Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 Congressional Lame Duck Votes

The following roll call votes occurred during the lame duck session of Congress are especially interesting in that the votes occurred at all.  Both Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid deserve credit for not acting lame during the lame duck session.

For the last two years, Republican obstructionism has been blamed for failure to move the Democratic agenda forward.  So with their backs to the wall, time running out and petulant Republicans whining like a bunch of cranky old white men about having to work during Holy Week, the Democrats pushed ahead and brought some substantive issues to a positive conclusion.  .

 9-11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 – HR 847  aka as the First Responder’s Bill -
In a shameful, inexcusable display of petty ignorance, Republican’s failed to support providing special health care benefits to firemen, police officers, EMT’s and other emergency personnel who responded on September 11th.    After a 6 year effort that has seen 900 fatalities due to 911 exposure, the Act was finally the last legislation approved by the 111th Congress after being whittled from $6.2 billion to $4.3 billion
On September 29th ,  the House still controlled by the Democrats voted 268 (with 17 Republicans) in support of the First Responders with 160 (including 3 Democrats) votes against.

On December 9th, the Senate voted in a strict party line vote with 57 Democrats in support and 42 Republicans against the First Responders.  Needing 60 votes, the Motion failed and First Responders will not receive necessary additional health benefits.

Sen. (Dr.) Coburn (OK) continued to ‘hold’ the Act claiming that Congressional hearings had not been held yet  Sen. (Dr.) Coburn, who serves on the Health, Education and Labor Committee, must have forgotten to attend that committee’s hearings – wonder if he was also absent the day the Hippocratic Oath was administered.  The US Chamber of Commerce continued to lobby against the bill which is fully funded - unlike tax cuts for the rich!
As one First Responder inquired “what kind of country is this?”

After considerable negative publicity laying this legislature failure at the Republican door, the Senate reconsidered and approved the Act by unanimous consent on December 22nd .   A quorum of the House of Representatives waited in the wings for two days (bless them) before adjourning in order to approve the Senate vote.   The bill  now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act aka as the DREAM Act – HR 2965 - would have opened a pathway for citizenship to immigrant children who had been US residents for at least five years and are pursuing either a military career or higher education.  Since the vote, immigrant rights activists have questioned Obama’s commitment since his Administration has deported a record number of immigrants and detentions in the last two years.

On December 6th  the Democratic controlled House voted in support 216 (with 8 Republicans) with 198 (w/38 Democrats voting against).

When the Act arrived on the Senate floor, it became caught in the ‘we want the tax cut bill first’ Republican mentality and failed on a 59 – 40 vote.   Five Republicans (Murkowski, Corker, Crapo, Risch and Vitter) voted with the Democrats and 4 Democrats (Sens. Feingfold, Menendez, Merkley and Pryor) voted against the Dream Act providing the necessary margin to defeat the DREAM Act.    The Act needed 60 votes.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell -  HR 2965 -  banned homosexuals from joining the US military and prohibited efforts to discover or reveal one’s sexual preference.  Preferring Congressional action, Obama's refusal to issue an Executive Order as President Truman did when integrating the Army gave rise to a frustrating year for DADT repeal, forcing advocates to organize an ultimately successful lobbying effort. 

On December 6th, the House voted 250 (including 15 Republicans) in support and195 (including 15 Democrats) voting against repeal. 

Thanks to an intense lobbying effort, the Senate voted 65 – 31 on December 17th in support of repeal which needed 60 votes.  Eight Republicans (Sens. Brown (Mass), Burr, Collins, Ensign,  Snowe, Murkowski, Kirk and Voinovich) joined 57 Democrats.  Senator Manchin (D- WVa) did not vote.    

Food Safety Modernization Act  S 510 – Gives the FDA access to company records and authority to recall products and requires that 170 countries that import food are grown in conjunction with US laws.  The Act addresses food safety issues last updated almost 100 years ago and was supported by food safety and consumer organizations but is generally considered ‘flawed.’   Some food safety organizations are wary of giving the FDA more power since the agency has been more committed to protecting industry rather than public safety.  The bill does not address genetically modified foods which Obama, as a candidate, promised to label.

On December 12th the House added the Act as an amendment to the 2011 Appropriations Continuing Resolution. The Appropriations was approved 212  with 206 (including 34 Democrats and Rep. Kucinich) voting against. (See below info on the Appropriations bill)

With a broad coalition of lobbying efforts, the Senate approved the Food Safety Act with 73 (including 15 R’s) in the affirmative and 25 (all Republicans) voting against the Act on December 17th.

2011 Appropriations Continuing Resolution –  includes $160 billion for the wars in Iraq and  Afghanistan and reduced funding of $12.5 billion from 2010 budget for high speed rail funding but does not include funds to implement Obama’s health care legislation.

After Republican objections, the White House agreed to extend the 2010 budget and pulled  the full Omnibus budget bill for 2011 in favor of this $1.1 trillion short term Continuing Resolution which will fund the Federal government through  March 4th

On December 21, Senate approved the temporary Appropriation on a 79 -16 vote.   .

Local Community Radio Act – HR 1147 and S 592 – repealed FCC restrictions to open up low power service for non-profit radio in thousands of communities with locally oriented programming.   The FCC will announce a procedure for community applications

Difficult as this may be to believe and in a huge victory for grassroots lobbying, both the House and Senate (after six Republicans removed  ‘holds’) approved the Act on voice votes.

START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) – which expired in 2009, began in 1982 with Reagan and Gorbachev approval of  START 1.  This treaty is a more modest, different Treaty than what the Russians approved in April, 2010 as Obama increased missile defenses within Russia’s ‘security zone.’ Some US defense experts are uncertain whether Russia will accept the Treaty as currently approved by the Senate.  The START would require a one-third cut in certain warheads and silos and allow on-site inspections

Needing a 2/3 vote, the Senate ratified the Treaty on December 22nd  with  71 in favor (including Republican Senators Alexander, Bennett, Brown, Cochran, Collins, Corker, Gregg, Isakson, Johannes, Lugar, Murkowski, Snowe and Voinovich  ) – 26.

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