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Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

WASHINGTON -- The Obama health care law returned to the floor of the House last week, as Republicans passed legislation designed in part to give them a chance to hack away at Democrats for supporting every line of the original health bill -- even if they don't.

Proof of all that came Friday, a day after Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, bucked her party leadership and voted for a bill that sets restrictions on health care liability lawsuits and that kills the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board. Created as part of the original health reform bill, that board will have great power to limit how much Medicare pays for services rendered.

Critics say that the Medicare board will end up rationing health care, which is why the National Republican Congressional Committee started running automated calls on Friday, criticizing lawmakers who voted to keep the payment board alive.

But the GOP campaign committee also ran robo-calls against Hochul, saying: "Hochul's plan even empowers unelected bureaucrats to make decisions that could deny access and raise the cost of care."

Oops. Hochul voted to put those unelected bureaucrats out of business.

NRCC spokesman Nathaniel Sillin insisted the automated calls were "not inaccurate at all," given that Hochul supports much of the Obama health law.

The NRCC also ran similar robo-calls against Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport -- both of whom voted against the GOP bill on medical lawsuits and the Medicare board.

The vote on that bill -- which passed -- highlighted action in the House last week.

In the Senate, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand took a noteworthy -- and brave -- vote against the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, a bill that makes it easier for small businesses to go public. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro and consumer advocates worry the bill will spawn stock-market rip-offs, but Wall Street loves the legislation -- and New York senators for decades have often loved whatever Wall Street loves.

Not so this time. While Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., voted for the bill, Gillibrand called it a "step back" that could hurt consumers.

"As we continue to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we must maintain oversight, transparency, and accountability over our financial markets," she told the Wall Street Journal. "This bill rolls back too many of the protections that make our markets the strongest in the world.”

--Jerry Zremski

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 legislation 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.

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HOUSE

* Visas for Israeli Investors:The House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., that would allow Israeli nationals to receive E-2 nonimmigrant visas if U.S. nationals were eligible for similar nonimmigrant status in Israel.Berman said the bill "will encourage further investment by Israeli business leaders in the United States and lead to the creation of more jobs for American workers" and also "further strengthen the bonds between our two countries."

The vote March 19 was unanimous with 371 yeas.

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

 

* Selling Surplus Federal Property:The House passed the Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. The bill would create an Office of Management and Budget five-year pilot program for streamlining the sale of at least $19 billion of unneeded federal property. Chaffetz said the program "reduces operating and maintenance budgets" for managing the surplus property and would produce revenue for the government.

The vote March 20 was unanimous with 403 yeas.

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

* Virginia Land Sales:The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., to a bill. The amendment would have required Accomack County, Va., to pay fair market value for federal land being sold to the county after an independent appraisal commissioned by the Interior secretary and Accomack County. Grijalva said that by requiring fair compensation for land deeded to the county, the amendment would "send a signal to other local governments that are facing economic or development pressures that their parks, developed through the Federal Lands to Parks program, are not piggy banks to tap into when times get tough." An opponent, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said Accomack County already owned the land and the bill would only remove a deed restriction preventing the county from using its land for economic development.

The vote March 20 was 178 yeas to 226 nays.

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

* Disposing of Land in Virginia:The House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Scott E. Rigell, R-Va., that would remove deed restrictions on 31.6 acres of federal land transferred to Accomack County, Va., in 1976. Rigell said the bill would allow the county to build a technology and research facility and improve its economy by creating jobs. An opponent, Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said it would create "an unacceptable and dangerous precedent for every other" county seeking to develop federal land by allowing Accomack County to have the land for free instead of paying the government fair market value.

The vote March 20 was 240 yeas to 164 nays.

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

* U.S. Marshals Anniversary:The House concurred in a Senate amendment to the United States Marshals Service 225th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act sponsored by Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. The bill would order the Treasury secretary to mint three coins commemorating the 225th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Marshals Service in 1789. Womack said the coins will recognize the vital role of marshals who have "served this country with dedication and distinction" to protect public safety, without incurring new costs for taxpayers.

