Updated: January 4, 2013
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.
TAG Extension – Motion to Waive - Vote Rejected (50-42, 8 Not Voting) - Last week the Senate began and stopped the process of considering legislation to extend the FDIC’s Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program. The program, initiated in 2008 as a way of shoring up the banking system, provides unlimited government backing for non-interest bearing transaction accounts, such as those used for business expenses. (The normal threshold for government guarantees on such accounts is $250,000.) The Senate invoked cloture on the legislation earlier in the week by a healthy 76-20 margin (Roll Call 225). But the bill foundered on a budgetary point of order raised by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D. moved to waive T oomey’s point of order, but he fell ten votes shy of the 60 needed for such a maneuver. Like so much unfinished business, an extension may well get lost in the year-end rush to avert the fiscal cliff. Even if a bill does get through the Senate, however, House Republicans have signaled they would prefer to let TAG expire, which it is scheduled to do on December 31.
Disability Treaty – Ratification - Vote Rejected (61-38, 1 Not Voting) - Despite a last-minute appearance by former GOP Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas in support of the treaty, Senate Republicans mustered enough opposition to defeat the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Supporters, including Dole and Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., described the treaty as essentially enshrining the Americans with Disabilities Act (PL 101-336) as an international standard. Kerry highlighted the treaty’s support among veterans groups. The treaty’s detractors, including Republican presidential candidate and former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, raised the possibility of “international bureaucrats” making ch ild-care decisions in place of parents, including potentially restricting home schooling. All international treaties require a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, so supporters fell five votes short. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada vowed another vote in the next Congress.
Defense Authorization – Final Passage - Vote Passed (98-0, 2 Not Voting) - Following a Monday cloture vote, last week the Senate gave unanimous support to its FY 2013 defense authorization bill. The measure provides funding for all branches of the armed services (excluding the Coast Guard), nuclear security operations at the Department of Energy, and “overseas contingency operations,” i.e., funding for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas conflicts. Fiscal 2013 funding in the bill would come to roughly $631 billion, $88 billion of which covers war costs. Major amendments adopted during debate would further toughen sanctions against Iran; clarify that U.S. citizens and permanent residents may not be detained without charge or trial if apprehended o n American soil; prohibit transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to a U.S. facility; and ensure that the Pentagon is able to purchase alternative fuels. The provision on alternative fuels is likely to be a sticking point in conference negotiations with the House, whose bill prohibits purchase of such fuels if they are more expensive than traditional options such as petroleum. Despite President Obama’s veto message, both chambers’ bills contain restrictions on Guantanamo detainee transfers, retirement of Air National Guard planes, and TRICARE enrollment fees. Though conferees have not been named for either side (that is likely to happen this week), staff discussions have already begun.
Russia/Moldova Trade Relations – Final Passage - Vote Passed (92-4, 4 Not Voting) - The Senate cleared the way for more open trade with the Russian Federation and the tiny Eastern European republic of Moldova last week with passage of a House measure that lifts 1970s-vintage restrictions on both countries. The move was necessitated by Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization over the summer; had trade restrictions not been rescinded, the U.S. would have been vulnerable to retaliatory actions by the Russians. Moldova has been a WTO member since 2001 and appears simply to have hitched a ride on a moving legislative vehicle. Despite cheers from the business community for the free trade measure, the Russian government is deeply unhappy with accompanyi ng language chiding its poor human rights record and sanctioning individuals associated with the imprisonment and death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The bill is currently before the president and will likely be signed into law shortly.
Sportsmen’s Access to Federal Land – Motion to Waive - Vote Rejected (50-44, 6 Not Voting) - Sen. Jon Tester’s bill to increase sportsmen’s access to federal lands hit a snag over budgetary rules last week. Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., raised a point of order that a provision of the bill to raise duck stamp fees violated budgetary caps agreed to in last year’s debt ceiling deal. Democrats attempted to waive the budget rules but failed to muster the necessary 60 votes. “Duck stamp” is the nickname for a federal license to hunt migratory birds whose proceeds are directed toward wetlands conservation. Congress had enacted all previous fee increases, but the bill would move that authority to the Interior Depart ment, which was also a sore point among Republicans on top of the budget issue. Tester’s wide-ranging bill, which had garnered support from a large coalition of outside groups including the National Rifle Association and Nature Conservancy, had looked like a safe bet for easy passage, as it had cleared several earlier procedural hurdles with no less than 84 votes. The prospects for the bill are uncertain at this point: Democrats could attempt to attach it to another bill, such as the defense authorization or whatever agreement (if any) emerges from fiscal cliff talks.
Disability Treaty – Motion to Proceed - Vote Agreed to (61-36, 3 Not Voting) - The Senate agreed to proceed to consideration of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a United Nations treaty meant to outline the rights of disabled individuals and create a framework for implementing plans to protect those rights. The treaty contains language outlining the “general obligations” of signatory nations vis a vis their disabled citizens as well as sections on issues ranging from independent living to human dignity. There is currently an agreement in place to vote on ratification of the treaty on Tuesday, December 4.
