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Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

WASHINGTON -- With the House spending last week on comparatively minor legislation, the Senate waded into the national controversy du jour over birth control.

And New York's two Democratic senators said Republicans would live to regret it.

Both Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand said there would be profound political implications to the attempt by Senate Republicans to pass an amendment offered by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., which would have permitted employers or health insurance companies to refuse to provide coverage for health care services that violate their moral and religious beliefs -- such as contraception.

Senators voted to table the Blunt measure by a 51-48 vote, effectively killing it.

"This whole debate is an anachronism," Schumer said. "Our country progressed beyond the issue of whether to allow birth control a long time ago. Yet here we are in 2012 and some in the Republican Party suddenly want to turn back the clock and take away contraception from millions of women."

"If Republicans keep this up, they're going to drive away independent voters, women and men, just as they are driving moderates out of their caucus," Schumer added.

Meanwhile, Gillibrand said the following on the Senate floor: "What I find so problematic here is that they are just trying to deny women basic access to health care. And I think America`s women are watching this debate. They are understanding that these leaders in the Republican Party do not stand for them, their values or their priorities, and don't care about them and their families."

Republicans stood their ground, however: in fact, they said they stood on firm moral ground.

"This is an issue of religious freedom," Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said following the vote. "I believe it's possible to provide women with the access to the health care they want while at the same time protecting the rights of Americans to follow their religious beliefs."

And Blunt, the bill's sponsor, said: “I am truly disappointed by the partisanship that has been injected into this debate on religious freedoms ... This debate has been burdened by outlandish and divisive efforts to misinform and frighten Americans."

--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

*Trespassing on Restricted Property: The House has concurred in the Senate amendment to the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, sponsored by Rep. Thomas J. Rooney, R-Fla. The amended bill would establish criminal penalties for people who knowingly trespass at the White House, the vice president's residence or other locations being protected by the Secret Service.
Rooney said the bill "would improve existing criminal law to ensure that the Secret Service can continue to implement strategies that prevent potentially catastrophic security breaches."

The vote Feb. 27 was 388 yeas to 3 nays.

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

 

*Student Complaint Processes: The House has rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., to the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act. The amendment would have preserved a U.S. Department of Education requirement for states to have a process for students to file complaints against colleges and universities for failing to provide promised services.
Grijalva said the amendment "protects students and taxpayers by ensuring that each State has a process in place to receive and review student complaints and by promoting good practices and addressing abuses." An opponent, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said states facing budgetary problems "may not be able to handle new and unnecessary changes" to complaint processes mandated by the Department of Education.

The vote Feb. 28 was 170 yeas to 247 nays.

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

*Defining a Credit Hour: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Timothy H. Bishop, D-N.Y., to the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act. The amendment would have eliminated a provision barring the education secretary from issuing or enforcing any regulation defining the term "credit hour" for colleges and universities.
Bishop said the amendment would protect against the possibility of institutions of higher education adopting lax standards for a credit hour.
An opponent, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said Congress "should not be abrogating our responsibility to unelected bureaucrats" and give an agency the power to define a credit hour.

The vote Feb. 28 was 160 yeas to 255 nays.

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

*Waste of Financial Aid Funds: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act. The amendment would have required the secretary of education to submit to Congress proposed strategies for preventing waste, fraud and abuse of federal financial aid dollars by institutions of higher education.
Polis said Congress should "make sure that there's a backstop for" combating the waste of taxpayer funds. An opponent, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the amendment was unnecessary because the Education Department was already being asked to present ideas for preventing waste to relevant Congressional committees.

The vote Feb. 28 was 199 yeas to 217 nays.

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

*Aid for Higher Education:The House passed the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act, sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. The bill would repeal a U.S. Department of Education regulation creating a standard for the level of work required for a student to obtain a credit hour in order to receive assistance from the Federal Student Aid program.
Foxx said the costly regulation unnecessarily complicated the process for colleges and universities to work with the aid program and "infringes on the rights of States to regulate their higher education systems." An opponent, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, said that "to avoid having institutions overstate credit hours or inflate the Federal student aid paid for students attending those programs, we must have consistent measures for credit hours."

