Second Session - 112th Congress: Recent Votes, Part II
by Rep. Bill Owens

Updated: January 4, 2013


112th Congress Could be Least Productive Congress Since 1947

In 2012 so far, Congress has passed only 61 bills that have become law, making it likely that the 112th Congress (which began in January 2011 and will end in December 2012) the least productive Congress since 1947. In total, there were nearly 4,000 bills introduced this year, meaning only about 2 percent of them ever became law. Must-handle issues that the current 112th Congress has not solved yet include the federal farm bill, a budget plan to preempt the automatic spending cuts that are set to go into effect in 2013, and a decision on the Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of 2012.

AAUW acknowledges the gridlock that has defined the 112th Congress and notes that women’s issues have not been adequately addressed this year. In particular, Congress failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and an inclusive Violence Against Women Act.

- from AAUW's Washington Update for August 17, 2012.

Suspension Authority - Vote Passed (226-178, 27 Not Voting) - In a sign of things to come, House leaders brought a rule to the floor allowing bills to be considered under suspension of the rules through Friday, December 28. That would allow for expedited consideration of any deal to avert the fiscal cliff, as suspending the rules prevents any amendments from being offered and limits debate to one hour. It also raises the threshold for passage to a two-thirds majority, which could prove difficult, depending on the exact parameters of any agreement between President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.

Epinephrine Inhalers – Suspension - Vote Failed (229-182, 20 Not Voting) - The House failed to muster a two-thirds majority for a bill that would have granted a seven-month grace period for the distribution and sale of over-the-counter asthma inhalers that use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a propellant. The inhalers have been banned since December 1, 2011 per the Montreal Protocol, an international convention, which bans ozone-depleting substances (including CFCs). The bill under question, introduced by Texas Republican Rep. Michael C. Burgess, would have lifted the ban until August 1, 2013. Because it was considered under suspension of the rules, the bill would have needed 274 votes to pass. The bill appears to have enough support to pass under regular order, b ut leadership would need to clear enough floor time for a full debate.

Defense Authorization – Motion to Instruct - Vote Passed (399-4, 28 Not Voting) - The House and Senate named conferees last week to negotiations over the final version of the national defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2013. Rep. Susan A. Davis, D-Calif. moved to instruct House negotiators to agree to a provision in the Senate bill (S. 3254) that would mandate a report to Congress on how the U.S. will promote the security of Afghan women and girls as allied forces transition out of the country. The House also agreed to a motion from Armed Services chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif. to close portions of the negotiations to the public, presumably those dealing with intelligence and other particularly sensitive matters.

Energy Efficiency – Suspension - Vote Passed (398-2, 1 Present, 30 Not Voting) - In a rare moment of bipartisan agreement on an energy measure, the House came together to pass a bill clarifying federal efficiency standards for a variety of heavy appliances, including air conditioners and commercial refrigerators (excluding walk-in refrigerators). Though the measure appears uncontroversial, its prospects are not clear in the Senate given the crowded calendar.

Global Internet Governance – Adoption - Vote Passed (397-0, 34 Not Voting) - The House unanimously agreed to Senate language expressing the sense of Congress that the Internet should remain “free from government control.” The concurrent resolution was adopted amid the backdrop of a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations body broadly responsible for fostering cooperation among governments and the private sector on international telecommunications governance. Technology companies such as Google have voiced concern that the ITU conference could lead to adoption of restrictive regulations making it easier for national governments to censor content.

Amending Language in Federal Law – Suspension - Vote Passed (398-1, 32 Not Voting) - In its final action of the week, the House cleared a Senate bill that would remove the pejorative “lunatic” from the United States Code. The lone House dissenter was Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, who insisted that lunatic should be retained, pointing to his fellow Members of Congress as living, breathing examples of the term. The bill awaits the president’s signature.