Defense Authorization – Amendment - Vote Agreed to (94-0, 6 Not Voting) - After months of delay, the Senate began working through amendments to the annual defense authorization bill in earnest last week. A number of notable amendments passed on the floor, including this one from Sens. Menendez, D-N.J., Kirk, R-Ill., and Lieberman, I-Ct., which further tightens sanctions on Iran. Others include those offered by Sens. Feinstein, D-Calif. (clarifying that American citizens and permanent residents apprehended on U.S. soil may not be detained indefinitely or without trial – Roll Call 213); Ayotte, R-N.H. (prohibiting transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay – RC 212); and Udall, D-Colo. (striking language forbidding the defense department from taking part in a pilot biofuels program - RC 206). Dozens of other amendments were considered, with most agreed to by unanimous consent. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on the bill Friday afternoon, lining up a cloture vote Monday evening, December 3. Though the bill looks to be on a path toward passage, its prospects have been complicated by a veto threat from President Obama. The Administration presented a long list of grievances in its policy statement, including objections to the bill’s language on detainees, Air National Guard force structure, and costs relating to TRICARE, the military’s health care program. The President has also issued a veto threat against the House version of the bill (H.R. 4310).
Cybersecurity – Cloture - Vote Rejected (51-47, 2 Not Voting) - In contrast to the brisk movement toward passage of the Sportsmen's Act, cybersecurity legislation once again ran aground in the Senate after a failure to invoke cloture. Despite the entreaties of the bill's sponsors, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Ct. and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Me., Republicans (as well as five Democrats) refused to end debate on the bill. Concerns in the business community remain a major stumbling block. The Chamber of Commerce and its congressional allies are wary that security standards established by the bill could morph from voluntary to mandatory once they become law. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. declared that "cybers ecurity is dead for this Congress." The House passed a much less ambitious bill earlier this year that focused on information sharing between the government and private sector entities. President Obama threatened to veto that measure, citing privacy concerns, while endorsing the Senate bill. With the Senate deadlocked, any action in the remainder of the year is likely to come from the White House, which has reportedly drafted an executive order to protect vital computer networks from attack.
Sportsmen’s Access to Federal Land – Cloture - Vote Agreed to (84-12, 4 Not Voting) - The Senate moved one step closer last week to passing a bill with a smorgasbord of provisions designed to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, voting affirmatively on both a motion to proceed (Roll Call 201) and later invoking cloture on the bill. Sponsored by Democrat Jon Tester, D-Mont., the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 would exempt ammunition and fishing equipment from EPA regulation; ease a ban on importation of polar bear trophies from Canada; and allow the issuance of permits for individuals carrying bows and crossbows to cross national park land. The bill would reauthorize a number of wildlife conservation measures, as well as a law to facilitate the sale or exchange of federa l land with non-federal landowners whose holdings lie within the boundaries of federal tracts. Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. raised a point of order last week regarding spending on duck stamps authorized in the bill. The point of order is expected to be overridden, with final passage coming after the Thanksgiving recess. President Obama supports the bill.
Veterans Job Training – Motion to Waive - Vote Rejected (58-40, 2 Not Voting) - The Senate spent much of last week working on this bill that would have created a so-called jobs corps to assist Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in finding post-service employment. After invoking cloture on a motion to proceed to the bill, a substitute amendment by Veterans Affairs Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., was introduced. Among other things, the amendment would have required states to issue certain licenses, such as for plumbing or truck driving, to veterans without the normal requirements if eligible applicants had at least 10 years’ experience in related military activities. Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., raised a point of order against the amend ment that its costs exceeded the amount of funding allowed under current budgetary limitations. Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., then moved to waive the point of order, which would have allowed the amendment to be debated. 60 votes are required to waive budgetary points of order, however, and proponents of the bill fell two votes shy. Sustaining the point of order effectively killed the bill.
Foreign Aid Suspension - Vote Rejected (10-81, 9 Not Voting) - Despite only having one must-pass item to clear before recessing – namely a continuing resolution to keep the government running, the Senate was in session into the wee hours of Saturday morning. This was initially due to the insistence of Rand Paul, R-Ky., on getting a vote for his bill to suspend foreign aid to Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt. Eventually an agreement was reached to hold a vote on the bill, which was soundly defeated due to bipartisan opposition.
Iran Nuclear Threat - Vote Agreed to (90-1, 9 Not Voting) - This resolution from Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would reaffirm U.S. opposition to the Iranian nuclear program and states that the current regime of diplomacy and sanctions must continue until Iran meets certain benchmarks. These benchmarks include suspension of uranium enrichment, compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions and full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. The resolution pointedly states that none of its language constitutes an authorization for the use of force. Rand Paul was the lone “nay” vote.