The vote Feb. 28 was 303 yeas to 114 nays.

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

*California Water Quality:The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., to the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. The amendment would have blocked the bill from taking effect until the interior secretary has determined that it will not harm drinking water supplies for the five counties that make up California's Delta region.
 McNerney said the bill "will harm the safety of drinking water supplies for delta communities," and he said the amendment would ensure that the bill does not "burden the delta with heavy costs and new public health threats" from degraded water supplies. An opponent, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said the amendment would allow the California government to build a peripheral canal that deprives Delta farmers of their rightful supplies of water.

The vote Feb. 29 was 178 yeas to 242 nays.

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

*California Water Supply Contracts:The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., to the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. The amendment would have eliminated a provision authorizing the interior secretary to renew existing water supply contracts in the San Joaquin Valley for 40 years.
Garamendi said that preserving existing law for the water contracts, the amendment would maintain California's authority to allocate its water. An opponent, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said the amendment would create uncertainty about the long-term cost of water supply in the valley.

The vote Feb. 29 was 181 yeas to 243 nays.

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

*Management of California Water Supply: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., to the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. The amendment would have required the operation of California's Central Valley Project and State Water Project to be based on the best available science. Markey said the amendment would "ensure that we protect the water users and the environment." An opponent, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said it would encourage environmental lawsuits that indefinitely delay water projects "and make them cost prohibitive to pursue."

The vote Feb. 29 was 180 yeas to 244 nays.

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

*California Water Management:The House passed the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act sponsored by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. The bill would change federal regulations for water management in California's San Joaquin Valley that aimed to preserve local endangered fish populations.
Nunes said that by restoring reliable supplies of irrigated water to farmers in the valley, the bill would encourage food production. An opponent, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, D-Calif., said the legislation would illegitimately preempt state control of water management, hurt the environment, and dictate the use of water supplies "in a way that elevates agricultural uses above all other water needs."

The vote Feb. 29 was 246 yeas to 175 nays.

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

*Selma Civil Rights March:The House agreed to a resolution sponsored by Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., directing the House Office of the Historian to obtain oral histories from current and former House members who were involved in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Sewell said the oral histories will "offer an important perspective" on the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the effort by citizens to ensure "that America lived up to its ideals of democracy and civil liberties."

The vote March 1 was unanimous with 418 yeas.

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

*Minnesota-Wisconsin Bridge: The House passed the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act originally sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. The bill would authorize federal support for construction of a new bridge crossing the St. Croix River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
A supporter, Rep. Thomas E. Petri, R-Wis., said if construction of the new bridge does not move forward, "the more unsafe the current lift bridge becomes, congestion continues to worsen, and costs just continue to rise." An opponent, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said the bridge was too expensive given the existence of a nearby interstate freeway bridge over the St. Croix River, and called the bill "wasteful government spending, bad transportation policy, and bad environmental policy."

The vote March 1 was 339 yeas to 80 nays.

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

SENATE

*New York District Judge:The Senate confirmed the nomination of Margo Kitsy Brodie to serve as U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York.
A supporter, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Brodie's decade of experience as assistant attorney for the Eastern District made her "especially well-qualified for a lifetime appointment to the court" at a time when "her presence is desperately needed on one of the busiest benches in the country."

The vote Feb. 27 was 86 yeas to 2 nays.

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

*Exemptions from Health Care Mandates -- The Senate tabled an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The amendment would have modified the health care reform law to allow employers not to comply with health care mandates that violate their religious or moral beliefs.
Blunt said the amendment would protect the right to freedom of religion included in the First Amendment.
An opponent, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the amendment would curtail women's access to contraception and other health care services.

The tabling vote March 1 was 51 yeas to 48 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

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Information for this column is 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.

[email protected]


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.

[email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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