At the End of Day, Actions Speak Louder Than WordsBy Daniel B. Fisher and Jason Langford
Article Date: 10-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
How the 111th Congress voted on AED’s biggest legislative issues
Members of the House of Representatives and our senators view their chief duty in our nation’s capital as casting votes. Lawmakers may miss committee hearings, constituent meetings, or speaking engagements, but only in extreme circumstances will they skip a vote. Consequently, each time an “aye” or “nay” is cast on the floor, much thought and energy is put into deciding where to come down.
It is the nature of politicians to make grandiose promises in an effort to satisfy a diverse array of constituents; however, their votes show exactly where they stand. A floor speech can be edited after the fact. A comment on a Sunday morning talk show can be explained away. But a cast vote remains with that lawmaker for years. In fact, many are never forgiven for a “wrong” vote.
With the pivotal midterm elections rapidly approaching, it is important to understand your representative’s positions on the issues that matter most to the equipment industry. Did your congressman support highway funding? When push came to shove, did your senators vote for estate tax reform? To help you cut through the rhetoric and speeches, AED has prepared this analysis of the voting record of every member of the 111th Congress.
The 111th Congress: A Quick Glance
In 2008, Democrats won the White House and overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Congress. With control of all elected branches of the federal government, Democrats were totally in charge of the policy agenda in Washington.
By all accounts, President Obama inherited an economy in shambles and everybody agreed that creating jobs and growth was the top priority. However, nobody was of the same mind on exactly how to get the economy going. Most Republicans asserted that lowering taxes and reducing the size of government was the way to go, while Democrats were content with increasing federal spending in the short term. This clash of philosophies at the outset of the 111th Congress set the stage for the hyper-partisan atmosphere on display since January 2009.
In this environment, spending bills became politically toxic and dollars for infrastructure investment were hard to find. Extensions of popular tax cuts stalled. Legislation that was once completed by unanimous consent was held up. Every vote was considered an opportunity to score political points.
Arguably, the 111th Congress was one of the oddest in recent memory. Given the charged, partisan nature and range of divisive issues considered, very few members of Congress consistently voted with AED. While Republicans remain our strongest advocates on tax, labor, and regulatory issues, Democrats proved to be more receptive to shoring up the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) in the short-term and funding infrastructure projects. Thus, the members of Congress who had the best voting records were conservative Democrats (particularly members of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition) and moderate Republicans.
Particularly notable is the fact that only one lawmaker of the 435 members of the House and 100 senators in the 111th Congress had a 100 percent voting record on AED issues: Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK), a leading member of the Blue Dog Coalition. That means he supported every major infrastructure bill, while voting with us against health care reform, climate change, new campaign restrictions, union labor legislation, etc. Not far behind Boren were other key members of the coalition, including Reps. John Barrow (D-GA), Travis Childers (D-MS), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Lincoln Davis (D-TN), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), and Tim Holden (D-PA). All these individuals took substantial political risks in standing up to the Democratic leadership on high profile votes. Among Republicans, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Sens. Christopher Bond (R-MO), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lamar Alexander (D-TN), and Thad Cochran (R-MS) proved to be the ones who voted with us most often.
How We Picked ’Em
With the sputtering economy at the forefront of the 111th Congress’ agenda, efforts to kick-start America’s economic engine were among AED’s highest legislative priorities. Half the key votes AED examined related to our efforts to expand equipment markets and create jobs through infrastructure investment and pro-business tax incentives.
AED is opposed to any legislation that would unnecessarily increase regulation or raise your costs of doing business. Thus, several of the important votes were on legislation such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the health care reform law) and the American Clean Energy and Security Act (cap and trade). Both are examples of bills AED opposed due to their burdens on small companies.
Also, for the first time, AED highlighted a Senate vote on a president’s nominee. The individual, Craig Becker, appointed to serve on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), has an extreme pro-union record. In the coming years, we expect a significant increase in administrative actions from the Obama administration to implement many key policy priorities, particularly on labor issues. Ensuring that fair-minded individuals occupy senior positions in the administration is a priority.
As you examine the chart, you will notice a slight difference between the two chambers. This relates to differences in legislative rules and processes within the two bodies. The rules of the House make it much easier for that chamber to pass legislation than in the Senate. So, while the House passed the Surface Transportation Extension Act, the Senate never even considered it on the floor. Similarly, the Senate is the exclusive body that confirms presidential nominations, so Becker did not receive a House vote.
