year surface transportation reauthorization measure. Supposedly Senate negotiators have made concessions to House demands on issues such as environmental permitting and transportation enhancements funding. Another point of contention has been the potential regulation by EPA of coal ash, a byproduct of coal combustion that road builders in some states use when making asphalt. House negotiators have insisted on pre-empting EPA and allowing states to regulate coal ash as they see fit. This House vote would insist on a measure to that effect being included in any final highway bill.
| Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act – S.3187
A cloture vote is also scheduled on the FDA user fee bill. The House passed an amended version of the bill by voice vote last week, so the Senate needs to clear that version before sending the bill to the president’s desk.
The Senate will continue debate on the motion to proceed to the flood insurance bill.
The House is scheduled to take up this appropriations bill covering the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
The House is also scheduled to take up this appropriations bill covering the USDA and FDA.
Surface Transportation Extension Act – H.R.4348
Negotiations on surface transportation funding are ongoing and a vote either on a longer-term bill or another extension will have to take place before week’s end, when the current extension expires.
June 26, 2012
Bennet, Udall, and Perlmutter Watch 6-25-12: Recent Votes
Comments Off on Bennet, Udall, and Perlmutter Watch 6-25-12: Recent Votes