Lines in the Sand - Know Where They Stand By Matthew Hallett, AED Director of Government Affairs
Article Date: 10-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
How the 110th Congress voted on AED's biggest issues.
“Actions speak louder than words” – a tired cliché, but a viable one nonetheless. Perhaps nowhere does this maxim ring truer than in the halls of Congress. Campaign promises, well-rehearsed rhetoric, and impressive talking points are cornerstones of the American political process. But when it comes down to action, and a vote on the floor of the House or Senate, where do the chips fall? Was the promise kept to vote for death tax repeal? Did the candidate live up to his or her platform on infrastructure investment?The charts included on pages 30-33 provide you not only with a glimpse of how your representatives and senators voted on specific issues in the 110th Congress, but also portray patterns of support, or nonsupport, on issues AED members have said are important to the equipment industry. Making the List
The 110th Congress was closely watched for numerous reasons – the return of a Democratic majority for the first time in over a decade, the ascendancy of the first female Speaker of the House, and an almost perfectly divided Senate made for interesting prognostications a mere two years ago. For equipment distributors, however, the 110th Congress was defined by votes on infrastructure investment, housing stimulus, and union organizing legislation, among other things. Legislation aimed at increasing investment in the nation’s surface transportation and water infrastructure held the greatest sway in the voting chart. Six votes on infrastructure funding issues are included, a testament to the rising importance of the subject on Capitol Hill and a phenomenon lauded by AED.
Tax issues remain a major focus of AED efforts, and votes on death tax repeal permanency and the economic stimulus (which provided a depreciation bonus and increased Sec. 179 expensing levels) are accounted for in the chart (beginning on page 30).The return of a Democratic majority led organized labor to flex its muscles early and “card check” legislation was reintroduced. AED, a defender of the secret ballot in workplace elections, met this challenge head-on and the vote breakdown revealed a great deal about the partisan divide on organized labor issues. The 110th Congress also coincided with a major downturn in the housing market. AED led a successful campaign to enact a home purchase tax credit to reinvigorate the market and the vote on the housing stimulus bill was of considerable interest to the equipment industry.A quick glimpse at the chart will show that House votes outnumber Senate votes. This should not be interpreted as portraying the Senate as the less active of the two chambers, but rather as representative of the partisan divide that defined much of the last two years. As Democrats enjoyed a sizable majority on the House side, bills moved with greater ease. Correspondingly, the Senate, with a combination of a narrow Democrat-Republican divide and parliamentary procedures not present in the House, was a legislative graveyard for many initiatives easily pushed through the House. The effects of this were both positive (the blocking of “card check” legislation) and negative (minimal movement on infrastructure legislation) for the equipment industry.The Value of a Good Education
The voting charts in the following pages measure only how representatives voted on select issues of importance to the equipment industry. The charts don’t include a myriad of additional factors you may personally take into account when checking the ballot in November – a candidate’s character, as well as social and national security issues. What these charts do provide, however, is a quick reference on whether your representatives stood with the equipment industry on all issues, some issues, or no issues at all. As we enter the home stretch before the election, use these charts not only to challenge or thank incumbents but also to pose questions to those seeking office on how they might have voted differently if facing the same legislation. These charts allow you to cut through the campaign-trail rhetoric and let your representatives know that you know exactly how they voted on issues that affect your markets and costs of doing business. As you look at the charts and overall voting scores, keep two important things in mind. First, some representatives served only part of the 110th Congress, so their respective vote totals are inflated or deflated based on fewer votes than their colleague. Second, these charts include votes on two bills – the economic stimulus and housing stimulus bills – of which the provisions supported by AED were only one small part. Thus, for example, a member of Congress may have voted against the housing stimulus bill not because she opposed AED’s home purchase tax credit proposal, but because of objections to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac backstop provisions. Likewise, a vote against the Economic Stimulus Act might have been cast because of objections to the $100-billion-plus price tag of the middle income tax rebate checks, not because of the depreciation bonus. However, given the importance of the capital investment and home purchase incentives to our industry, we have chosen nonetheless to include the ESA and housing stimulus bill in the vote chart.Now, with this information in hand, go forth into November. As the prominent philosopher Herbert Spencer once quipped, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” And, as we all know, those actions can speak very loudly indeed.