An Informed Decision
The vote charts are an objective measure of how lawmakers voted on issues important to the equipment industry and are a small fraction of a member’s voting record. The chart does not include a myriad of factors you should consider when casting your ballot in the upcoming election, such as a candidate’s character, professional qualifications, or positions on other issues that matter to you personally. A candidate’s AED voting record should also not be read as an endorsement of any member of Congress, nor as a statement of opposition to his or her re-election.
As you analyze this information, it is important to remember that legislation is rarely ever simple or straightforward. While a bill may contain important provisions for the equipment industry, it can contain many unrelated issues that cause a member to vote no. For example, the Water Quality Investment Act included significant funds for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. However, your representative may have voted against it because the legislation included an expansion of the Davis-Bacon Act, a top union priority. Similarly, many Republicans who have stood shoulder to shoulder with AED over the years in supporting increased infrastructure investment voted against the 2009 stimulus bill because so much of the funding was directed to what they perceived as wasteful social spending. Pressure from leadership, particularly for junior members, can also be an important factor in how a member votes.
Finally, remember that not all members served the entirety of the 111th Congress. In these circumstances, their vote totals may be skewed because they cast fewer votes than their colleagues.
This chart provides a quick reference to allow you to cut through the campaign rhetoric and see where your elected officials stood on issues that affect your markets and cost of doing business. When you encounter candidates on the campaign trail, use this information as starting point for a conversation with incumbents about why they voted as they did and to inquire of challengers how they would have voted had they been in office.
The AED Bill Scorecard – House Votes
1. Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (H.R. 11/S. 181). The legislation overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employees to bring pay discrimination cases within 180 days of the original discriminatory payment. It widens the timeframe in which employees can claim pay discrimination, treating every discriminatory payment as a separate instance that resets the 180-day limitation.
AED, along with most of the business community, opposed the bill because it expands employer’s potential liabilities, creates a recordkeeping burden for employers who now must detail justifications for salary decisions in case of litigation, and is a boon for trial lawyers. However, the legislation passed both the House (250-177) and the Senate (61-36) and was signed into law on Jan. 29, 2009.
Senate Vote 111-1-14, Jan. 22, 2009 / House Vote 111-1-37, Jan. 27, 2009
2. American Reinvestment and Recovery Act – Conference Report
AED led the charge for substantial infrastructure investment in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Unfortunately, the legislation ended up stuffed with many non-infrastructure provisions. While ARRA has not lived up to expectations, without the tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending the law provided, it’s a good bet that the downturn in the construction industry would have been even worse.
On the construction and infrastructure side, the stimulus conference report included:
$27.5 billion for highways and bridges
$8.4 billion for transit
$4 billion for sewer construction
$2 billion for drinking water construction
$7.2 billion to put new broadband infrastructure in place, particularly in rural areas
$11 billion to upgrade and modernize the nation’s electricity grid
$1.5 billion for competitive grants for transportation improvements of regional or national significance (used for highways, airports, etc.)
$4.6 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects
$1.3 billion for airport construction
$3.1 billion for infrastructure improvements on public and tribal lands
$2.33 billion for “quality of life” construction projects on military bases
$1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation drinking water projects in the western United States
$9.3 billion for rail projects and Amtrak
In the House, all Republicans and seven Democrats voted against the bill, but it still passed 244-188. In the Senate, three Republican moderates – Arlen Specter (R-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) – crossed party lines to give Democrats the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles and clear the conference deal. Following what proved to be one of the most controversial votes from the last two years, Specter later switched parties largely because of GOP backlash to his support for ARRA.
House Vote 111-1-70, Feb. 13, 2009 / Senate Vote 111-1-64, Feb. 13, 2009
3. Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009
The Omnibus Appropriations Act (H.R. 1105) represented the end of a two-year battle between President George W. Bush and congressional Democrats over spending priorities.
The House-passed legislation (245-178) was held up in the Senate by numerous amendments before approval by voice vote following a contentious cloture vote (62-35). The bill funded the government through the end of FY 2009 and contained significant infrastructure investments.
House Vote 111-1-86, Feb. 25, 2009 / Senate Vote (Cloture) 111-1-96, March 10, 2009
$40.7 billion to approve and repair aging highway infrastructure
$3.5 billion for airport modernization, safety, and efficiency grants to ease congestion and prepare our airports for growing use
$689 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to ensure our nation’s waters meet the goals of the Clean Water Act
$829 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to protect public health by improving drinking water systems
$145 million for STAG grants for drinking and wastewater infrastructure systems
$5.4 billion for the Army Corp of Engineers for water and infrastructure projects
4. Water Quality Investment Act
Early in the 111th Congress, new investment in our nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure seemed on the fast-track to President Obama’s desk after the House passed the Water Quality Investment Act (H.R. 1262), 317-101. The legislation authorizes $19.4 billion over the next five years for wastewater infrastructure and water quality programs. The main component of the bill is the authorization of nearly $14 billion over five years for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) that provides low-interest loans and grants for construction of wastewater treatment facilities.
