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Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

WASHINGTON -- The past week in Congress offered yet more proof that Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, is not exactly walking in the footsteps of Democratic leaders.

As the House considered a bill reducing regulations on federal lands, most Democrats, including Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter of Fairport, voted no. But Hochul voted yes.

And on energy legislation, Democrats opposed moves boosting oil drilling in Alaska, encouraging mining on public lands and encouraging drilling off the Virginia Coast -- but Hochul supported them. Higgins, Slaughter and most other Democrats also opposed the GOP's full energy bill, citing its possible negative environmental impact -- but Hochul voted for it.

Meanwhile on the Senate side, the big news was that a bill actually passed. New farm legislation drew bipartisan support, including the backing of New York's two Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand.

--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 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

* Regulating the Use of Federal Lands — The House passed the Conservation and Economic Growth Act sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. The bill would reduce regulations governing economic and recreation activity on federal lands. Denham said the bill encouraged the use of federal lands to improve the economy and create jobs by cutting regulatory obstacles to developing hydropower and other projects. An opponent, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said the bill would degrade environmental protections that ensure clean water and clean air.

The vote June 19 was 232 yeas to 188 nays.

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

* Indian Casino in Arizona — The House passed the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Clarification Act sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. The bill would bar the Tohono O'odham Indian tribe from developing a Las Vegas-style casino on land purchased by the tribe in Maricopa County, Ariz.
Franks said the casino would violate federal law, and prohibiting it would discourage "dangerous changes to the complexion of tribal gaming in the other states across the country in which Indian tribes can use front companies to buy up land and declare it part of their sovereign reservation for gaming purposes."
An opponent, Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the bill "seeks to unilaterally abrogate an Indian land claim and water rights settlement, and it would also interfere with pending litigation in federal court."

The vote was 343 yeas to 78 nays.

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

* Energy Production in Alaska — The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., to the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act. The amendment would eliminate the designation of the Colville River Delta in Alaska as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance and require the Interior secretary to approve right-of-way corridors for the construction of two bridges and pipeline rights-of-way for oil and natural gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. Hastings said the measures "would give Alaskans the assurance they need to create jobs and encourage development of the NPR A." An opponent, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., called the repeal of the Colville River Delta designation "an ill-informed sneak attack" on an Environmental Protection Agency decision.

The vote June 21 was 253 yeas to 163 nays.

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

* Oversight of Minerals Program — The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., to the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act. The amendment would bar the Interior secretary from transferring oversight of the solid minerals program from the Bureau of Land Management to the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement. Amodei said: "Currently, the administration continues to proceed with plans to combine these two entities despite the fact that it has met with heavy bipartisan resistance and also resistance from stakeholders, including, yes, even environmental groups." An opponent, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said the amendment would deny the Obama administration the opportunity to study a change that could "ensure that we can continue to exercise proper oversight of mining activities on public lands and ensure that American taxpayers and States can continue to receive a proper return on these minerals."

The vote June 21 was 257 yeas to 162 nays.

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

* Distributing Offshore Oil Revenue — The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., to the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act. The amendment would raise the cap for sharing revenue from energy production off the Gulf of Mexico coast with the four states bordering the gulf from $500 million to $750 million, beginning in fiscal 2023. Landry said raising the cap would "improve the environment by ensuring that those States that allow offshore drilling are allowed to keep more of the revenue generated off of their shores" and use the revenue for environmental protection efforts. An opponent, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said the higher cap would mean unnecessarily sending an additional $6 billion to the four Gulf states, who were already scheduled to receive $150 billion of royalties from offshore drilling in the Gulf.

The vote June 21 was 244 yeas to 173 nays.

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

* Drilling off Virginia Coast — The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., to the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act. The amendment would require the Interior secretary to include a section off the Virginia coast in the five-year plan for oil and natural gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Rigell said moving forward with environmentally responsible energy production off the Virginia coast would promote job creation and help the U.S. reduce dependence on oil imports. An opponent, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said the amendment "would place the entire East Coast at risk of a spill in order to open up an area where drilling may only be able to occur in about 10 percent of the area. That doesn't make any sense for our coastal States and their economies."

The vote June 21 was 263 yeas to 146 nays.

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

* Offshore Wind Projects — The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., to the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act. The amendment would require the Interior secretary to issue a decision within 30 days on applications to install temporary equipment to test the development of offshore wind power on the Outer Continental Shelf. Wittman said the requirement would remedy delays for offshore wind projects caused by bureaucratic obstacles to obtaining permits and encourage "development of American energy while at the same time protecting the integrity of our environment." An opponent, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said: "The amendment creates a brand-new, burdensome permitting scheme that would complicate the process for obtaining a permit to construct a meteorological tower offshore and undermine offshore wind development."

The vote June 21 was 256 yeas to 161 nays.

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

* Energy Production — The House has passed the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. The bill would require the energy secretary to develop a plan for increasing oil and natural gas and renewable energy production on government lands. Gardner said it "will allow us to cut through red tape and to increase exploration on our great lands in the Western United States across this country in an environmentally responsible fashion." An opponent, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said "the bill will keep dirty gasoline on the market, allow oil refineries to spew toxic emissions, and forestall action to address climate change."

The vote June 21 was 248 yeas to 163 nays.

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

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SENATE

* Pricing Milk Products — The Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would require the agriculture secretary to study the effects of amending each federal milk marketing order and making potential changes to the formula for pricing milk products. Snowe said the amendment would help small dairy farmers whose viability was threatened by excessive price volatility for the milk they produce.