STEM Visa Program – Final Passage - Vote Passed (245-139, 48 Not Voting) - The House took another bite of the apple last week in attempting to create a visa program intended to allow foreign students who obtain advanced degrees in STEM fields from American universities to remain in the country. A previous attempt to pass the bill under suspension of the rules failed to garner the necessary two thirds for passage (Roll Call 590). This time the leadership opted to go through regular order, which meant only a simple majority was needed. Only a handful of Democrats voted for the measure, as the bulk of the caucus objected to the bill’s elimination of the diversity visa program, which employs a lottery to distribute up to 55,000 visas every year to individuals f rom countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The bill would move the diversity visa slots into the new STEM visa program. The Senate will not take up the measure this year; it is seen instead as the House Republican majority laying down a marker for the type of immigration reform measure that could pass muster with their caucus.

Russia Trade Relations, Human Rights Oversight – Passage - Vote Passed (365-43, 25 Not Voting) - In its first week of legislative action since the November 6 elections, the House moved on a measure to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the Russian Federation. By an overwhelming and bipartisan majority, the lower chamber endorsed a measure to essentially repeal 1970s-era restrictions on trade with Russia and Moldova that were originally implemented because the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc nations denied freedom of emigration to their Jewish citizens. The legislation was necessitated by Russia's recent accession to the World Trade Organization, which was finalized in late August. If U.S. trade restrictions are not lifted, American goods could become subject to retaliatory tariffs, closing off a potentially lucrative new market. The Russia trade title includes several requirements for oversight from the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure Russia is living up to its new WTO obligations. Legislators more skeptical of closer ties with Russia fought for the inclusion of human rights provisions in the legislation. These include a sense of Congress statement the U.S. should support democracy and human rights activists in Russia. The teeth of the provisions, however, center on the ordeal of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian attorney who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody in 2009. The president will be required to compile a list of names of those responsible for Magnitsky's abuse and death. Those individuals will be denied entry to the U.S. and their assets will be frozen. The White House is officially supportive of the combined measure, though the Magnitsky provisions are already causing headaches with Moscow . The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Finance and Foreign Relations panels have already passed similar measures.

Student Loan Exemption for Deceased Veterans – Suspension - Vote Passed (400-0, 29 Not Voting) - This bill, passed under suspension of the rules and therefore requiring a two-thirds majority for passage, would exempt student loan debt from gross taxable income for veterans who die as the result of a service-related disability. Loan forgiveness would be back-dated to October 7, 2001, and families/survivors of the deceased would have up to one year after enactment of the bill to file for refunds. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain.

Public Funding for Political Conventions – Suspension - Vote Passed (310-95, 24 Not Voting) - Another suspension bill would prohibit the use of monies in the Presidential Election Campaign Fund for financing presidential nomination conventions, e.g. the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Under current law each major party is entitled to $4 million to stage their conventions and minor parties are entitled to an amount proportionate to their popular vote percentage in the previous election. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has introduced a companion measure with bipartisan support in the Senate.

Welfare Work Requirements – Disapproval Resolution - Vote Passed (250-164, 15 Not Voting) - The issue of welfare was a persistent theme in the presidential campaign for months – with the Republican nominee Mitt Romney accusing President Obama of removing work requirements from the program and allowing people to collect money with no strings attached. At issue was a July 12 memorandum issued by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which oversees the welfare program, whose technical name is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The action taken by the House last week would repeal the move by HHS. In order for the repeal to become law, however, a similar resolution would have to pass the Senate and be signed by the president, both highly unlikely.

STEM Visa Program - Suspension - Vote Failed (257-158, 14 Not Voting) - Immigration has always been a partisan battleground, but one area the parties seemed to have formed agreement in the 112th Congress was on the need to boost immigration by high-skill workers, particularly those in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R.-Tex., had been working with Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for months on just such a proposal. Last week Smith and House leadership decided to try their luck on the floor with a suspension vote for Smith’s proposal; it ended up falling 20 votes shy of the two-thirds needed for passage. Given the bipartisan support for the overall idea, it is possible talks could resume in the lame duck session, though the crowded agenda makes any decisive action unlikely before next year.

Manhattan Project National Park – Suspension - Vote Failed (237-180, 12 Not Voting) - Another failed suspension vote came on this bill to set aside federal land in New Mexico, Washington state, and Tennessee for a national park commemorating the Manhattan Project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. Most suspensions are non-controversial, and Democrats in particular are usually in favor of creating parkland, but opponents of the measure said it would send the wrong message to allies such as Japan, which suffered mass casualties as a result of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The bill fell 41 votes short.

