, Salem, MA

December 12, 2011

Brown bucks GOP, votes to appoint Cordray as Consumer Protection chief: Roll Call for week of Dec. 5

Voterama in Congress
Salem News

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Here’s how members of the Massachusetts delegation in Congress voted on major issues the week of Dec. 5:


DISPUTE OVER RURAL DUST: Voting 268 for and 150 against, the House on Dec. 8 sent the Senate a Republican bill (HR 1633) to bar any new Environmental Protection Agency regulation of coarse-particle dust generated by farming and certain other activities in rural areas. Republicans advanced the bill even after EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said there will be no such regulation.

 The bill addresses particulate matter greater than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Additionally, it assigns state, local and tribal governments the lead role in regulating fine-particle “nuisance dust” prevalent in rural areas from activities such as earth moving and driving on unpaved roads.

Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said: “Regulation of farm dust is a problem today and will only continue to be a problem ... if we do not pass this bill.” The bill “doesn’t eliminate any regulations. It simply leaves the regulation of rural dust to the states and to the local communities who best understand how to manage what is happening in their own backyard.”

John Dingell, D-Mich., called the bill “a magnificent solution to a nonexistent problem. But it’s made a lot of money for a lot of lobbyists, and a lot of industrial polluters are going to enjoy this, hiding behind the supposed benefit that it’s going to give to the farmers. ... This legislation is not going to help the farmers | it’s going to help the people who farm the farmers.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: None

Voting no: John Olver, D-Amherst; Richard Neal, D-Springfield; James McGovern, D-Worcester; Barney Frank, D-Newton; Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell; John Tierney, D-Salem; Edward Markey, D-Malden; Michael

Capuano, D-Somerville; Stephen Lynch, D-Boston; William Keating, D-Quincy.  

Not voting:   None

RULES FOR `NUISANCE’ DUST: Voting 165 for and 249 against, the House on Dec. 8 defeated an amendment to preserve Clean Air Act authority to regulate what HR 1633 (above) defines as “nuisance dust.” The bill coins the term to characterize dust from rural sources such as unpaved roads, earth-moving equipment and certain farming activities.

Critics said the definition is broad enough to include toxic soot from industrial activities in rural areas such as cement plants, open-pit mines and coal-processing plants. The bill would shift to non-federal agencies the power to regulate this category of particulate matter.

Edward Markey, D-Mass., said “when most people hear the word `nuisance’ they think of things like honking horns, telemarketers and buzzing flies. They don’t think of poison. By preventing EPA from regulating the toxic soot spewing out of mining operations, smelters, chemical facilities and construction sites, Republicans have apparently decided that poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, lead and mercury are mere nuisances.”

Lee Terry, R-Neb., said that under the bill, poisonous “emissions of arsenic ... would still be in violation of EPA rules,” but “if you’re going to move the goalpost to a zero particulate, then we’ve got a different issue here.”  He said nuisance dust is that “from agricultural activities | plowing, harvesting, driving on roads” that “consists primarily of soil and other natural and biological materials.”

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Neal, McGovern, Frank, Tsongas, Tierney, Markey, Capuano, Lynch, Keating  

Voting no:   None

Not voting: Olver

CONGRESSIONAL VETO OF REGULATIONS: Voting 241 for and 184 against, the House on Dec. 7 sent the Senate a bill (HR 10) empowering either chamber to kill major new rules proposed by agencies. Under present law, major rules take effect unless Congress votes disapproval. Under this bill, they could take effect only if Congress votes approval, and either chamber could kill a new rule by sitting on it for 70 days.

Agencies issue an average of 80 major rules each year to implement laws enacted by Congress.  About 50 have been issued so far this year, including ones to set Medicare payment rates for inpatient psychiatric care, require health warnings on cigarette packages and set clean-air standards for pollutants from industrial, commercial and institutional boilers.

Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said lawmakers “can hold the administration accountable for its unjustified regulatory assault on America’s job creators, and we can guarantee that Congress, not unelected agency officials, will be accountable for all new major regulatory costs.”

