Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tracking Congressional Votes

I have devoted some previous posts to reporting on some of the votes which have occurred in Congress.  The information concerning the subjects and votes of my local reps have been attained through the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer.  However, not all votes were being detailed, only votes on "major" issues as determined by the Inquirer.  

Recently, I found a website which provides me with all the info I require. 

It is called 

I encourage everyone to check out this website and sign up for some type of email that will keep you informed.  I am currently receiving a weekly email from Megavote.  This can be accessed by clicking on the Who We Are icon which is on the home page of the above website.  When you sign up, you will be asked for your state so you receive details on your two Senators' votes, and for your federal legislative district so you receive the information about your reps votes in the House.  Also, the weekly emails contain a link that allows you to immediately email your rep concerning his or her vote on any particular issue.

As I have said many times before, we vote as an electorate at a disheartening percentage, even in presidential election years, and when we do vote, I don't believe we spend enough time tracking our reps and holding them accountable for their votes.  As a result, we all too often vote against our better interests.

As for some recent votes, here are a few from the House of Representatives.

1. District of Columbia Abortion Restriction – Suspension - Vote Failed (220-154, 2 Present, 55 Not Voting)

The House fell 30 votes shy of passing a measure that would have banned abortions in our nation’s capital after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except when the life of the mother is endangered. Abortion providers who violated the ban would be subject to fines and up to two years’ imprisonment. They would be required to provide a report on each abortion to the D.C. health agency. Women who seek an abortion would not be subject to prosecution under the bill; however, providers could be sued by such women at a later date. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah has introduced a companion measure, but it is unlikely to receive a vote.

My rep voted yes.  I sent him an email asking him why the House of Reps thought it was their business to propose, debate and vote on a law that effected the health of women in a district other than that which they represent. 

2. Tax Code Overhaul – Passage - Vote Passed (232-189, 9 Not Voting)

As a companion of sorts to the extension of the Bush tax cuts, the House also passed a bill to expedite consideration of a tax overhaul bill between now and April 30 of next year. Republicans in both chambers have said an overhaul of the tax code is one of their top priorities in the next Congress. The bill provides a specific definition for what a “tax reform” bill would look like, specifying that it may contain only two individual tax brackets of 10 and no more than 25 percent; a maximum corporate tax of 25 percent; a repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax; broaden the tax base to bring revenue up to 18-19 percent of GDP annually; and a change to a “territorial” tax system, whereby only income earned within U.S. borders would be subject to taxation. Prior to passage, the House rejected a Democratic substitute that would have struck the underlying bill text and replaced it with a series of Congressional findings such as the importance of a progressive tax system and the elimination of tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas (Roll Call 550); and a motion to recommit that would have added a prohibition on eliminating the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions to the definition of a “tax reform” bill. Upon passage of H.R. 6169, the bill text thereof was inserted into H.R. 8 and the combined bill was sent to the Senate.

My rep voted YES.  I am in complete agreement that our tax code needs adjustment.  I am not happy with creating only two tax brackets but could live with it if I knew that the top wage earners were actually paying 25%.  I am also not happy with the potential of the elimination of tax credits for mortgage interest and charitable deductions, nor am I pleased with the lack of progress on penalizing, or at least not encouraging via tax breaks, those companies which send jobs overseas.  Hopefully, the process of tax code reform will continue with compromise from both sides so that tax breaks continue with means tests, companies that want to send jobs overseas are not incentivized, and the rich pay a tax rate that allows them to continue to invest in America and profit but does not allow them to pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle class.

3. Regulatory Overhaul - Vote Passed (245-172, 14 Not Voting)

Republicans passed a bill containing a suite of changes to current regulatory rules. The biggest change would place a moratorium on so-called "significant regulatory actions" - defined as rules that would cost the economy more than $50 million – until the national unemployment rate is six percent or lower. The bill would also ban the promulgation of "midnight rules" introduced by outgoing administrations after electoral defeat. The agency practice of settling with litigants in order to reach a compromise rule – labeled "sue-settle" by detractors – would be limited. Environmental permitting would be streamlined. Nearly two dozen amendments were offered, mostly by Democrats seeking to carve out exemptions for certain types of rules concerning matters such as workplace safety or drinking water standards. The bill is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate.

My rep voted YES.   While I understand that we need jobs in America, I do not understand the rush to sacrifice the future health of our country to attain those jobs.  And, while I am not in agreement with this particular bill, I am disheartened that a debate and vote will not even occur in the Senate so that we could determine our Senators' stand.

4. Oil and Gas Drilling – Passage - Vote Passed (253-170, 8 Not Voting)

House Republicans, along with some crossover support from pro-drilling Democrats, passed a bill last week that would replace the Obama administrations 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf drilling plan with a more expansive proposal. The House alternative would nearly double the number of drilling leases, from 15 to 29 and it would include drilling off the coasts of California, Virginia, and South Carolina. In an effort to expedite leasing, the bill would also instruct the Interior Department to prepare a single environmental impact statement for all of the covered leases, rather than separate statements for each lease. President Obama has threatened to veto the proposal.

My rep voted YES.  I sent him the following email

I am extremely disappointed with your recent vote for the increase in off shore drilling leases from 15 to 29, especially when combined with the move to require only one environmental impact statement for all leases, despite the incredible variety of the areas involved.  Your shortsighted approach to our energy needs will not only not solve our problems, but will expose our fragile coastlines to future "Deep Horizon" events, and long lasting environmental damage.