Energy Regulatory Rollback – Passage - Vote Passed (233-175, 21 Not Voting) - The final bill passed by the House before the November elections was a summation of sorts regarding one of Republicans’ core electoral and policy arguments – namely that regulations, particularly those concerning energy production – are hurting the economy. H.R. 3409 is a smorgasbord containing the texts of five different bills, four of which had previously passed the House (Roll Calls 249, 573, 741 and 800, all in 2011). . The Senate will not take up the bill when it returns, and the president has issued a veto threat.

Minnesota Land Exchange - Vote Passed (225-189, 15 Not Voting) - This bill would facilitate a land exchange between the federal government and the state of Minnesota. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness in northern Minnesota is currently segmented by state-owned lands; the bill would instruct the secretary of Agriculture to exchange unspecified federal land elsewhere within the state for about 86,000 acres of state-held land in the wilderness. The bill's prospects in the Senate are unclear.

Government Surveillance Authorities - Vote Passed (301-118, 10 Not Voting) - This bill reauthorizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) through 2017. FISA permits the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to authorize warrantless surveillance of foreign terrorism suspects who are based overseas. The law sets the rules of the road, broadly speaking, for intelligence agencies engaged in these spying activities. The White House strongly backs the bill.

Sequestration Replacement - Vote Passed (223-196, 10 Not Voting) - There is increasing concern in Congress over the looming "sequester," or automatic spending cuts, slated to begin on January 2, 2013. These cuts were triggered after the so-called "supercommittee" created by last year's debt-ceiling deal failed to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. The president has threatened to veto the bill, though it will likely not be brought up in the Senate anyway.

Continuing Resolution - Vote Passed (329-91, 9 Not Voting) - The only "must-pass" bill on the congressional ledger before election season fully takes over is a measure to fund the government beyond September 30. Prior to the August recess, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. announced an agreement in principle to fund the government for six months. The House did its part last week, passing six-month CR with an overwhelming majority. The resolution sets FY 13 annualized spending at $1.047 trillion, roughly in line with the level set by last year's debt ceiling agreement.

Energy Department Loan Guarantees - Vote Passed (245-161, 23 Not Voting) - The last piece of business for the House last week was a bill to effectively end the Energy Department's (DOE) loan guarantee program for renewable and "innovative" energy projects. The bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate.

Senate Confirmation Process – Suspension - Vote Passed (261-116, 54 Not Voting) - The House cleared a bill under suspension of the rules that will reduce by 169 the number of executive branch positions requiring Senate confirmation. The bill passed the Senate in June 2011 as part of an effort to streamline Senate operations. The bill also establishes an executive branch study group to report on improving the confirmation process. President Obama will sign it into law.

Tax Debts – Suspension - Vote Passed (263-114, 54 Not Voting) - The House also cleared under suspension this bill, which would make individuals with seriously delinquent tax debts (defined here as one for which a notice of lien has been publicly filed) ineligible for federal employment beginning nine months from the bill’s passage. Current federal employees would be included in the ban. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. A similar measure was introduced early last year by Sen. Coburn, but it has been stuck in committee.

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.

Tax Cut Extension – Passage - Vote Passed (256-171, 3 Not Voting) - In a rejoinder to the Democratic Senate, the House passed this bill to extend the Bush tax cuts for all levels of income for one year.

Iran Sanctions – Suspension - Vote Passed (421-6, 3 Not Voting) - In their ongoing attempt to tighten the noose on Iran in order to prevent that country from obtaining nuclear weapons, the House adopted a resolution last week to concur in the Senate amendment to a bill (H.R. 1905) that had previously passed the House last December.

Federal Employee Retirement Savings Accounts – Suspension - Vote Passed (414-6, 1 Present, 9 Not Voting) - Yet another suspension bill that passed the House last week would clarify that retirement savings accounts in the Thrift Savings Fund – a sort of 401(k) for federal employees – is subject to taxation by the IRS. The bill now heads to the Senate.

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. 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.

