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Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

Last week in Congress: How our representatives voted with analysis from News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski

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WASHINGTON — One vote mattered most in the House last week, and it passed in a big way.

Both the House and Senate agreed to extend the 2 percentage point payroll tax cut till the end of the year, while also extending unemployment benefits and rescuing doctors from a huge cut in their Medicare reimbursements.

For Republicans -- who had fought and lost a battle to find spending cuts to pay for the lost tax revenue -- the vote was a reflection of political reality.

"If it were up to only me, these payroll tax rate cuts would be fully paid for," said Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican who sat on the conference committee that struck the House-Senate deal on the measure. "However, from my first- hand experience seeing the Senate and House Democrats summarily reject our reasonable spending cut proposals, the choice we were left with was clear."

Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, lauded the tax cut measure -- but said it was long overdue.

"Our constituents are tired of Washington’s partisan bickering, and today’s extension should have come last year before Congress recessed for the holidays," she said.

--Jerry Zremski

 

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Here are the votes of Western New York's four members of the House of Representatives and the state's two U.S. senators on major legislation in Congress last week. A "Y" means the member voted for the measure; an "N" means the member voted against the measure; an "A" means the member did not vote.

HOUSE

* Oil Exports and Keystone XL Pipeline: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would have required oil transported by the Keystone XL pipeline to be used in the U.S. unless a presidential waiver was granted on the grounds that exporting the oil would not increase prices or would not increase dependence on imports from hostile nations. Markey said the requirement would prevent Keystone XL from being used to export "the dirtiest oil on the planet" overseas with little benefit for the U.S. economy. An opponent, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said the requirement would "start a trade war because it violates all trade rules and regulations."

The vote Feb. 15 was 173 yeas to 254 nays.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, Y; Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, Y; Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, N; Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, A.

* Materials Used in Keystone XL Pipeline: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Michael F. Doyle, D-Pa., to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would have made issuance of a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline conditional on 75 percent of the iron and steel used in the U.S. portion of the pipeline being produced in North America. Doyle said the requirement would have permit applicant TransCanada substantiate claims that it would "make every effort to source as much steel from U.S. mills" as possible for use in Keystone XL. An opponent, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said that because TransCanada has already bought the iron and steel needed for the pipeline and therefore could not certify the 75 percent figure, the amendment would have the effect of blocking Keystone XL.

The vote Feb. 15, was 193 yeas to 234 nays.

Higgins, Y; Hochul, Y; Reed, N; Slaughter, A.

* Drilling Off Southern California Coast: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would have struck from the bill a provision authorizing oil and natural gas drilling in waters off the Southern California coast.Capps said the amendment would uphold California's right to participate in determining whether to allow drilling off its coast that would harm the local environment in the event of an oil spill. An opponent, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said it "would lock away significant resources that belong to the American people" and maintain dependence on energy imports by blocking new oil production.

The vote Feb. 15 was 160 yeas to 267 nays.

Higgins, Y; Hochul, N; Reed, N; Slaughter, A.

* Drilling Off Northeast Coast: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Timothy H. Bishop, D-N.Y., to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would have barred the sale of oil and natural gas drilling leases off the coast of Northeastern states.Bishop said that in the absence of new safety rules for offshore drilling, the government should not allow the threat of an oil spill that would devastate the economy and environment of coastal areas in the Northeast. An opponent, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the amendment would unfairly prevent access to oil and gas resources in federal waters that could benefit the entire country.

The vote Feb. 15 was 169 yeas to 257 nays.

Higgins, Y; Hochul, Y; Reed, N; Slaughter, A.

* Distributing Gulf Coast Oil, Gas Revenue: The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey M. Landry, R-La., to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would increase the cap for distributing revenue from offshore oil and natural gas production to the four states bordering the Gulf of Mexico from $500 million to $750 million.Landry said the increase was "fundamental fairness" by returning more revenue to states along the Gulf Coast to help fund "coastal protection and the building of the coast that we are so rapidly losing." An opponent, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said the increase would transfer up to $6 billion to the four Gulf Coast states over the next 60 years at the expense of the rest of the country, revenue that was needed to "reduce our deficit and to get our fiscal house in order."