5. Defense Appropriations – Passage - Vote Passed (326-90, 15 Not Voting)

The House passed a $606 billion Defense spending bill last week that would fund the Pentagon and national security programs in fiscal 2013. The total includes $87.7 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations. Although the House rejected numerous attempts to cut the defense budget, lawmakers did agree to freeze Pentagon spending at last year’s level. Before passing the bill, the House adopted, 247-167, an amendment by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., that would retain the fiscal 2012 defense spending level, a reduction of over $1 billion from the amount originally proposed in the bill. Overall, the appropriations bill, as amended, would provide $518.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, the same as the fiscal 2012 level and $2 billion more than President Obama’s request. It would provide a 1.7 percent pay increase for military personnel, matching Obama’s request. The House rejected, 171-243, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., that would have reduced the bill’s funding by $7.6 billion, dropping it to the amount authorized under the 2011 debt limit law (PL 112-25). The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill primarily over the funding levels, saying that directing more money than planned under last year’s law to the Pentagon would "necessitate significant and harmful cuts" to domestic programs.

My rep voted YES

As you can see, no amount of money is too great for our defense department.  Well, I guess that isn't compeletely true as that $1 billion was saved via the Mulvaney amendment.  ($1 billion out of $606 billion is about 1/6 of one percent).  Sadly, our reps could not even cut 1.2% as the Lee amendment would have done with the $7.6 billion cut, and as their own debt limit bill of 2011 required.  Even more sad, should President Obama actually veto the bill, he will be portrayed as anti-military.  This vote passed with bipartisan support and indicates our deep rooted belief that we can pretend that we want a balanced budget but won't cut funding in an area where we spend as much as the next top TWENTY spending countries combined.

And now some from the Senate.
1. Tax Cut Extension – Republican Substitute - Vote Rejected (45-54, 1 Not Voting)

Following President Obama's call January 9 to let the Bush tax cuts lapse on personal income above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples, the Senate put itself on record last week by voting on the president's proposal and a Republican alternative. The Republican substitute amendment, offered by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would have extended current rates for all income levels for one year. It also would have allowed a business property tax deduction up to $500,000, extended current estate tax levels for one year and a created "patch" for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) covering both 2012 and 2013.

My GOP senator voted YES, the DEM voted NO. 

2. Tax Cut Extension – Passage - Vote Passed (51-48, 1 Not Voting)

Following defeat of the substitute amendment, the Senate passed the president's preferred version of the bill. In addition to the income tax provisions, the bill would allow rates on capital gains and dividends to rise from 15 to 20 percent; allow business property deductions up to $250,000; extend the college tuition tax credit and child tax credit; and patch the AMT for 2012. The roll calls for both tax bills were noteworthy in that they took place under simple majority rules, an increasingly rare occurrence in the Senate. The House is scheduled to consider a bill (HR 8) more along the lines of the Senate Republican alternative, though Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stated that he would allow a vote on the president's proposal as well.

My GOP senator voted NO, the DEM voted YES

The lines are clearly drawn.  The GOP will not budge on raising taxes on the top 5% of wage earners because of their religious belief in trickle down economics.  Never mind the "lets default on our debt" tea party members who don't see the link between declining tax revenues and the soaring deficit.  Even their hero, Ronald Reagan raised taxes where he could to buffer his approval of increased spending yet they would rather relinquish their ability to think by bowing to their pledge to Grover Norquist.

3. Campaign Financial Disclosures – Cloture - Vote Rejected (51-44, 5 Not Voting)

The Senate last week took up legislation that would require greater disclosure of donations. The measure would require groups to disclose all expenditures of $10,000 or more on election-related communications, as well as the names of contributors that give $10,000 or more to fund such efforts. An exemption would be provided for segregated accounts set up by groups that contribute to operations besides election-related independent campaigns. On July 16, the Senate rejected the initial cloture motion, 51-44. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., subsequently filed a motion to reconsider that vote, which allowed the Senate to vote again.

4. Campaign Financial Disclosures – Cloture - Vote Rejected (53-45, 2 Not Voting)

The next attempt at cloture came a day later. The resulting 53-45 vote again fell strictly along party lines. Sixty votes were required for cloture on proceeding to the measure, which is known as the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, or DISCLOSE, Act.

On both votes, my GOP senator voted NO, my DEM voted YES.

Again, clear lines are drawn.  The GOP equates money with freedom of speech.  And they have been emboldened with the recent Supreme Court rulings that agree.  So often I hear, from Republicans and Democrats alike, that they feel that they are not being represented in Congress.  That the special interests have too much sway.  Yet, here is a bill that would at least require disclosure as to where all that money is flowing from, never mind actually restricting how much one person can spend, and it is the GOP voting in lock step against it.  Oh, for the days of The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA, McCain–Feingold Act).

5. Outsourcing Tax Credits – Cloture - Vote Rejected (56-42, 2 Not Voting)

Current tax law allows for the cost of moving jobs overseas to be deducted as a business expense. S. 3664, sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would end that tax break while continuing to allow a deduction for jobs returned to this country or moved within the United States. The bill would provide an additional tax credit for 20 percent of the cost of moving jobs back to the United States. On July 19, the Senate rejected, 56-42, a motion to take up the bill, which would encourage companies to bring jobs back to the United States. The motion fell four votes short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed made by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Four Republican Senators, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, and Dean Heller of Nevada voted with all participating Democrats to take up the legislation. No further action is scheduled on the bill.

My GOP re voted NO, the DEM voted YES.

Can anything be more clearer than this vote.  The GOP, big talkers of more jobs in America, vote time and time again against removing the tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.  Kudos to the 4 GOP Senators who joined the DEMS on this vote.  I wonder when they will be removed from the GOP "family" by a tea party candidate.  Remember this vote when you see Mitt Romney talk about bringing jobs back to the US.  Then again, perhaps he will ask all his CEO buddies to ignore the tax breaks and bring some jobs back anyway, you know, one friend to another.

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