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Roll Call: Congresswomen tackle U.S. debt, online sales tax

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

House

U.S. DEBT PRIORITIES: Voting 221 for and 207 against, the House on Thursday sent the Senate a Republican bill (HR 807) giving payment priority to bondholders, such as domestic pension funds and foreign governments, if the Treasury were unable to meet all of its debt obligations. Social Security trust funds would be next in line, followed in no special order by the thousands of fiscal obligations – everything from military salaries to education grants to veterans benefits – routinely funded by the Treasury. Republicans said this advance statement of debt payment priorities would instill confidence in investors essential to the health of the U.S. economy. Democrats called the bill an alarmist measure that wrongly suggests Congress and the administration would ever allow a government default.

The national debt of about $16.8 trillion consists of about $4.9 trillion that the government owes itself (primarily to Social Security trust funds) and nearly $12 trillion owed to bondholders outside of the government. Foreign entities hold more than one-third of the $12 trillion, with the People’s Republic of China ($1.2 trillion) and Japan ($900 billion) the leading foreign creditors.

Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, said the bill “simply guarantees the debt of the United States. No matter what political storms are raging in Washington, the public credit must be maintained.”

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, said the U.S. has always “treated all of its creditors equally. . . . We don’t treat it that China or Wall Street or Saudi Arabia, because they’ve loaned us money, get paid before the nurse working in one of our VA hospitals. That’s not America.”

A yes vote backed the Republican bill.

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

DEMOCRATS’ DEBT PRIORITIES: Voting 200 for and 207 against, the House on Thursday defeated a bid by Democrats to ensure that obligations to federal deposit insurance, Social Security and Medicare trust funds, veterans’ benefits and recovery from natural disasters be paid ahead of debt service to foreign bondholders such as China and Iran under the terms of HR 807 (above).

Rep. Dan Maffei, a New York Democrat, said the GOP bill “prioritizes Chinese lenders ahead of American seniors and veterans and college students. That’s why it’s called the ‘Pay China First Act.’ ”

Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said: “The irony of this motion is that it mandates default that would send our economy into a tailspin. It would ensure that nobody gets paid.”

A vote backed the Democratic plan.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

‘COMP TIME’ FOR OVERTIME: Voting 223 for and 204 against, the House on Wednesday sent the Senate a bill (HR 1406) authorizing employers in the private sector to offer “compensatory time off” in place of extra cash for working overtime. Under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are required to pay “time and a half” for each hour worked over 40 hours per week. Under this bill, they could instead provide one-and-one-half hours off for each hour over 40 if that is agreeable to the employee. Employers have discretion to schedule the time off under the bill, and state agencies, not the U.S. Department of Labor, would enforce comp time agreements.

Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, said: “We know there are a lot of workers who would seize the opportunity to earn a few extra dollars, but others may welcome additional paid time off to spend with loved ones. Shouldn’t workers choose what’s best for their families?

Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said the bill would cause “longer hours for workers with no overtime pay and only the hope that their bosses will let them take their earned time off when asked. How we have skewed the rules . . . against the middle working class of America.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting no: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

EMPLOYEE CONTROL OF ‘COMP TIME’: Voting 200 for and 207 against, the House on Wednesday defeated a Democratic bid to give employees the right to schedule their time off under certain circumstances. The underlying bill (HR 1406, above) empowers employers to choose when ‘comp time’ can be taken. This motion shifted control to workers if they need to schedule medical appointments, care for a family member or, if they are veterans, schedule appointments related to combat injuries.

Sponsor Shea-Porter, a New Hampshire Democrat, said her measure “presents the House with a choice – support hardworking Americans and their families or side with interest groups and corporate lobbyists.”

Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican, said Democrats are “refusing to work with (the GOP) to help American families. Instead, they are spending their time taking political shots and, in fact, politicizing Mothers Day in order to do it.”

A yes vote backed the Democratic motion.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

Senate

ONLINE SALES TAXES: Voting 69 for and 27 against, the Senate on April 25 sent the House a bill (S 743) requiring online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes and send the revenue to the taxing jurisdiction where the customer lives. At present, firms selling over the internet are obligated to collect sales taxes only if they have a physical presence in the particular state or locality, giving them a cost advantage over brick-and-mortar stores, which by law must add sales taxes to purchases. The bill exempts internet retailers with less than $1 million annually in out-of-state sales. It does not raise taxes, but facilitates the collection of an estimated $23 billion in sales taxes that now goes unpaid.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said the bill asks “that those selling on the internet be treated the same as those selling on the corners of our streets” and “contains no new federal tax, no new state and local tax.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said the bill would lead to “discriminatory treatment of electronic commerce because online retailers . . . are going to be subjected to burdens that brick-and-mortar retailers would not be subject to.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting no: Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, a Republican.

GUNS AT WATER PROJECTS: Voting 56 for and 43 against, the Senate on Wednesday failed to advance a gun-rights amendment offered to a water resources bill (S 608) still in debate. The measure sought to make it legal for visitors to Army Corps of Engineers projects to carry concealed handguns. Concealed-carry is legal on National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands but outlawed on many other federal properties.

Sponsor Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, said his amendment ensures that law-abiding citizens “will not be vulnerable to criminals or dangerous wildlife while on Army Corps of Engineers land.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said: “According to the Bush administration, this critical water infrastructure is a target for terrorists,” and “we do not have to look too much further than Boston to understand this is a problem.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Shaheen, Ayotte.

Key votes ahead

This week the House will take up higher hurdles for financial regulations and a repeal of the 2010 health law, while the Senate will resume work on a water-projects bill.

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