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Roll Call: N.H.’s congresswomen tackle Keystone XL Pipeline, GMOs

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

House

Keystone XL Pipeline: Voting 241 for and 175 against, the House on Wednesday passed a bill (HR 3) to approve the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline between the Canadian border and Steele City, Neb. This usurped authority over the project from the executive branch, which is still weighing approval or disapproval of the so-called Northern Route between Canada and Nebraska.

This is the final approval needed to complete a nearly 4,000-mile, four-phase Keystone network for shipping crude from tar sands in Alberta to U.S. refineries located in the Midwest and on the Texas Gulf Coast or to U.S. ports for export as crude.

In addition to circumventing presidential authority, the bill deems that environmental and safety hurdles have been cleared and that permits for construction, operation and maintenance must be issued.

Rep. Tom Rice, a South Carolina Republican, said: “We can study this project forever and we will never resolve every possible question. This used to be a can-do country. If the administration will not make a decision, Congress should” with this bill.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said the tar-sands crude “would increase America’s dependence on one of the single dirtiest petroleum products there is, just as the predictions of climate change catastrophes grow more dire each and every day.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

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

Ban on oil exports: Voting 162 for and 255 against, the House on Wednesday refused to prohibit U.S. oil companies from exporting crude oil they receive through the Keystone XL pipeline or petroleum products made from that oil.

The underlying bill (HR 3, above) has no requirement that the Keystone oil be used to bolster America’s energy independence.

Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, said: “The Keystone XL pipeline would ask the United States to bear all of the environmental risk of transporting the dirtiest oil in the world without ensuring that U.S. consumers or our energy security see any benefits from this.”

Rep. Randy Weber, a Texas Republican, asked: “To what company do we say, ‘We don’t want you exporting your products?’ Do you tell Nike that? Do you tell Ford that? Who do you tell that?”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

Oil-spill liability payments: Voting 194 for and 223 against, the House on Wednesday refused to require firms receiving tar-sands crude via the Keystone XL pipeline to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, just as other oil companies must pay a per-gallon fee into the fund.

This Democratic motion to HR 3 (above) sought to amend a 2011 Internal Revenue Service ruling under which tar-sands oil is exempted from having to support the fund.

Rep. Tim Bishop, a New York Democrat, said the motion “corrects a massive loophole in current law that exempts Keystone XL pipeline tar sands from paying millions of dollars into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.”

Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, said this bill “is not the appropriate vehicle for this debate. Frankly, it needs to be part of the tax-reform bill” to be considered later this year.

A yes vote backed the motion.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

State department review: Voting 246 for and 168 against, the House on Wednesday expanded HR 3 (above) to include a State Department finding of no disqualifying environmental problems with the Keystone XL Pipeline compared to rail or truck shipments of the crude out of Canada.

The draft finding also downplayed chances of the pipeline inflicting major environmental damage to resources along its route.

Sponsor Weber said his amendment adds findings “from our own State Department that attest to the safety and environmental soundness of this project.”

Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said the amendment “tries to downplay the climate impacts of Keystone XL, but even under the State Department’s flawed analysis, there isn’t another project in America with bigger climate impacts.”

A yes vote backed the GOP amendment.

Voting no: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

Carbon-pollution offsets: Voting 146 for and 269 against, the House on Wednesday defeated an amendment to HR 3 (above) designed to achieve neutrality in the Keystone XL Pipeline’s impact on carbon emissions.

The measure sought to require oil companies that refine and produce products from the pipeline’s tar-sands crude to offset the resulting air pollution elsewhere in their carbon footprint.

Sponsor Waxman said his amendment “won’t get us closer to meeting our climate goals and building a clean-energy future, but at least we won’t be increasing the U.S. carbon pollution” as a result of the pipeline.

Rep. Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, said that based on environmental impact studies, the State Department has concluded that the pipeline’s contribution to air pollution would be “equal to what we’re importing from Venezuela today. In essence, it’s neutral.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

Student-loan rates: Voting 221 for and 198 against, the House on Thursday sent the Senate a Republican bill (HR 1911) setting variable but capped interest rates for Stafford student loans and certain other education loans.

For newly issued Stafford loans, the rate would be set annually at the rate for a 10-year Treasury note plus 2.5 percentage points, with a cap of 8.5 percent for undergraduates. At present, interest on Stafford loans is fixed at 3.4 percent, but will rise to 6.8 percent on July 1 unless Congress acts before then to head off the doubling of loan costs.

Rep. Tim Walberg, a Michigan Republican, said the bill “takes politics out of this part of our children’s education. The only way this plan won’t work is if the liberal, progressive, central planners that control our government policy now are allowed to continue their failed approach.”

Rep. Susan Davis, a California Democrat, said the bill “lures students in with a low variable rate, only to trap them with a higher rate upon repayment. We’ve seen this bait and switch before, only usually it was by credit card companies setting up shop outside of college sporting events, not by the federal government.”

Voting no: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

Ban on teaser rates: Voting 194 for and 223 against, the House on Thursday defeated a Democratic motion barring lenders under HR 1911 (above) from offering teaser rates, and also requiring lenders to give upfront notification of the true or projected total cost of the student loan.

Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, said: “There should be truth in lending for America’s students . . . and we should get rid of the rates that will just punish them and crush them into the future.”

Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, said that while Republicans seek “a long-term solution on how student-loan interest rates are set,” the Democratic motion “puts Washington squarely back in the middle of setting” those rates.

A yes vote backed the motion.

Voting yes: Shea-Porter, Kuster.

Senate

Federal sugar program: Voting 45 for and 54 against, the Senate on Tuesday rejected an amendment to a pending farm bill (S 954) that sought to add free-market reforms to the federal sugar program, which protects growers and producers of cane and beet sugar.

The program limits domestic production, restricts foreign imports, puts a floor under growers’ prices and requires the government to buy crop surpluses for sale at a loss to the ethanol industry.

Its supporters note that the sugar program operates at no cost to taxpayers, while critics say it indirectly taxes consumers by increasing food prices. Debate on the five-year farm bill is to resume June 3.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said: “It makes no sense to have a program that forces American consumers to pay at least 30 percent more than the going rate for sugar.”

Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, said the program “has operated at zero cost to taxpayers for the past decade and has provided American consumers dependable supplies of safe, high-quality sugar at low prices.”

A yes vote was to add market forces the federal sugar program.

Voting yes: Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, a Republican.

Food stamps cuts: Voting 40 for and 58 against, the Senate on Tuesday refused to trim $30 billion from the $800 billion, 10-year authorization for food stamps in a five-year farm bill that remained in debate (S 954, above).

Known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), food stamps already were cut by $4 billion over 10 years in the Senate bill and would be reduced by $20 billion over 10 years in a farm bill pending in the House.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said: “We can restore integrity to the SNAP program while providing benefits to those truly in need.
. . . This amendment would enforce the principles of good government and return SNAP spending to more responsible levels.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said the amendment would penalize “families who have been working hard all their lives, paying taxes, who fall on hard times and need some temporary help.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Ayotte.

Voting no: Shaheen.

Appeals court judgeship: Senators on Thursday confirmed, 97 for and none against, Sri Srinivasan, 46, the principal deputy solicitor general at the Department of Justice, to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He becomes the first nominee by President Obama to join what is regarded as the most powerful federal appeals court.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said: “If confirmed, Mr. Srinivasan will be the first Asian American in history to serve on the D.C. Circuit, and the first South Asian American to serve as a federal circuit judge, which is a very significant milestone.”

No senator spoke against the nominee.

A yes vote was to confirm Srinivasan.

Voting yes: Shaheen, Ayotte.

Genetically engineered foods: Voting 27 for and 71 against, the Senate on Thursday refused to give states authority to require genetically engineered foods sold within their boundaries to be labeled as such.

This was a bid to devolve powers now reserved to the federal Flood and Drug Administration, which requires the labeling of more than 3,000 ingredients and additives but not those pertaining to genetic engineering. The amendment was proposed to S 954 (above).

Sponsor Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, said that under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, “States have the authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering or derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered.”

Roberts said the FDA “has no basis for concluding that bio-engineered foods are different from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting no: Shaheen, Ayotte.

Tobacco subsidies: Voting 44 for and 52 against, the Senate on Thursday defeated an amendment to prohibit federal subsidies of crop insurance for tobacco farmers, a benefit that costs taxpayers $3 million annually.

Taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance is available to a wide range of crops, including tobacco, in a pending farm bill (S 954).

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Demcorat, said: “Tobacco is not just another crop. It is the largest preventable cause of cancer deaths in this country. . . . (Farmers) can still get crop insurance, but it won’t be federally subsidized.”

Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, said the amendment “does nothing to alter the amount of tobacco that will be used in our country. Demand will be filled by foreign imports, probably from Brazil and other countries. It would put our American farmers out of work.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Shaheen, Ayotte.

Key votes ahead

Congress is in Memorial Day recess until next week when the Senate will complete work on a five-year farm bill and take up immigration reform. The House schedule was to be announced.

Has our House gone insane ? "Oil-spill liability payments: Voting 194 for and 223 against, the House on Wednesday refused to require firms receiving tar-sands crude via the Keystone XL pipeline to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, just as other oil companies must pay a per-gallon fee into the fund." Seriously, who in their right mind would single out the Keystone XL from liability to clean up the mess they cause during a spill, just as other oil companies must pay a per-gallon fee into the fund.? For some context : the Enbridge pipeline Kalamazoo tar-sands oil spill is the most expensive oil spill in US history, now running close to a billion dollars in cleanup cost, and still the river is pushing out toxins above federal standards. Some wonder if the river will ever be clean again. And all this for a pipeline that will create 0.002 % 'stimulus' to the US economy for one year, and create a whopping 35 permanent jobs afterwards. Compliments to Shea-Porter and Kuster for standing up to this Keystone XL pipeline, which not just will increase the price of gasoline in the Mid West by 10-20 cts/gallon, but also open up a reservoir of fossil fuel to the world oil market that is large enough to return this planet's climate systems to the Pliocene all by itself.

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