Updated: May 14, 2013
Water Infrastructure Projects – Amendment Vote - Vote Rejected (56-43, 1 Not Voting) - After passing the Internet sales tax bill, the Senate moved on to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a catch-all piece of legislation usually passed every five years dealing with everything from dams and levees to port dredging. Traditionally one of the biggest magnets for pork barrel projects, this version of WRDA is the first since both chambers of Congress adopted earmark moratoria. Similar to last year’s highway bill, WRDA makes various changes to existing law in order to speed up project approval, including the imposition of financial penalties on tardy agencies. The bill also attempts to capture a larger share of the revenue that accrues to the Harbor Maintenanc Trust Fund each year for actual harbor maintenance – a seemingly novel concept, yet one that Senate appropriators initially objected to, as they have grown accustomed to diverting much of the trust fund’s receipts to unrelated accounts. Several amendments were voted on last week, including this one from Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn that would enable individuals to bring guns on to Army Corps of Engineers-administered water projects. The amendment failed due to a 60-vote requirement. At week’s end the legislation had stalled over Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu’s insistence on a vote for her amendment that would prevent a rise in flood insurance premiums. Though a cloture vote is currently scheduled for May 14, it appears that there is some agreement on a vote for the Landrieu amendment. The White House leveled several criticisms of the bill in its policy statement , though a manager’s amendment from Barbara Boxer and David Vitter, the chair and rankin Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, may have addressed some of these issues.
OMB Director – Confirmation - Vote Confirmed (96-0, 4 Not Voting) - Last week, the Senate unanimously confirmed Sylvia Matthews Burwell to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The office oversees development of the president’s annual budget proposals and oversees the performance of federal agencies.
Internet Sales Tax – Cloture Motion - Vote Agreed to (63-30, 7 Not Voting) - Before leaving for a week-long recess, the Senate also approved a motion to invoke cloture on S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013. S. 743 would allow states to require online retailers to collect sales and use taxes on purchases made by their residents. President Obama supports the measure, saying it would "level the playing field" for brick-and-mortar retailers. The bill is expected to pass when the Senate returns; House action is uncertain.
Firearms Legislation – Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Amendment - Vote Rejected (57-43) - This proposal from Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas would allow someone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon the right to carry it in any state which has a concealed-carry law. The amendment states that permit holders from other states must abide by the laws of states in which they are located, though it would prohibit states from placing restrictions on individuals with out-of-state permits, treating such individuals as if they carried an “unrestricted” permit. The remainder of the failed amendments included proposals to reinstate and expand a ban on so-called assault weapons; to ban ammunition magazines holding more than ten rounds; and to prevent veterans fro being deemed “mental defectives” – thus losing their ability to own firearms – without a court decision. Two amendments did pass muster. The first, offered by Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, would penalize states and localities for publicizing gun ownership data. The second, from HELP committee leaders Tom Harkin, D-Iowa and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., would overhaul the nation’s mental health system. (Roll Calls 100-105)
Firearms Legislation – Background Checks Amendment - Vote Rejected (54-46) - The Senate voted on a flurry of amendments to the first major legislative response to last December’s massacre in Newtown, CT. In a sign of the difficulty facing proponents of stronger gun laws, most of the amendments were defeated, beginning with a proposal by pro-gun senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. to strengthen background checks. The Toomey-Manchin amendment would have expanded the current system to include all sales at gun shows and on the Internet. Though initially hailed as a critical breakthrough, the amendment’s prospects died a slow death in the days leading up to the actual vote, as fence-sitting senators from both parties declared their opposition one b one. Ultimately five Democrats opposed the amendment – Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. (Reid voted “no” for procedural reasons which would allow him to call up the amendment for a vote at a later date.) Baucus, Begich and Pryor all face difficult re-elections next year in states that favored Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential contest. Four Republicans supported the amendment – Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, and co-sponsor Toomey.
