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Roll call for week ending July 18

Here’s how area members of Congress voted on major issues in the week ending Friday.

House

FISCAL 2015 TREASURY, IRS BUDGETS: Voting 228 for and 195 against, the House on July 16 passed a bill (HR 5016) to appropriate $21.3 billion in fiscal 2015 for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, federal judiciary, Small Business Administration and other agencies and operations.

The bill increases funding for drug-control programs by 2.3 percent to $375.3 million and Supreme Court operations by 3 percent to $92 million, while slashing the IRS budget by 3 percent to $10.8 billion, including a $1.2 billion or 25 percent cut in enforcement spending to catch tax cheats. The bill also prohibits the IRS from levying taxes to enforce the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

In addition, the bill terminates the Election Assistance Commission, which was established after the Bush-Gore vote-counting fiasco in the 2000 presidential election to help states and communities upgrade voting procedures. The bill subjects the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the congressional appropriations process. At present this independent agency receives most of its budget (about $619 million in fiscal 2015) from the Federal Reserve System.

Anders Crenshaw, a Florida Republican, said the IRS “should not have a role in implementing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. . . . People don’t trust the IRS with their taxes, and they are certainly not going to trust the IRS with their health care.”

Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, called the bill “one final attempt to hinder the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. . . . We keep forgetting that (the law) was passed by both houses, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill, which awaits Senate action.

Voting no: Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster, both Democrats.

IRS ENFORCEMENT CUTS: Voting 338 for and 80 against, the House on July 15 shifted $10 million in HR 5016 (above) from Internal Revenue Service enforcement activities to its Taxpayer Advocate Service, Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program and other units for helping taxpayers. This occurred after the House, on non-record votes, cut the enforcement division’s budget by $1.2 billion, or 25 percent, in response to its targeting of mainly Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status in the last election cycle.

Sponsor Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican, said: “I am trying to take money” from enforcement and “direct it over to an area that can actually defend taxpayers.”

Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, said: “I understand the need to continue to attack the IRS under this belief that they went after just a certain kind of organization. They went after no one. They asked questions of both sides, both conservative groups and liberal groups.”

A yes votes was to transfer $10 million from IRS enforcement activities to taxpayer-assistance programs.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION BUDGET: Voting 184 for and 235 against, the House on July 15 refused to increase the fiscal 2015 budget for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by $300 million to the $1.7 billion level requested by President Obama. The amendment was offered to HR 5016 (above). The SEC is charged with regulating the securities industry and conducting market oversight in behalf of investors, among other duties.

Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, said the SEC “recovered $3.4 billion in 2013 – or twice the amount that would fully fund the agency. The SEC will also have to furlough examiners under (this) bill, examiners that are needed to reduce the backlog of investment advisers that have never been visited by the SEC.”

Anders Crenshaw, a Florida Republican, said the bill already raises the SEC budget by $50 million, adding that since 2001, “Congress has increased the SEC’s funding level by more than 200 percent. Not many federal agencies can say they have received that kind of increase.”

A yes vote was to increase the budget for securities regulation.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster

DEFUNDING D.C. GUN ENFORCEMENT: The House on July 16 voted, 241 for and 181 against, the prohibit funding in HR 5016 (above) to enforce District of Columbia gun laws, including ones that ban semi-automatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition clips and require handgun owners to register their weapons every three years.

Sponsor Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, said his amendment “would stop the District of Columbia from taking any action to prevent law-abiding citizens from possessing, using or transporting a firearm.”

Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, said the amendment “would limit commonsense gun regulation put in place by the elected representatives of the District of Columbia.”

A yes vote was to block enforcement of D.C. gun laws.

Voting no: Shea-Porter, Kuster

TEMPORARY PATCH OF HIGHWAY FUND: Voting 367 for and 55 against, the House on July 15 passed a bill (HR 5021) to add $10.8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund so that it can finance ongoing road, bridge and mass-transit projects through May 2015. Unless Congress acts soon to replenish the fund, it will run dry, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs at construction sites nationwide.

The bill would raise $6.4 billion over 10 years by allowing companies with defined-benefit pension plans to defer some pension contributions, thereby raising their profits and federal tax payments in the short run. The bill would use changes in customs fees and transfers from a fund to repair underground storage tanks to raise the remainder of the $10.8 billion.

Thomas Petri, a Wisconsin Republican, said: “We need to stop the patches and budget gimmicks and come up with a viable, real solution on how we fund the (Highway) Trust Fund. History shows that it is hard to do before an election. Perhaps it will be easy to do after that.”

Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, said: “To have a sound transportation system, you can’t do it week to week or month to month. There has to be some long-term planning. These bridges cannot repair themselves. These potholes don’t fill themselves.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill, which awaits Senate action.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster

PERMANENT FIX OF HIGHWAY FUND: Voting 193 for and 227 against, the House on July 15 defeated a Democratic motion to HR 5021 (above) to replenish the Highway Trust Fund only through December. This would force the current 113th Congress – not the 114th Congress that convenes next year – to enact a permanent means of adequately funding road and transit projects.