A study by AED and the National Utility Contractors Association determined that 12 percent of the average underground water utility project is attributable to equipment costs. Thus, the $14 billion provided for sewer construction in the SRF bill would create an estimated $1.68 billion in equipment market opportunity over the next five years.
Although the bill passed with strong bipartisan support, extensive debate occurred over a provision extending the Davis-Bacon Act to projects receiving grants or loans through the Clean Water SRFs. Davis-Bacon, strongly supported by labor unions, requires contractors on federal projects to pay prevailing wages. Many Republicans opposed the legislation because of this requirement.
Unfortunately, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Drinking Water and Clean Water SRF programs has languished and not been voted on by the full Senate despite bipartisan approval by the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee.
House Vote 111-1-123, March 12, 2009
5. American Clean Energy and Security Act
One of the cornerstones of the Democrat’s agenda was regulation of greenhouse gases. Despite pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) from many in her caucus who were reluctant to take an unpopular vote, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) passed, 219-212.
The legislation mandates a 17 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 83 percent cut by 2050; reductions that will be accomplished by putting a price on carbon dioxide pollution through a cap-and-trade system. The legislation requires that 20 percent of American electricity come from renewable sources by 2020 and calls for increased efficiency standards.
AED opposed H.R. 2454, which contained one of the largest tax increases in U.S. history and did not carefully balance environmental objectives with the need for job creation and economic growth.
House Vote 111-1-477, June 26, 2009
6. $7 Billion Highway Trust Fund Patch
The declining revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and the expiration of SAFETEA-LU on Sept. 30, 2009 forced Congress to infuse $7 billion of general fund monies to support the highway program (H.R. 3357). The additional funding ensured that states were able to continue to obligate transportation funds through at least the expiration of SAFETEA-LU.
Though few in Congress want the Highway Trust Fund to run dry, the $7 billion patch was opposed by several lawmakers because of deficit concerns and a desire to complete a multiyear highway reauthorization bill (with a long-term solution for paying for the highway program) before SAFETEA-LU expired. Nevertheless, H.R. 3357 was approved by the House (363-68) and the Senate (79-17) by significant margins.
House Vote 111-1-659, July 29, 2009 / Senate Vote 111-1-254, July 30, 2009
7. Surface Transportation Extension Act
On the eve of the expiration of SAFETEA-LU, the House approved, 335-85, the Surface Transportation Extension Act (H.R. 3617), extending the highway program through Dec. 31, 2009. Several pro-infrastructure Republicans joined House Democrats in voting for the three-month extension, breaking with their party’s leaders who had announced opposition to the extension because of allegations its purpose was to buy time to build support for a gas tax increase.
The Senate refused the three-month extension, insisting on a much longer duration and forcing Congress to enact the first of several 30-day continuations of SAFETEA-LU.
House Vote 111-1-731, Sept. 23, 2009
8. Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act
After dealing with short-term extension after short-term extension, the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act returned some certainty to the situation by continuing the most recent federal highway law, SAFETEA-LU, through the end of 2010. AED hoped this would be the final extension before Congress would finalize a new multiyear highway bill. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.
The HIRE Act transferred $19.5 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund to ensure sufficient resources for surface transportation programs through the end of the year and increase the funding baseline for future transportation bills. The bill also restored lost spending authority from the $8.7 billion rescission SAFETEA-LU required on Sept. 30, 2009.
In addition to the surface transportation provisions, the law reinstated the $250,000 Sec. 179 expensing level for one year. AED played a leadership role in efforts to extend business capital investment incentives through the end of 2011.
The HIRE Act also extended higher Sec. 179 expensing levels and created incentives for companies to hire new workers. Employers will receive a Social Security payroll tax exemption for certain workers hired in 2010 and an additional $1,000 income tax credit for every new employee kept on the payroll for one year.
With strong support from AED and our allies, the HIRE Act was approved by the House, 217-201, and the Senate, 68-29.
House Vote 111-2-90, March 4, 2010 / Senate Vote 111-2-55, March 17, 2010
9. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
If the 111th Congress is remembered for a piece of legislation, it will be the health care reform bill. Despite widespread opposition by the business community and a significant share of American voters, the Obama administration and Democratic leadership scored a major victory when Congress passed health care reform. On Christmas Eve, the Senate approved the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590), 60-39. After several months of uncertainty about whether health care reform would be enacted, the House followed suit and approved the bill, 219-212.