Firearms Legislation – Republican Substitute Amendment - Vote Rejected (52-48) - The second failed amendment was a Republican substitute offered by Judiciary committee ranking member Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Most Republicans have decried Democratic proposals for reducing gun violence as threatening to Americans’ Second Amendment rights and have emphasized in their own proposals a “law and order” approach. This is reflected in the Republican alternative, which would make it a federal crime to purchase guns on behalf of those legally barred from owning them; expand the scope of mental illnesses barring some individuals from owning firearms; and create a special task force focused on attempted firearms purchases by felons and fugitives. Nine Democrat supported the Republican proposal, while two Republicans opposed it.
Firearms Legislation – Straw Purchases Amendment - Vote Rejected (58-42) - Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt. co-sponsored an amendment that would make it a federal crime to buy guns on behalf of someone legally barred from possessing them, a practice called straw purchasing. The amendment fell just two votes short of adoption. (In a concession to the reality of a likely Republican filibuster, Majority Leader Reid agreed to raise the threshold for adoption of all amendments to 60 votes instead of the usual 51.)
Interior Secretary Confirmation - Vote Confirmed (87-11, 2 Not Voting) - Last week the Senate confirmed Sally Jewell, former CEO of outdoor retailer REI, to be the next secretary of the Department of Interior.
Gun Control – Cloture Vote - Vote Agreed to (68-31, 1 Not Voting) - The Senate also agreed to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to comprehensive firearms–related legislation that has been in the works since the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December. Sixteen Republicans agreed to move forward with the bill, while two Democrats facing tough re-election battles next year – Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – voted against ending debate. Though it is unclear what shape a final bill will take – or even whether any substantive measure can garner enough support to pass – supporters are hoping to include a strengthened background checks measure sponsored by Joe Manchin of West Virginia an Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; language strengthening penalties for straw purchasers; and expanded funding for school safety. If a bill does make it out of the Senate, its fate would be even more uncertain in the Republican-controlled House. President Obama issued a statement in support of S. 649.
Fiscal 2013 Continuing Appropriations – Passage - Vote Passed (73-26, 1 Not Voting) - With a week left to avert a government shutdown, Senators passed a stopgap measure to keep federal funds flowing for the remainder of fiscal 2013. The Senate slightly expanded the spending package included in the original bill the House of Representatives passed on March 6, which only included full appropriations for Defense, Military Construction, and Veterans’ Affairs. Through a last-minute amendment put forth by Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., senators added additional spending provisions from three other related bills. The Senate approved Mikulski’s amendment 70-29 (roll call 42), less than an hour before the bill’s final passage rol call vote. All told, the bill appropriated $517.7 billion for the Defense Department, $71.9 billion for veterans programs and military construction projects, $39.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, $20.5 billion for the Department of Agriculture and $50.2 billion for commerce, law enforcement and science programs. Spending on all other government programs will remain flat from fiscal 2012 rates. The bill made slight spending cuts from the earlier stopgap spending bill set to expire on March 27 to get federal outlays under the discretionary spending caps of the 2011 debt limit law (PL 112-25). The senate rejected several floor amendments that cut funds from Homeland Security and defense biofuel programs. Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., relented on consideration for the single-largest spending cut amendment, which would have redirected nearly $381 million in spending for the Army’s Medium Extended Air Defense System. Ayotte’s opposition to the program had hel up final consideration of the bill for a week. The bill returned to the House the next day and received a motion to concur to its amended status, passing it to the president’s desk for signing.
Fiscal 2014 Senate Budget Resolution – Adoption - Vote Agreed to (50-49, 1 Not Voting) - Just before 5:00 in the morning on Saturday, the Senate passed its first budget resolution in four years by a single vote. Four Democrats – Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – voted with Senate Republicans against the measure. Final passage arrived after senators spent 13 hours considering dozens of floor amendments on a huge swath of policy areas. Without any force of law, the nonbinding resolution laid out Senate Democrats’ alternative to the House budget, which passed two days before on a largely party-line vote (roll call 88). The Senate blueprint laid out $975 in new revenue and $975 in spendin cuts over 10 years that promised to reduce the budget deficit $1.8 trillion in all. It also included additional economic stimulus and infrastructure investment funds supported by the White House. During floor debate, the Senate rejected a substitute budget put forth by Rand Paul of Kentucky that slashed spending by $9.6 trillion and cut taxes by $2.3 trillion over 10 years (roll call 69). Another Senate conservative firebrand, Texan Ted Cruz, offered unsuccessful amendments to repeal the Affordable Care Act (roll call 51), cut foreign aid to Egypt and build missile defense batteries on the East Coast (roll call 85), and withhold American funds to the United Nations until China rescinded its one-child population control policy (roll call 86). Republicans received Democratic support to pass amendments endorsing the Keystone XL pipeline (roll call 61), eliminating subsidies to the largest banks (roll call 70), and initiating a biennial budget process (roll call 65.) Senate Democrat played amendment tug-of-war, too. New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen successfully introduced an amendment backing women’s family planning and birth control access provided under the Affordable Care Act (roll call 54). Rhode Islander Sheldon Whitehouse’s amendment to create a carbon tax to combat global warming, however, failed (roll call 58).
