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Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

WASHINGTON -- The House spent much of last week on natural resource and transportation issues, but two votes stand out -- both for their importance and for the willingness of local members of Congress to cross party lines.

When the House passed a three-month extension of transportation funding, 113 Democrats voted no, complaining that the stopgap measure was no way to run a highway system and that Congress should finally come to a long-term solution to pay for our nation's roads. But Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., were among the 69 Democrats who voted yes.

That's no surprise, really, given that both lawmakers have a keen interest in bringing highway funds back to New York.

But Hochul's vote for a Republican small business tax plan was a surprise.

Many Democrats lashed out at the bill as a blunt-object tax givaway that could end up benefitting hedge funds as well as corner bakeries, but that's not how Hochul saw it.

"We have to do everything we can to help our small businesses, and by giving them a tax break they will have the resources to expand inventory, but also they will be able to hire more employees," she said.

On the Senate side, one vote stood out last week. To no one's surprise, Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., voted for the "Buffett Rule" tax hike on millionaires and billionaires.

--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

* Hunting and Fishing in National Park System: The House rejected an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., to the Sportsmen's Heritage Act. The amendment would have stated that all units of the National Park System were exempt from the bill's provisions for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting management of federal lands. Holt said his amendment would ensure that "we don't carelessly open up to gunfire consecrated grounds like the Civil War battlefields, like the parks and beaches and forests of our national recreation areas."

The vote April 17 was 152 yeas to 260 nays.

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

* Management of Federal Lands: The House rejected an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., to the Sportsmen's Heritage Act. The amendment would have made the bill's restrictions on federal lands applicable only when less than 75 percent of the lands are available for hunting, fishing, or recreation shooting. Grijalva said given that "nearly 85 percent of all public lands are already open for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting," the government "should allow local managers to make local decisions based on local input." An opponent, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said "the amendment nullifies the actual purpose of the underlying bill to protect these activities."

The vote April 17 was 138 yeas to 279 nays.

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

* Resources Extraction in Wilderness Areas: The House rejected an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., to the Sportsmen's Heritage Act. The amendment would have declared that the bill did not allow motorized activity or resources extraction in federal wilderness areas. Heinrich said his amendment would eliminate a loophole created by vague language that could eliminate "the very wilderness protections that have protected some of the best wildlife habitat." An opponent, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the bill specifically declared that it was not "intended to authorize or facilitate any use regarding extraction" activities, while the amendment's vague language could lead to litigation over whether such activities were allowed in wilderness areas."

The vote April 17 was 176 yeas to 244 nays.

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

* State Approval for National Monuments: The House approved an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to the Sportsmen's Heritage Act. The amendment would require agreement from the governor and legislature of a state for the president to designate a national monument in that state. Foxx said "it's important to respect and allow State policymakers to weigh in on proposed Federal land restrictions within their borders." An opponent, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the amendment would "hobble the Antiquities Act by giving States a veto over Federal designations on Federal land, and it would do so based on criticisms of the act and of national monuments that are patently false."

The vote April 17 was 233 yeas to 198 nays.

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

* Hunting, Fishing on Federal Lands: The House passed the Sportsmen's Heritage Act, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. The bill would require federal land management officials to facilitate hunting, fishing and recreational shooting and direct the Interior Secretary to issue permits allowing sport hunters to import polar bear parts from Canada. Miller said it "protects sportsmen's rights that preserves our Nation's heritage." An opponent, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said it was "intended to devalue and degrade our public resources" and would cost $12 million while decreasing local management of federal lands.

The vote April 17 was 274 yeas to 146 nays.

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

* Permits for Transportation Projects: The House approved an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., to a bill providing a three-month extension of funding for transportation programs. The amendment would streamline environmental permitting processes for transportation projects by federal and state governments. Ribble said his amendment "will smooth the road for our infrastructure projects by reducing the redundant permitting requirements that prevent us from rebuilding our roads and bridges across this country." An opponent, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said the amendment "would severely limit public input into surface transportation decisions," with the resulting risk of litigation by the public that would create added delays for work on transportation projects.

The vote April 18 was 255 yeas to 165 nays.

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

* Revising Transportation Bill: The House rejected a motion, sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to revise and recommit to committee a bill to extend funding for transportation programs for three months. The motion would have barred funding for highways in foreign countries and funding for a 65-mile highway around the city of Birmingham, Ala. Polis said it would prevent the Birmingham highway from taking away funding for worthy transportation projects in the rest of the Appalachian region. An opponent, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said the motion would delay work to "move forward in getting America building its infrastructure and getting people to work and affordable energy to people that can't even afford to fill up their gas tank today."

The vote April 18 was 176 yeas to 242 nays.

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

* Extending Transportation Funding: The House passed a bill, sponsored by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., to extend funding for transportation programs for three months and require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline within 30 days. Mica said the bill will provide time for a House and Senate conference to negotiate a long-term transportation bill and "will provide increased energy for the country." An opponent, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., criticized the bill as one of a series of "short-term extensions that cause uncertainty and create chaos for construction crews and local communities across the country and our State transportation departments."

The vote April 18 was 293 yeas to 127 nays.

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

* Tax Depreciation for Small Businesses: The House rejected a substitute amendment, sponsored by Rep. Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., to the Small Business Tax Cut Act. The amendment would have replaced a one-year, 20 percent tax cut with a one-year extension of 100 percent bonus depreciation for manufacturers and other small businesses. Levin said bonus depreciation would support "the types of businesses that create good jobs here in our country" by expanding domestically, and would therefore provide "a more general and widespread economic stimulus." An opponent, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., said the substitute "will result in no economic impact in this country."

The vote April 19 was 175 yeas to 236 nays.

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

* Small Business Tax Cut: The House passed the Small Business Tax Cut Act, sponsored by Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. The bill would provide small businesses with fewer than 500 employees with a one-year, 20 percent cut in taxes. Cantor said it "will help create more than 100,000 new jobs a year" by promoting "economic growth, investment, and job creation." An opponent, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said the bill would cost $1.1 million per job created and was distracting Congress from the more important work of passing the transportation bill.

The vote on April 19 was 235 yeas to 173 nays.

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

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SENATE

* Minimum Tax on the Wealthy: The Senate rejected a cloture motion to consider the Paying A Fair Share Ac, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. The bill would have established a 30 percent minimum tax rate on individuals with an adjusted annual gross income of more than $1 million. Whitehouse said the bill would correct a "glaring tax inequity" by ensuring "that those at the very top pay at least the tax rates faced by middle-class families," and would help the economy by collecting $47 billion of tax revenue. An opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, called the bill a "political gimmick" and argued that "until Washington can show that it is a better steward of taxpayer dollars, or that it knows how to invest in a winner, it should not expect people to hand over another penny" in taxes.

The vote April 16 was 51 yeas to 45 nays, with a three-fifths majority required for cloture.

Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Y; Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Y.

* Reforming Postal Service: The Senate approved cloture for debate on the 21st Century Postal Service Act, sponsored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, ID-Conn. The bill would eliminate the Postal Service's required payments to a health benefits fund for retirees for five years and establish procedural requirements for the closing or consolidation of postal facilities. Lieberman said rejecting cloture would mean "the Postal Service is going to run out of money and hit its borrowing limit later this year, forcing us to miss payments and unnecessarily begin to shut back or close down operations."

The vote April 17 was 74 yeas to 22 nays.

Schumer, Y; Gillibrand, 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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