WASHINGTON -- Some 51 of the nation's 100 senators, including the two Democrats from New York, last week voted to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling this summer, thereby sending the measure down to defeat.
That is not a typo. That is the filibuster in action.
With the House out of session, the Senate's latest vote on the student loan issue was the central issue on Capitol Hill last week -- and the measure went nowhere even though a narrow majority of senators supported it.
Welcome to the modern world of the U.S. Senate, where the majority loses all the time.
The harsh partisan divide that has evolved over the years has led to the point where the minority party -- currently, the Republicans -- routinely blocks legislation. The minority can do that by using arcane Senate rules that allow 40 senators to prevent major legislation from moving forward. It's called the filibuster, and it's now the way the Senate does business.
But should it be? Defenders of the filibuster say it protects the rights of the minority -- but what about the rights of the majority?
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.
There were no key votes in the House last week.
* Ninth Circuit Judge: The Senate confirmed the nomination of Paul J. Watford to serve as a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit. A supporter, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., cited Watford's experience as a federal prosecutor and private practice lawyer, as well as his unanimously well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association. An opponent, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, questioned several of Watford's legal positions, including his arguments against an Arizona illegal immigration law, his opposition to the death penalty and "his concession that he would give consideration to foreign or international law in interpreting the meaning of the cruel and unusual punishment clause" in the Constitution.
The vote May 21 was 61 yeas to 34 nays.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D, Y; Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D, Y.
* Generic Drugs: The Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. The amendment would have prevented generic pharmaceutical companies from reaching pay-for-delay settlements with makers of brand-name drugs in which they were paid to put off the introduction of generic versions of brand-name drugs. Bingaman said the amendment "would significantly cut prescription drug costs for American consumers and help reduce the Federal deficit" by cutting the government's costs for prescription drugs. An opponent, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said "it would ultimately result in fewer generic drugs being brought to market and delays in the launch of many of the generic drugs that do go to market" because generic drug makers would no longer have an exclusive market for six months in exchange for being the first company to bring a generic version of a brand-name drug to market.
The vote May 24 was 28 yeas to 67 nays.
Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.
* FDA Reauthorization: The Senate passed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. The bill would reauthorize and extend the Food and Drug Administration's user-fee programs for prescription drugs and medical devices and establish user-fee programs for generic drugs and biosimilars. Harkin said it would ensure the timely approval of medical products, streamline the process for approving medical devices, promote innovation and incentives for developing drugs that treat life-threatening conditions, and help prevent and mitigate drug shortages.
The vote May 24 was 96 yeas to 1 nay.
Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.
* Offsetting Cost of Student Loan Rates: The Senate rejected a substitute amendment sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act. The amendment would have extended for one year the 3.4 percent interest rate for Direct Stafford loans for undergraduate students and offset the cost of the extension by rescinding unspent funds in the health care reform law's Prevention and Wellness Fund. Alexander said the amendment would use savings on student health programs as an offset, and therefore avoid a tax increase on small businesses.
An opponent, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the offset "will deny critical services to families all across this country" by cutting spending on preventive health measures.
The vote May 24 was 34 yeas to 62 nays.
Gillibrand, N; Schumer, N.
* Student Loan Interest Rates: The Senate rejected the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. The bill would have extended for one year the 3.4 percent interest rate for Direct Stafford loans for undergraduate students and required certain shareholders of subchapter S corporations to pay employment taxes on their income from the corporations.
Reid said extending the 3.4 percent interest rate would "keep college affordable for 7 million people" by preventing a $1,000 increase in the cost of student loans. An opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the bill would "raise taxes on small businesses, hurting the very companies we are counting on to hire today's college graduates."
The vote May 24 was 51 yeas to 43 nays, short of the three-fifths majority required for approval.
Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.
Information supplied by Targeted News Service.