FY 2013 Continuing Appropriations – Amendment - Vote Rejected (45-52, 3 Not Voting) - At the end of last week, the Senate was mired in disagreement over how to proceed with amendment votes on a measure to keep the government running past March 27. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and lead appropriators Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., had hoped to complete debate and pass the bill by Friday. By late Thursday, however, it became clear that there were too many amendments to work through and little agreement on how to proceed, leading Reid to file cloture on the bill. The bill under consideration is largely identical to one passed by the House two weeks ago, though it adds full appropriations for the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science an Homeland Security accounts. President Obama has stated his support for the more expansive Senate version. Before adjourning for the week, senators did vote on a handful of amendments, starting with one offered by Texas Republican Ted Cruz to cut off funding through the end of FY 13 for implementation of and rulemaking related to the 2010 health care overhaul. The Cruz amendment was defeated by a party-line vote of 45-52. The upper chamber also rejected amendments from Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to increase funding for education and medical research (Roll Call 36) and from Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to put in place a hiring freeze for non-essential federal employees (Roll Call 37). An amendment from John McCain, R-Ariz., to remove funding for infrastructure projects in Guam was adopted after Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois failed to table it (Roll Call 35).
Committee Funding Resolution – Amendment Vote - Vote Rejected (44-53, 3 Not Voting) - The Senate passed a resolution authorizing funding levels for its standing committees through the remainder of fiscal year 2013. This is normally a non-controversial measure but Kentucky Republican Rand Paul objected to including funding for a body known as the National Security Working Group, essentially a forum for senators to discuss foreign policy and national security. Paul insisted on a vote for his amendment to strip funding from the Working Group. After the amendment was rejected, the resolution was agreed to by voice vote.
CIA Director Nomination – Confirmation - Vote Confirmed (63-34, 3 Not Voting) - The Senate confirmed President Obama's counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to be the next director of the CIA last week. Brennan looked to be on a glide path to confirmation until Kentucky Republican Rand Paul staged an unexpected "talking" filibuster that stretched over 13 hours. Paul stated that he was holding up Brennan’s nomination because he had not received adequate assurances from the administration that the president did not have authority to target American citizens on American soil with drone strikes if they were not an "imminent threat." During the course of the filibuster Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. released a brief letter to Paul stating that the president doe not have the authority "to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil." This appeared to satisfy Paul, who yielded the floor after midnight on March 7. Following a successful cloture motion later that afternoon (Roll Call 31), Brennan was confirmed with a solid bipartisan majority.
Lew Nomination – Confirmation - Vote Confirmed (71-26, 3 Not Voting) - Receiving much less attention – and generating much less controversy – was the nomination of Jacob J. Lew to be the next Treasury Secretary. Though Lew did receive some criticism for compensation packages he received from former employers New York University and Citigroup, as well as for his Cayman Islands investments, his nomination sailed through committee and received healthy bipartisan support on the Senate floor.
Republican Sequester Alternative – Cloture - Vote Rejected (38-62) - The last day of February saw both parties in the Senate make a show of attempting to avert the budget sequester that went into effect the next day. The Republican proposal would order the President to submit a sequester replacement plan by March 15, which would cut roughly the same amount of funds in the same 50-50, defense-non-defense proportion as the sequester, but would allow the White House discretion in allocating the cuts within each budget function. Separately, the bill would allow the Defense Secretary to transfer previously-appropriated funds between departmental accounts. President Obama threatened to veto the bill, and it saw more Republican defections (nine) than Democratic recruit (two).