The vote June 19 was 66 yeas to 33 nays.

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

* Eligibility for Food Stamps — The Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would have limited eligibility for the supplemental nutrition assistance program to individuals who receive cash assistance from the government. Sessions said the amendment would fix the problem of the rapid growth of food stamp spending by eliminating benefits for individuals whose income and assets exceed the statutory limit for eligibility for the supplemental nutrition assistance program. An opponent, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the amendment would hurt families by requiring people to shed vital assets such as cars in order to continue receiving food stamps.

The vote June 19 was 43 yeas to 56 nays.

Gillibrand, N; Schumer, N.

* Pulse Crops and School Lunches — The Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would direct the agriculture secretary to conduct a pilot program for buying dry beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and other pulse crops for use in school breakfast and school lunch programs. Cantwell said: "My amendment works to improve the nutritional value of school meals across America at a very economical price. With the level of obesity of children between 2 and 19, it is very important we have this program included."

The vote June 19 was 58 yeas to 41 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

* State Food Stamp Bonuses — The Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act (S. 3240). The amendment would have ended bonus payments to states that increase the number of enrollees in the supplemental nutrition assistance program. Sessions said the amendment would save $480 million over 10 years and give states an incentive "to manage the program in a way to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse." An opponent, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the amendment would eliminate bonuses paid to states for reducing the number of payment errors in the supplemental nutrition assistance program.

The vote June 19 was 41 yeas to 58 nays.

Gillibrand, N; Schumer, N.

* Insurance for Food Recalls — The Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would direct the Agriculture Department to study the feasibility of developing crop insurance products for food producers for protection against losses due to food recalls. Feinstein said the insurance products could protect producers from suffering "major financial losses because of a recall they did not cause."

The vote June 19 was 76 yeas to 23 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

* Funding for Food Stamps — The Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act (S. 3240). The amendment would have struck a provision reducing funding for the supplemental nutrition assistance program. Gillibrand said the amendment would maintain food stamp assistance to children, seniors, veterans and other needy citizens. An opponent, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said: "This amendment would shield over 82 percent of farm bill spending from deficit reduction and prevent the bill from addressing a serious breach in nutrition program integrity."

The vote June 19 was 33 yeas to 66 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

* EPA Emissions Rules — The Senate rejected a motion to consider a joint resolution sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. The resolution would have disapproved of the Environmental Protection Agency's mercury and air toxics standards limiting emissions from industrial boilers and power plants. Inhofe said "if we vote against this amendment and they allow this rule to continue, we are effectively killing coal in America that has accounted for almost 50 percent" of the nation's power generation capacity. An opponent, Sen. John D. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the EPA's standards would diminish the harm to public health caused by mercury and other toxic emissions.

The vote June 20 was 46 yeas to 53 nays.

Gillibrand, N; Schumer, N.

* Spending on Food Marketing — The Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would have cut annual funding for the Agriculture Department's food marketing program to $160 million and barred the use of funds for reality television shows, wine tastings, animal spa products and cat or dog food. Coburn said the "American contribution of total world agricultural products is on the decline in spite of these programs, and the waste in these programs-if we look at where the money is spent-is unbelievable." An opponent, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said: "For every $1 invested in this particular market access program, $35 is generated back into economic activity."

The vote June 20 was 30 yeas to 69 nays.

Gillibrand, N; Schumer, N.

* Land Conservation Payments — The Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would establish a $1 million annual income cap for farmers and companies to receive payments from the Agriculture Department's land conservation programs. Coburn said barring conservation payments to millionaires would prevent wasteful spending, given that "natural, market-based incentives already exist to achieve the efficiency and conservation purposes of these programs."

The vote June 20 was 62 yeas to 37 nays.

Gillibrand, N; Schumer, N.

* Protecting Forests — The Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would increase by $100 million the funding for Forest Service efforts to protect forests threatened by insect and disease epidemics. Udall said: "The Forest Service has set a goal of doubling the number of acres treated to address beetle kill and prevent forest fires. This amendment would help them reach that goal. If we don't pass the amendment, they will not have the wherewithal and resources to do so."

The vote June 20 was 77 yeas to 22 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

* Funding Pary Conventions — The Senate approved a rider amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The amendment would bar public funding for political party conventions and return funds previously distributed to the parties to be used for deficit reduction. Coburn called the amendment a "short-term step we can take to preserve more money for publicly funded candidates who are running for President instead of using that money to fund what we know now as expensive parties in our conventions."

The vote June 21 was 95 yeas to 4 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

* Agriculture Programs — The Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. The bill would extend the supplemental nutrition assistance program through fiscal 2017, extend various food production and land conservation programs, and repeal countercyclical and direct payments to farmers after 2012. The bill included funding for agricultural and food policy research centers; the suspension of price support programs for milk and other dairy products, cotton, sugar and covered commodities; funding for food safety initiatives; assistance for the loss of livestock due to adverse weather or attacks by wolves and other federally reintroduced animals; the establishment of a production margin protection program for dairy operations; and the establishment of a plan to make loans to consumers to improve energy efficiency. An opponent, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said "the bill establishes a one-size-fits-all program rather than recognizing the limitations of crop insurance for certain regions of the country, namely, the Southeast," leaving food producers outside the Midwest "without an effective safety net."

The vote June 21 was 64 yeas to 35 nays.

Gillibrand, Y; Schumer, Y.

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Information supplied by Targeted News Service.

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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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