Continuing Resolution - Vote Agreed to (62-30, 8 Not Voting) - After rejecting the Paul foreign aid measure and passing the Graham Iran resolution, the Senate was able to take up the continuing resolution that would fund government operations for the next six months at more or less flat levels (funding would increase by 0.6 percent for most programs.)
Cybersecurity – Cloture - Vote Rejected (52-46, 2 Not Voting)- A week after successfully invoking cloture to proceed to cybersecurity legislation, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the bill itself. Bill sponsor Joe Lieberman, I-Ct. and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. had expressed hope that a compromise could be reached on the amendments to be considered, but Democratic and Republican leaders could not reach an agreement. Even if an amendment agreement had been reached, however, it is still not clear that the bill would muster enough support to pass the Senate. John McCain, R-Ariz. has taken the lead in championing alternative legislation that is backed by business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and supporters of the McCain approach have shown no signs of moving toward a compromise position. A handful of Republicans and Democrats on each side crossed party lines with their votes, including Reid, whose “no” vote allows him to ask for the bill’s reconsideration at a later stage. Reid and Lieberman have vowed to keep pushing the bill, but the legislative calendar has few days remaining before the election, which means the issue may be pushed into a lame-duck session.
African and Caribbean Trade Preferences/Myanmar Sanctions – Amendment - Vote Rejected (40-58, 2 Not Voting) - Congress cleared legislation last week that would renew a program of trade preferences for certain African countries, make technical corrections to free trade agreements with the Dominican Republic and Central America, and extend sanctions on Myanmar for one year. The provisions had bipartisan, bicameral support, but Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. objected to the “pay-fors” in the bill, which he said covered only five years’ worth of spending over a period twice as long. Coburn placed a hold on the bill and insisted on a vote for his amendment before releasing the hold. By unanimous consent it was agreed that the Senate would vote on the Coburn amendment to the Senate version of the bill, and if it failed the Senate would then automatically clear the House-passed version (H.R. 5986), which was exactly the same as the Senate version. The Coburn substitute would have removed the Dominican-Central America and Myanmar provisions and paid for the bill by eliminating trade programs worth $192 million over two years. (The offset in the original bill moved up the due-date for certain corporate taxes.) The amendment failed, thus triggering automatic passage of the House bill, which now awaits the president’s signature.
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.
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 v ote on the president's proposal as well.
Cybersecurity – Cloture - Vote Agreed to (84-11, 5 Not Voting) - After agreement was reached on allowing amendments, the Senate voted last week to invoke cloture on a compromise cybersecurity bill. Democrats' preferred bill (S. 2105), introduced in February by Homeland Security Committee chair Joe Lieberman, I-Ct., would have established a definition for "critical infrastructure" and mandated that private entities who own or oversee such infrastructure establish minimum security standards. This provision drew intense opposition from business interests, leading Republicans to introduce an alternative proposal, which has since been revamped (S. 3342). The bill under consideration would forego mandating action and instead create incentives for businesses to meet se curity standards. S. 3342 is still expected to be offered on the floor as a substitute amendment, and the underlying bill’s prospects for passage remain uncertain. The House passed a bill (H.R. 3523) in April that did not address the critical infrastructure issue in a substantial way, instead focusing on information-sharing between government and industry. The Senate bills address the latter issue as well, though each bill takes a different approach. President Obama has endorsed the Senate compromise and threatened to veto the House-passed bill.
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.
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.
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.
Small Business Tax Cut – Motion to Table - Vote Agreed to (73-24, 3 Not Voting) - Taxes moved to the center of Washington political debate on July 9, when President Obama announced his support for extending the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 of household income for one additional year. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky. sparred over the question of voting on the president’s proposal and on a one-year extension of the tax cuts for all income, which is Republicans’ preference. Ultimately no such votes were held. Instead the Senate proceeded to consideration of a small business tax cut bill, holding three votes in all. The first vote was a motion to table an amendment introduced by Reid. The amendment conta ined the text of a House-passed bill (H.R. 9, Roll Call 177) introduced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., which would allow a 20 percent deduction on taxable income for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Max Baucus, D-Mont. moved to table (set aside) the amendment, and the motion was agreed to.
Small Business Tax Cut –Cloture - Vote Rejected (57-41, 2 Not Voting) - The next vote in this series was a cloture motion on a substitute amendment offered by Mary Landrieu, D-La. The Landrieu amendment would extend a number of tax benefits, including 100 percent expensing for equipment purchases, higher deductions for start-up costs, and elimination of capital gains taxes for certain small business stock. The motion fell three votes short, as 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture.
Small Business Tax Cut – Cloture - Vote Rejected (53-44, 3 Not Voting) - The final vote was another cloture motion, this time on the underlying bill. The bill would give employers a tax deduction of 10 percent on payroll increases from 2011 to 2012, up to $5 million. It would also extend 100 percent expensing for equipment purchases for one year. The President expressed support for the measure, but it is unlikely to be taken up in the House.
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