Democratic Sequester Alternative – Cloture - Vote Rejected (51-49) -The Democratic sequester replacement plan – and it should be noted that both this bill and the Republican bill only deal with year one of what is scheduled to be a decade-long budget squeeze – would fully repeal the $85 billion in cuts and replace them with several policy alternatives. These include ending direct payments to farmers, a proposal the Senate approved overwhelmingly last year in its version of the farm bill that never became law. The bill would also enact a 30% minimum tax rate on individual incomes over $5 million and would change the tax law definition of crude oil to include tar sands. Though the bill had no chance of garnering 60 votes, its chances were further damaged whe the Congressional Budget Office reported that it would have increased the deficit by $7 billion.
Gender-based Violence Prevention – Final Passage - Vote Passed (78-22) - The Senate passed a comprehensive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) last week, including a controversial provision that grants expanded authority to tribal courts over non-American Indian offenders. The bill would also expand protections for LGBT victims. VAWA consists of a variety of grant programs to state and local law enforcement agencies and service organizations that specialize in treating victims of such crimes as rape, domestic violence, and stalking. S. 47 extends VAWA for five years. The Senate debated several amendments to the bill, notably defeating a proposal from Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to remove the expanded tribal court authority (Roll Call 14 ) Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy of Vermont successfully attached a four-year extension of anti-human trafficking measures to the overall bill (Roll Call 15 ). House leaders have been vague about their plans regarding the legislation , which expired last year amid disagreement between the two chambers. President Obama supports the Senate bill.
Defense Secretary Nomination – Cloture - Vote Rejected (58-40, 1 Present, 1 Not Voting) - One of the more contentious nomination fights in recent memory was dragged into the President’s Day recess when the Senate failed to invoke cloture on Chuck Hagel’s bid to become Defense Secretary. The former Republican senator from Nebraska endured a withering confirmation hearing on January 31 , during which he was grilled for hours by fellow Republicans on a narrow range of issues, particularly Israel and Iran. The nomination passed out of the Armed Services Committee February 12 on a straight party-line vote, and Reid attempted to end debate two days later. Several Republican senators, including John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander stated that they woul not vote for cloture that day but would following the recess (though they would ultimately oppose the nomination). After extended back and forth about whether the Republicans were filibustering Hagel by essentially requiring 60 votes to confirm him, the cloture vote failed. Four Republicans – Susan Collins, Thad Cochran, Mike Johanns and Lisa Murkowski – joined all Democrats and independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders in supporting the motion. Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah voted “present,” which in this instance had the same effect as a “no” vote.
Gender-based Violence Prevention - Substitute Amendment - Vote Rejected (34-65, 1 Not Voting) - The Senate began action last week on its renewed effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a panoply of initiatives designed to combat such crimes as domestic violence and sexual assault and to provide assistance to state and local law enforcement.
Temporary Suspension of Debt Limit – Final Passage - Vote Passed (64-34, 2 Not Voting) - The federal debt limit will have no force or effect until May 19, thanks to Senate action last week to clear a House-passed measure for President Obama’s signature.
Disaster Relief – Final Passage - Vote Passed (62-36, 2 Not Voting) - Relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy cleared Congress last week, almost exactly three months after the storm devastated coastal communities in New York and New Jersey.
Secretary of State Confirmation - Vote Confirmed (94-3, 1 Present, 2 Not Voting) - The senior Senator from Massachusetts, Democrat John Kerry, was confirmed as the 68th Secretary of State last week. Kerry received near-unanimous support from his colleagues, the only dissenters being Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. Kerry officially took over from Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday, February 1.
Temporary Rules Changes - Vote Agreed to (78-16, 6 Not Voting) - The only action in the Senate last week focused on the upper chamber's internal rules.
Permanent Rules Changes - Vote Agreed to (86-9, 5 Not Voting)
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