Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hits and Misses during the past week in the Lame Duck 111th Congress

The Senate had an idea, proposed by Delaware's Democratic Senator Tom Carper and Oklahoma's Republican Senator Tom Coburn, that the person running the Census Bureau should be qualified in running a large organization. They introduced S. 3167, the Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act of 2010.

Senator Lieberman, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reported the bill favorably with written report Number 111-351. S. 3167 passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent.

S. 3167 did not pass in the House despite receiving a majority of votes from the Members of the House. The bill was brought up on a Suspension of the Rules basis which means it needed a ⅔ majority to pass. The vote was on Roll Call 629 where 201 Members voted for S. 3167 and 167 Members voted against the measure. A ⅔ majority required 245 votes of those Members present and voting. If the Rules Committee submits a Rule for S. 3167 then it can be submitted for passage needing only a simple majority to pass.

H.R. 2965, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell passed the House on Roll Call Vote 368 by a margin of 250 Members in favor to 175 opposed. The bill has been sent to the Senate where on a motion by Nevada's Democratic Senator, Harry Reid it was referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services with the House message accompanying HR 2965, "with instructions to report back forthwith with amendment SA 4829 made in Senate".

Senate Amendment 4829 directs that at the end of the text the following is inserted: The Senate Armed Services Committee is requested to conduct a study on the impact of implementing these provisions on the family of military members. Senator Reid then proposed Senate Amendment 4830, an Amendment to Senate Amendment 4829 proposing that at the end of the text the following should be added: ” and that the study should focus attention on the dependent children''.

Meanwhile, Senator Liebermann [I-CT] introduced, together with 49 cosponsors, S. 4023, which is an exact duplicate of H.R. 2965. The Senate need not act directly on H.R. 2965 if it passes S. 4023 as drafted. Since the two are identical the legislation is considered to be enrolled and may be sent to the President.

Apparently a major disadvantage to hybrid and all electric motor vehicles is something Detroit has been selling as an advantage for years: a quiet ride. The new vehicles are so quiet that persons with disabilities of sight and hearing are put at risk. Normal cars and trucks, as quiet as automobile manufacturers have tried to make them, make enough noise so that a person with these disabilities is not likely to step out in front of them and be struck. Not so with these new ultra quiet vehicles.

That's why Massachusetts' Democratic Senator, John Kerry, introduced S. 841, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010. This bill directs the Secretary of Transportation to study and report to Congress on the minimum level of sound that is necessary to be emitted from a motor vehicle, or some other method, to alert blind and other pedestrians of the presence of operating motor vehicles while traveling. It is expected the new standards will apply to vehicles operating at slow speeds and not be required at highway speeds.

S. 841 passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent. It sailed through the House, where it was brought up on a Suspension of the Rules motion requiring a ⅔ majority. S. 841 passed the House on Roll Call 640 with 379 Members voting in favor and 30 voting against the bill. The measure required 273 votes to pass.

S. 841 has been cleared to be sent to the White House for the President's signature.

S. 3447, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 has also been cleared to be sent to the White House for the President's signature. This bill is the first major overhaul of G.I. benefits since 9/11. S. 3447 was introduced by Hawaii's Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka, with 35 cosponsors. The bill passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent. Having been brought up in the House on a motion to Suspend the Rules, the bill needed a ⅔ majority for passage. There were 402 Members in favor and 3 opposed on Roll Call 642.

At the end of May the House passed H. R. 5136, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 by a margin of 229 to 186 on Roll Call 336. That bill went to the Senate, where it was buried. H.R. 6523 is the new incarnation of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. This version passed the House by a much wider margin with 341 Members in favor and 48 opposed to the measure. A ⅔ majority of 260 votes was needed since the bill came up on a motion to Suspend the Rules.

H.R. 5136 , the CBO estimated ,would authorize appropriations totaling $726 billion for fiscal year 2011 for the military functions of the Department of Defense (DoD), for certain activities of the Department of Energy (DOE), and for other purposes. That total includes $159 billion for the cost of overseas contingency operations, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also would authorize an additional $34 billion for fiscal year 2010 for costs associated with those operations and for DoD relief efforts associated with the recent earthquake in Haiti. In addition, H.R. 5136 would prescribe personnel strengths for each active-duty and selected reserve component of the U.S. armed forces. CBO estimates that appropriation of the authorized amounts would result in outlays of $749 billion over the 2010-2015 period..

H.R. 6523, the CBO estimates, will have the same net increase in the budget as H.R. 5136 for fiscal year 2011. That is $3,973,000,000. For fiscal year 2012 H.R. 2136 had a larger deficit reduction impact than does H.R. 6523 by $40 million. Over the next decade H.R. 5136 would have reduced the deficit by $15 million compared to H.R. 6523, which the CBO projects will reduce the deficit by only $2 million.

H.R. 6523 moves on to the Senate in the waning days of the lame duck session.

H.R. 2142, the Government Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Performance Improvement Act of 2010 failed to get a ⅔ majority vote after being brought up on a Suspension of the Rules motion. H.R. 2142 originally passed the House on a voice vote, June 16, 2010. The Senate passed the bill with an Amendment by Unanimous Consent. The bill failed to get the requisite 229 votes of those Members present and voting.

The CBO report says that H.R. 2142 would amend the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), requiring federal agencies to define their missions and evaluate their performance. Specifically, the legislation would require federal agencies to expand their efforts to track and improve performance by: providing the Congress and the public with additional information on their current plans; incorporating their management goals and improvement plans into the GPRA performance evaluation process; and providing information on their performance via the Internet. In addition, the legislation would require training for employees who analyze and evaluate government programs, a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a study by the Office of Personnel Management regarding the evaluation of government programs.

H.R. 5510, the Aiding Those Facing Foreclosure Act of 2010 failed to garner a ⅔ majority required because it was brought up on a motion to Suspend the Rules.

This bill Amends the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to use otherwise unobligated amounts under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to enable nonprofit counseling intermediaries and nonprofit legal organizations to provide legal assistance to homeowners of owner-occupied homes consisting of from one to four dwelling units whose mortgages are in default or delinquency, in danger of default or delinquency, or subject to or at risk of foreclosure (including any deed in lieu of foreclosure or short sale).

Although the bill got a majority vote on Roll Call 655, 210 Members in favor and 145 Members opposed, it failed to get to the votes needed, in this case 237. Note: 78 Members did not vote!

Senator Barbara Boxer, [D-CA], introduced S. 3874, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. This bill passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent and managed to get the required ⅔ vote needed in the House when a bill is brought up on a motion to Suspend the Rules. On Roll Call 656 there were 226 Members in favor and 109 opposed. The magic number this time was 224.

This bill Amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to exempt from prohibitions on the use or sale of lead pipes, solder, and flux: (1) pipes or pipe or plumbing fittings or fixtures, including backflow preventers, that are used exclusively for nonpotable services such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering or any other uses where the water is not anticipated to be used for human consumption; or (2) toilets, bidets, urinals, fill valves, flushometer valves, tub fillers, shower valves, service saddles, or water distribution main gate valves that are two inches in diameter or larger.

Redefines "lead free" under such Act to mean: (1) not containing more than 0.2% lead when used with respect to solder and flux (current law); and (2) not more than a weighted average of 0.25% lead when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes and pipe and plumbing fittings and fixtures. Establishes a formula to calculate the weighted average lead content of a pipe or pipe or plumbing fitting or fixture.

Now if Senator Boxer could only manage to get the lead out of the Senate!

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