Tribal Land Leases – Suspension - Vote Failed (222-160, 49 Not Voting) - Last week the House failed to suspend the rules and adopt a bill that would have allowed up to six Native American tribes or tribal consortia to participate in a demonstration project that would have allowed for the leasing of tribal land to private entities from Turkey and other WTO countries without prior approval from the Interior Department. In order to suspend the rules, a two-thirds majority must support passage of a bill.

Levee Construction – Suspension - Vote Failed (126-254, 51 Not Voting) - Another suspension bill that failed to gain the necessary two-thirds was this Senate-passed measure. The bill would have allowed certain communities in North Dakota to construct levees on land otherwise set aside as flood plains.

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. President Obama has threatened to veto the proposal.

Federal Reserve Audit – Suspension - Vote Passed (327-98, 6 Not Voting) - This bill to audit the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and the federal reserve banks easily cleared the two-thirds hurdle. The measure, long championed by Texas Republican Ron Paul, instructs the Comptroller General of the United States to complete the audit before year’s end and report his findings to Congress. The bill is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate.

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.

Foreign Relations Authorization - Passage - Vote Passed (333-61, 37 Not Voting) - The House last week passed a fiscal 2013 foreign relations authorization measure that would maintain basic funding and is silent on controversial issues that have held up previous authorizations. Most accounts in the new bill would be authorized at the same level as the fiscal 2012 law (PL 112-74).

Sequestration Report - Passage - Vote Passed (414-2, 15 Not Voting) - By an overwhelming vote of 414-12 on July 18, the House backed a measure that would pressure the Obama administration to detail how agencies would implement the cuts, known as a sequester, that are scheduled to hit on January 2, 2013. The sequester was mandated by the August 2011 debt limit deal (PL 112-25). The bill would require the White House to produce a report within 30 days with a detailed account of how the cuts would affect both domestic and defense programs.

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.

Veterans Licensing – Suspension Vote - Vote Passed (369-0, 62 Not Voting) - The first of three suspension bills passed by the House last week would instruct the heads of federal agencies to recognize relevant training and skills acquired by veterans during their terms of service as meeting the requirements for federal licenses. The bill passed the House without a single “nay” vote and was cleared under unanimous consent two days later by the Senate. It is expected to be signed into law by President Obama. (Under suspension of the rules, a bill must receive two-thirds majority support for passage.)

ATM Fee Disclosure – Suspension Vote - Vote Passed (371-0, 60 Not Voting) - The next suspension bill would lift a requirement that ATMs bear a physical display warning users that they may incur a fee if they are not account holders at the financial institution that owns the ATM. Current law allows class action suits against institutions whose ATMs do not bear a placard, which can lead to frivolous actions by individuals who tore off the signs and then sued.

Hydropower Generation – Suspension Vote - Vote Passed (372-0, 59 Not Voting) - Last week’s final suspension concerned the regulatory process for small hydropower facilities. The bill would exempt facilities that generate up to 10,000 kilowatts of electricity from permitting by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It would mandate an expedited review of permit requests by FERC and would also allow FERC to extend preliminary permits for up to two years.

Health Care Overhaul Repeal - Vote Passed (244-185, 2 Not Voting) - In light of the Supreme Court’s largely upholding President Obama’s signature health care overhaul, House Republican leaders had pledged to hold another vote to repeal it.

Mining Project Permitting and Review - Vote Passed (256-160, 15 Not Voting) - Following health care, the House moved on to a bill that would expedite the federal permitting and review process for mining of “critical” minerals.

Contempt Resolution - Vote Passed (255-67, 1 Present, 109 Not Voting) - Last week the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt Congress, the first time in American history either house has held a Cabinet member in contempt.

FY13 Transportation-HUD Appropriations – Final Passage - Vote Passed (261-163, 8 Not Voting) - The House passed its annual transportation spending measure in addition to a transportation policy measure last week. The bill, which also provides funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), would provide $51.6 billion in discretionary spending for FY2013 ($103.6 billion when including spending from the transportation trust funds.

Highway/Flood Insurance/Student Loan Package – Adoption of Conference Report - Vote Passed (373-52, 7 Not Voting) - The House passed the conference report for the Highway/Flood Insurance/Student Loan Package shortly before the Senate.

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