The vote Feb. 15 was 266 yeas to 159 nays.

Higgins, N; Hochul, N; Reed, Y; Slaughter, A.

* Economic Harm from Offshore Oil Spills: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Theodore E. Deutch, D-Fla., to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would have required companies applying for leases to drill for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico to estimate the economic harm that would result from a worst-case scenario oil spill. Deutch said the government should ensure "that companies applying for new oil drilling leases are aware of and are prepared for the potential economic impact and job losses resulting from a worst-case scenario spill." An opponent, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said companies were already required to include a worst-case scenario for economic harm from a spill.

The vote Feb. 15 was 188 yeas to 236 nays.

Higgins, Y; Hochul, Y; Reed, N; Slaugther, A.

* Safety Rules for Offshore Drilling: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Colleen W. Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would have required the Interior Secretary to establish safety and environmental protection requirements for oil and natural gas wells in offshore waters. Hanabusa said the amendment would help the U.S. create "the safest offshore oil industry in the world." An opponent, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said "this amendment would override the judgment of two agencies that have the authority to set and enforce safety regulations" for drilling.

The vote Feb. 16 was 189 yeas to 228 nays.

Higgins, Y; Hochul, Y; Reed, N; Slaughter, Y.

* Reviewing Renewables Projects: The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., to the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act. The amendment would limit the scope of National Environmental Policy Act reviews of proposed renewable energy projects on federal lands and waters.Hastings said that by requiring environmental reviews to be performed only for the sitewhere a project would be located, the amendment "would significantly reduce the number of years it takes to develop clean, renewable energy projects." An opponent, Rep. Rush Holt, D-Ill., said the amendment would remove environmental protections and result in "more lawsuits, more delays, less renewable energy on public lands."

The vote Feb. 16 was 250 yeas to 171 nays.

Higgins, N; Hochul, N; Reed, Y; Slaughter, N.

* Authorizing New Oil Development: The House passed the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.The bill would open exploration for oil and natural gas production off the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, authorize drilling in portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and establish rules for development of oil shale resources in the Rocky Mountain states. Lamborn said the bill "will create hundreds of thousands of American jobs and ensure the continued production of new domestic increases in our energy security and decrease our reliance on foreign oil." An opponent, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., called the bill "little more than a giveaway of our public lands to Big Oil under the guise of funding our Nation's transportation projects."

The vote Feb. 16 was 237 yeas to 187 nays.

Higgins, N; Hochul, Y; Reed, Y; Slaughter, N.

* Extending Payroll Tax Cut: The House approved a conference report that extends a 2 percentage point cut in the payroll tax to the end of the year, along with jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed. The bill, which President Obama signed Monday, also averts a steep cut in the fees the government pays to doctors who treat Medicare patients. Many Democrats and Republicans alike backed the measure, as Republicans agreed to a deal that actually grows the federal debt in order to get a troublesome political issue behind them. "We don't control Washington. Democrats still control Washington -- they control the Senate and they control the White House," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the top House negotiators on the measure. "A divided government must still govern." Still, many Tea Party Republicans rebelled against the measure. "I cannot and I will not support legislation that extends the payroll tax holiday without paying for it," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. "This will add $100 billion to the deficit and it will create an even greater shortfall within the Social Security trust fund that already has over $100 billion shortfall just in the last two years."

The vote Feb. 17 was 293 yeas to 132 nays.

Higgins, Y; Hochul, Y; Reed, Y; Slaughter, Y.

SENATE

* U.S. Circuit Court Judge: The Senate confirmed the nomination of Adalberto Jose Jordan to serve as a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.A supporter, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Jordan "has proven through his long career on the bench and as a prosecutor to be a public servant of tremendous quality and integrity."

The vote Feb. 15 was 94 yeas to 5 nays.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D, Y; Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D, Y.

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Information is supplied by Targeted News Service and the Associated Press.

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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