House Vote, 111-2-165, March 21, 2010 / Senate Vote, 111-1-396, Dec. 24, 2009
10. DISCLOSE Act
The Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act (DISCLOSE Act, H.R. 5175/S. 3628) was introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) in an effort to mitigate the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That decision said that under the First Amendment, corporations and labor unions could use general treasury funds to pay for independent ads directly supporting or opposing candidates for federal office.
The Schumer-Van Hollen bill required business organizations (but not unions) to disclose their top donors if they choose to participate in the electoral process and prohibited election-related speech by many government contractors.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) succeeded in pushing the DISCLOSE Act through the House, 219-206. After making a few tweaks to try and court the vote of moderate Republicans, the Senate leadership brought the DISCLOSE Act to the floor. However, the bill was not able to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster and was voted down, 57-41.
House Vote 111-2-391, June 24, 2010 / Senate Vote (Cloture on Motion to Proceed) 111-2- 220, July 27, 2010
The AED Bill Scorecard – Senate Votes
1. Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
See discussion under House Vote 1.
2. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
See discussion under House Vote 2.
3. Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (Cloture)
See discussion under House Vote 3.
4. Lincoln Estate Tax Budget Amendment
The estate tax remains a hot topic on Capitol Hill. Under the 2001 tax bill, in 2009, the rate was 45 percent (with a $3.5 million exemption) and the tax was phased out for 2010. The levy on family owned businesses is scheduled to jump back to pre-2001 levels of 55 percent ($1 million exemption) in 2011 if Congress does not act.
On April 2, 2009, estate tax foes scored an important victory when the Senate voted 51-48 in favor of an amendment to the FY 2010 Senate budget resolution (S.CON.RES.13) proposed by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The amendment would have increased the estate tax exemption to $5 million and established a 35 percent tax on the value of decedent assets over the exemption (indexed for inflation). Unfortunately, the amendment was dropped during conference negotiations between the House and Senate in favor of a continuation of the 2009 rates.
Ideally, Congress would fully repeal the estate tax. However, with growing budget deficits and the Democrats controlling the House and the Senate, full repeal is unrealistic. Consequently, AED views the Lincoln-Kyl proposal as a reasonable solution to solve the uncertainty surrounding the estate tax.
Senate Vote 111-1-146, April 2, 2009
5. $7 billion Highway Trust Fund Patch
See discussion under House Vote 6.
6. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
See discussion under House Vote 9.
7. Nomination of Craig Becker, to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board
The Senate dealt labor unions a major blow by rejecting the nomination of Craig Becker, one of President Obama’s nominees to serve on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Becker, a union attorney, had stated extensively that the NLRB could accomplish the goals of Employee Free Choice Act (“card check”) without congressional action.
Becker was unable to garner the 60 votes (52-33) needed to break a Republican filibuster. Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) joined a united Republican front in opposition to Becker.
Unfortunately, unions were able to pressure Obama to circumvent the Senate and on March 27, 2010, Becker received a recess appointment to the NLRB.
Senate Vote 111-2-22, Feb. 9, 2010
8. Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act
See discussion Under House Vote 8.
9. Resolution to Overturn EPA’s Endangerment Finding for Greenhouse Gases (Motion to Proceed)
With a comprehensive climate change and energy bill stalled in Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started moving ahead with the rulemaking process to regulate greenhouse gases.
In December 2009, the EPA issued two findings, both focused on greenhouse gas emissions. The first, an “endangerment finding,” determined that the accumulation of greenhouse gases threatens the public health of “current and future generations.” The second, a “cause finding,” stated greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and engines contribute to the public health threat.
The EPA’s conclusions permit unelected bureaucrats and Obama administration appointees to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through agency rulemaking. Consequently, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a joint resolution (S.J. Res. 26) that would effectively overturn the EPA’s finding that the agency has the power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
If the EPA’s endangerment were nullified, the agency would have difficulty regulating greenhouse gases, leaving the issue for Congress to consider. The motion to proceed to consideration of the resolution failed 53-47, despite several Democrats joining Murkowski’s effort.
Senate Vote 111-2-184 (Motion to Proceed), June 10, 2010
10. DISCLOSE Act (Cloture on Motion to Proceed)
See discussion under House Vote 10.
About the Authors
Daniel Fisher is AED director of government affairs, and Jason Langford is AED manager of government affairs
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