The trust fund historically has been financed by federal fuel taxes of 18.4 cents-per-gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel. But with fuel-efficiency on the rise, motorists driving fewer miles, construction costs increasing and Congress unwilling to raise rates or index existing rates for inflation, fuel taxes alone no longer can meet the cost of maintaining and improving an Interstate Highway System that dates to 1956.

Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, said: “We had infrastructure that was once the envy of the world. Now it is a source of embarrassment. We are 27th in the world and sinking. . . . This is not rocket science. It is will, it is action, it is deciding exactly how much we are going to spend and when.”

Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvanie Republican, said: “I am confident that we are going to be able to do something next year because I believe we have to do something.”

A yes vote was to pursue a permanent fix this year of the Highway Trust Fund.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster

CHARITABLE TAX DEDUCTIONS, NATIONAL DEBT: By a vote of 277 for and 130 against, the House on July 17 passed a GOP-drafted bill (HR 4719) giving permanent status to tax deductions that businesses other than “C corporations” receive for donating food inventory to charitable organizations. (Such deductions already are a permanent part of the tax code for C corporations.)

The bill expands the tax break to cover food donations by farmers and ranchers. In addition, the bill raises from 10 percent to 15 percent the maximum percentage of net income that all businesses, including C corporations, can deduct for food donations. The bill would add $1.9 billion to the national debt over 11 years, according to official budget projections.

In other provisions, the bill allows penalty-free contributions from Individual Retirement Accounts to charities and makes tax deductions for conservation easements a permanent part of the tax code.

Tom Reed, a New York Republican, said that under the bill, “Our farmers can . . . give that food that otherwise would go into a landfill to the people who need it most: fellow hungry Americans.”

Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, said: “The same Republicans that are advancing this (bill) . . . have characterized as welfare Pell grants, school-breakfast programs, senior nursing-care programs. They want to lump all that as welfare, and they say we just can’t afford that.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill, which awaits Senate action.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster

TAX AVOIDANCE BY U.S. CORPORATIONS: Voting 185 for and 227 against, the House on July 17 defeated a Democratic motion to deny benefits under HR 4719 (above) to any business that reincorporates overseas to avoid U.S. taxes, a process known as “inversion” that is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said “we should all be angry” because “you shouldn’t get a tax benefit if you are renouncing your U.S. citizenship and deserting U.S. taxpayers and the country for tax-avoidance schemes.”

Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said the motion would make it “much harder to help those in need, and God knows, we have a lot of Americans in need with a contracting economy and the worst recovery since the Great Depression.”

A yes vote was to deny tax deductions for food donations to firms that shift operations overseas to avoid U.S. taxes.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster

Senate

NULLIFICATION OF HOBBY LOBBY DECISION: Voting 56 for and 43 against, the Senate on July 16 failed to reach 60 votes needed to end Republican blockage of a bill (S 2578) that would nullify a June 30 Supreme Court decision on Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage requirements.

The court ruled that closely held, for-profit corporations such as the Hobby Lobby craft stores – a plaintiff in this case – can refuse on religious grounds to provide employees with certain types of birth-control coverage required by the ACA. As enacted in 2010, the ACA required employers subject to the law to include a long list of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods in their health plans as free, preventive services for employees.

As a result of the ruling, employers now can refuse on religious grounds to pay for certain forms of contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby has withheld support of coverage it sees as abortive.

Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said: “By putting health care decisions in the hands of a woman’s boss instead of a woman and her doctor, the (Hobby Lobby) decision creates a slippery slope that could affect tens of millions of Americans – our daughters, our wives – in the future.”

Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said: “Nobody, nobody, nobody is talking about restricting access to contraceptives. . . . What we are talking about is the federal government using brute force to force people to pay for the abortion-inducing drugs of others against their religious faith.”

A yes vote was to nullify the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Voting yes: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat.

Voting no: Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican.

TAXPAYER-SUBSIDIZED TERRORISM INSURANCE: Voting 93 for four against, the Senate on July 17 passed a bill (S 2244) renewing through calendar 2021 a post-9/11 program of taxpayer backing to help the property and casualty insurance industry meet the catastrophic costs of any future terrorist attacks.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) obligates the Treasury to cover 80 percent of losses above varying deductible levels and then seek repayment from insurers. The program would be triggered by any foreign or domestic attack causing damages of at least $100 million. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers and the Pentagon cost insurers $40 billion, according to industry calculations.

John Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said Congress must ensure “our economy stays on track in the event of another attack on our nation. In short, (passing the bill) is not only a matter of economic security, it is also a matter of national security.”

Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, said: “We have before us a bill where unfortunately we do not believe in markets. We are told markets will not work, so we have a terrorism-risk insurance bill. That means the federal government is going to be the insurer of last resort.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the House, where prompt action was expected.

Voting yes: Shaheen, Ayotte

Key Votes Ahead

In the week of July 21, the House will take up bills to counter illegal child immigration from Central America and renew terrorism-risk insurance, while the Senate will debate a bill allowing states to tax residents’ online purchases.

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