House Votes1. The Employee Free Choice
Act – Initial Passage
2. Water Quality Financing Act – Initial Passage
3. Water Resources Development Act – Initial Passage
4. Tax Collection Responsibility
Act – Vote to recommit with amendment making repeal of
the death tax permanent
5. Water Resources Development Act – Veto Override
6. Economic Stimulus Act – Final Passage
7. SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act – Final Passage
8. American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act – Final Passage
9. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to restore the Highway Trust Fund balance – Initial Passage10. National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007 – Initial Passage 1. Employee Free Choice Act – Initial PassageOrganized labor flexed its muscles early in the 110th Congress and pushed House leaders to bring the unions’ top legislative priority – the "card check" bill – to the House floor. The "Employee Free Choice Act" (H.R. 800 and S. 1041), sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), would force workers to make their decision on union representation public. Rather than voting via secret ballot, the legislation would allow unions to conduct organizing elections by receiving signatures on a petition, thus allowing union representatives to know who did and did not support the organizing effort. Unions continue to argue that getting rid of secret ballots will make the unionization process more transparent. AED believes that secret ballots are a cornerstone of democracy and their eradication would open the door to targeted union coercion.Despite AED pressure to reject the measure, the House passed H.R. 800 by a vote of 241-185 on March 1, 2007. House Roll Call Vote 110-1-118, March 1, 2007.
2. Water Quality Financing Act – Initial PassageFederal investment in the nation’s crumbling wastewater infrastructure has been dramatically reduced in recent appropriations cycles. As the cost to public health, the environment, and the economy have become more apparent, the Water Quality Financing Act (H.R. 720) was introduced to increase funding to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides sewer construction resources. The bill would authorize $14 billion for the Clean Water SRF. A recent study by AED and the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) found that on average, more than 12 cents of each underground water utility project bid is attributable to equipment costs. The House passed H.R. 720 early in 2007 by a vote of 303-108. Unfortunately, the Senate has failed to move on the bill and it has languished before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.House Roll Call Vote 110-1-135, March 9, 2007.
3. Water Resources Development Act – Initial PassageThe call for increased investment in the nation’s water infrastructure has gained traction on Capitol Hill during the 110th Congress. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) undertook a major effort to fund and expedite projects by introducing and steering to enactment the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) (H.R. 1495). WRDA authorized $23.2 billion for over 900 water resource projects to be carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. It had been seven years since Congress passed similar legislation aimed at addressing the nation’s navigation, flood control, and other water infrastructure needs.AED strongly supported passage of the legislation. WRDA overwhelmingly passed the House by the vote of 394-25 and the Senate by the vote of 91-4 but had to overcome a veto from the White House in order to become public law.House Roll Call Vote 110-1-234, April 19, 2007; Senate Roll Call Vote 110-1-170, May 16, 2007.
4. Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007 – Vote to recommit with amendment making repeal of the death tax permanentResolving the uncertainty surrounding the federal estate tax (a.k.a., the "death tax") remains a high priority for AED. In the fall of 2007, the House was moving forward with the Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007 (H.R. 3056). Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) sought to recommit the bill for House consideration with an amendment making the 2011 repeal of the death tax permanent. The vote was an important indication of where members of Congress stand on the death tax issue. The measure failed to pass the House by a vote of 196-212 and the amendment was not added to the legislation. While the legislation ultimately passed the House, the bill failed to move out of the Senate Finance Committee.House Roll Call Vote 110-1-959, Oct. 10, 2007.
5. Water Resources Development Act – Veto OverrideAlthough the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) easily passed both chambers on Capitol Hill, the White House held firm to its commitment to veto the legislation over cost concerns. The result was the first veto override by the 110th Congress in order to make WRDA law.The House voted 361 to 54 to override the presidential veto. The Senate followed suit, overriding the veto by a vote of 79-14.House Roll Call Vote 110-1-1040, Nov. 6, 2007; Senate Roll Call Vote 110-1-406, Nov. 8, 2007.
6. Economic Stimulus Act –
Final PassageThe dismal economic forecast for 2008 led lawmakers to take up economic stimulus legislation early this year. In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Democratic congressional leadership and the president worked together to enact a bill that includes tax rebates for middle-class families and capital investment incentives (specifically, a 50 percent depreciation bonus and increased Sec. 179 expensing levels.) The Senate altered the original bill, then passed the legislation by a vote of 81-62. The House adopted the Senate version by a vote of 380-34 and sent the bill on to the president, who signed it into law on Feb. 13, 2008.Senate Roll Call Vote 110-2-10, Feb. 7, 2008; House Roll Call Vote 110-2-42, Feb. 7, 2008.
7. SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act – Final PassageThe 2005 federal highway law, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), was not perfect in several aspects. Congress addressed some of the deficiencies in the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act (H.R. 1195).The corrections passed in the bill will allow over 400 authorized projects, previously hampered because of misidentification and other errors in SAFETEA-LU, to proceed. Additionally, the corrections address miscalculations that have led to budgetary shortfalls in research program funding, including the Future Strategic Highway Research Program, which explores solutions to the foremost obstacles facing highway safety and capacity. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s "Conditions and Performance Report," which provides objective appraisals of current transportation needs, will receive past due funding. The bill also contains nominal language alterations, from topic headings to project descriptions. Finally, and perhaps most important, the legislation provides more time and funding for government panels established in SAFETEA-LU to identify new sources of highway funding.The Senate altered the original bill to include an investigation into alleged impropriety regarding earmarks, then passed the legislation by a vote of 88-2. The House adopted the Senate version by a vote of 358-11 and sent the bill on to the president, who signed it into law on June 6, 2008.Senate Roll Call Vote 110-2-108, April 17, 2008; House Roll Call Vote 110-2-229, April 30, 2008.
8. American Housing Rescue
and Foreclosure Prevention Act – Final PassageRecognizing the impact that the downturn in the housing market was having on equipment distributors, AED launched a campaign in late January to enact a home purchase tax credit to reinvigorate the residential real estate market. A scaled-back version of AED’s proposal was included in the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act (H.R. 3221). After being punted between the House and Senate several times, the House finally passed the bill 272-152. The Senate passed the bill 72-13. On July 30, 2008, the bill became law.House Roll Call Vote 110-2-519, July 23, 2008; Senate Roll Call Vote 110-2-186, July 26, 2008.
9. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to restore the Highway Trust Fund balance – Initial PassageThe impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) presents an enormous hurdle to the nation’s capability to invest in surface transportation infrastructure. User fee revenues, created from SAFETEA-LU (the 2005 highway bill), for 2009 have fallen more than $5 billion short of what was expected. Without congressional action, funding for the FY 09 highway program will fall by more than 30 percent, from $41.2 billion this year to $27.2 billion next year. This funding drop would cost the equipment industry more than $850 million in lost market opportunity.H.R. 6532, a bill to restore the HTF balance, would transfer $8 billion from the general fund to the HTF. The $8 billion transfer would make up for HTF revenues directed to other nonhighway programs in the 1990s, when the trust fund was well in the black. With encouragement from AED and industry allies, the House passed H.R. 6532 by a 387-37 vote. The House and Senate both passed similar legislation in late summer and the president signed the HTF fix into law on Sept. 15. House Roll Call Vote 110-2-518, July 23, 2008. Senate: Approved by voice vote, Sept. 10, 2008
10. National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007 – Initial PassageThe National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007 (H.R. 3999) was introduced by Chairman Oberstar in the wake of the I-35 collapse last summer. The bill would provide $1 billion for repair and reconstruction of bridges nationwide, while also mandating studies into bridge sustainability and new techniques for classification of the country’s bridges. Nationwide, more than 73,000 bridges, or 25 percent of the total number of bridges in the U.S., are classified as "structurally deficient." The bill passed the House by a vote of 367-55. The Senate has yet to vote on this bill or corresponding legislation.House Roll Call Vote 110-2-530, July 24, 2008.
Senate Votes1. Water Resources Development Act – Initial Passage
2. Employee Free Choice Act – Motion to Invoke Cloture to Proceed
3. Water Resources Development Act – Veto Override
4. Economic Stimulus Act – Final Passage
5. SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act – Final Passage
6. American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act – Final Passage 1. Water Resources Development Act – Initial PassageSee discussion under House Vote 3
2. Employee Free Choice Act – Motion to Invoke Cloture to ProceedSee discussion under House Vote 1In the Senate, unlike the House, there is a parliamentary procedure of invoking cloture before a bill proceeds. Invoking cloture effectively limits debate and/or filibusters and allows an easier path to a final vote. Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture. The measure to invoke cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act failed to achieve 60 votes with a final tally of 51-48, effectively killing the legislation. Because of our opposition to the bill, AED opposed ending the filibuster and invoking cloture.Senate Roll Call Vote 110-1-227, June 26, 2007.
3. Water Resources Development
Act – Veto OverrideSee discussion under House Vote 5
4. Economic Stimulus Act – Final PassageSee discussion under House Vote 6
5. SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act – Final PassageSee discussion under House Vote 7
6. American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention ActSee discussion under House Vote 8
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