The vote March 21 was 409 yeas to 2 nays.

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

* Health Care and Interstate Commerce:The House passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., to the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Health Care Act. The amendment would strike a findings section stating that the health care industry and health care liability lawsuits impact interstate commerce. Woodall said the amendment "would simply eliminate the findings section to allow the substance of the bill to speak for itself." An opponent, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., said "many Members of the House question Congress' constitutional authority" over health care liability litigation, making the findings section a critical assertion of the authority of the House to legislate on the issue.

The vote March 22 was 234 yeas to 173 nays.

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

* Cost of Health Liability Reform:The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., to the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Health Care Act. The amendment would have delayed the bill's enactment until the secretary of Health and Human Services provided Congress with a report on the effect that its changes to health care liability litigation would have on health insurance premiums.Bonamici said "if this Congress is going to enact a sweeping bill nullifying long-standing State law and trampling on State constitutional rights, it's not too much to ask that we arm ourselves with the knowledge of how this will actually affect American families." An opponent, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said "this amendment is not needed because we have seen that real medical liability reform can and will reduce costs."

The vote March 22 was 179 yeas to 228 nays.

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

* Health Liability for Disaster Volunteers:The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., to the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Health Care Act. The amendment would grant limited protection from liability claims for health care professionals who volunteer in federally declared disaster areas. Stearns said the liability protection "will save lives" by encouraging health care to be offered in disaster areas without fear of future lawsuits. An opponent, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., said providing "virtual blanket immunity to any individual for any harm while acting in a volunteer capacity during a disaster violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution."

The vote March 22 was 251 yeas to 157 nays.

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

* Health Care Liability Payments:The House passed the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Health Care Act sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. The bill would establish restrictions on health care liability lawsuits, including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages and a statute of limitations for liability claims to be filed. It also would repeal the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board.Gingrey said the bill would "end frivolous lawsuits so that those who are truly injured get their day in court" and prevent health care rationing under the auspices of the advisory board. An opponent, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said the bill "undermines states' rights and hurts the rights of injured patients to obtain just compensation" from liability lawsuits, and blocks efforts "to reduce the cost of health care in America."

The vote March 22 was 223 yeas to 181 nays.

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

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SENATE

* Capital Markets: The Senate rejected cloture for debate on a substitute amendment sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to the Reopening American Capital Markets to Emerging Growth Companies Act. The amendment would have required companies seeking to raise capital by selling shares to provide audited financial statements to potential investors, barred companies from making general solicitations for private equity offerings and increase the cap for share sales to $50 million. Reed said the amendment "corrects glaring defects in the House-proposed bill" by increasing protections for investors.

The vote March 20 was 54 yeas to 45 nays, short of the three-fifths majority required to approve cloture.

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

* Disclosure Requirements for Crowd Funding:The Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. The amendment would establish requirements for the disclosure of accurate information by companies seeking crowd funding, which is the practice of soliciting capital from broad groups of potential investors. Merkley said the amendment created "the right set of investor protections, information, and accountability necessary to make crowd-funding fulfill the exciting potential it has."

The vote March 22 was 64 yeas to 35 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

* Small Companies and Securities Law:The Senate passed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act originally sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher, R-Tenn. The bill would exempt publicly traded emerging growth companies with less than $1 billion in annual revenue from various securities law requirements, including audits of financial reports and certain executive compensation reporting. A supporter, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the bill "makes it easier for those who want to remain private and to attract more investors, and to do so without triggering the very onerous and expensive regulations attendant to being a public company." An opponent, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said "by making our financial markets less transparent, less honest, and less accountable, this legislation threatens to discourage investors from participating in capital markets.

The vote March 22 was 73 yeas to 26 nays.

Gillibrand, N; Schumer, Y.

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Information supplied by Targeted News Service.

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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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