Rob Andrews, D-N.J., said that “for all these terrible regulations we keep hearing about that have been introduced this year, do you know how many times the (Republican) majority has brought to the floor a resolution to reject one of those regulations? Once.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: None

Voting no: Olver, Neal, McGovern, Frank, Tsongas, Tierney, Markey, Capuano, Lynch, Keating

Not voting:   None


CONSUMER PROTECTION CHIEF: Voting 53 for and 45 against, the Senate on Dec. 8 failed to end GOP blockage of the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Cordray, 52, is a former Ohio attorney general. Congress created the bureau as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. The bureau is based in and draws its budget from the Federal Reserve, but has independent powers to write and enforce rules against any firm “significantly involved” in selling financial services, such as companies dealing in home mortgages, Wall Street investing and pay-day lending. The director answers directly to the president.

Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said: Republicans “are saying they will not approve anyone to serve as the director of the consumer bureau unless we change the bureau. In other words, to protect their Wall Street friends ... we are not going to allow a director to be in place unless we weaken this agency.”

Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said: “After all the harm caused to consumers by financial regulators, it is time the (Democratic) majority stops using consumer protection as a political football. ... We can take the first step by reforming (this) bureau to make it accountable to the very consumers it purports to protect.”

A yes vote was to advance the nomination.

Voting yes: Scott Brown, R  

Voting no:  None

Not voting: John Kerry, D

DEMOCRATIC PAYROLL RATES: Voting 50 for and 48 against, the Senate on Dec. 8 failed to reach 60 votes for passing a Democratic bill (S 1944) to extend and expand this year’s temporary lowering of Social Security payroll taxes. In 2011, employees are contributing 4.2 percent of their pay up to $106,800 to the Social Security Trust Fund | down 2 percentage points from the standard 6.2-percent rate that will return Jan. 1 unless Congress renews the break. This bill would cut the Social Security tax on employees still further in 2012, to 3.1 percent of income up to $110,100.

The bill’s $185 billion cost would be recovered by imposing a 1.9-percent tax on adjusted gross income over $1 million; levying a 50 percent or 55 percent tax on unemployment compensation received by those with adjusted gross incomes over $1 million; denying food stamps to any household receiving income or assets valued at $1 million or more, and raising fees charged by the agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to mortgage lenders.

A yes vote was to advance the bill.

Voting yes: None

Voting no: Brown  

Not voting: Kerry

REPUBLICAN PAYROLL RATES: Voting 22 for and 76 against, the Senate on Dec. 8 defeated a Republican bill (S 1931) to renew for one year the existing law under which employees contribute 4.2 percent of their pay to the Social Security Trust Fund. The plan also would raise Medicare premiums for millionaires and billionaires. Republicans would offset lost revenue and generate $111 billion in deficit reduction mainly by gradually cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent and freezing federal workers’ pay through 2015.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Brown  

Voting no:   None

Not voting:  Kerry

CAITLIN HALLIGAN NOMINATION: Voting 54 for and 45 against, the Senate on Dec. 6 failed to reach 60 votes for ending a Republican filibuster against the nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan, 44, for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That court is regarded as the most powerful appellate panel because it hears federal cases with major nationwide impacts.

Halligan is general counsel for the New York County District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. She received the American Bar Association’s highest rating but was opposed by Republicans over views in areas such as gun control that they regard as too liberal. Her defenders said that with this vote, Republicans scrapped the Senate’s informal “Gang of 14” rule, which holds that judicial filibusters should be mounted only in “extraordinary” circumstances and not for ideological reasons.

Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told Republicans: “You cannot say that filibusters against judicial nominees are unconstitutional when you have a Republican president but suddenly support a filibuster when you have a Democratic president. This goes even beyond the standards that have driven the approval rating of Congress to an all-time low for hypocrisy.”

Mike Lee, R-Utah, said that as solicitor general of New York, Halligan “signed a legal brief arguing that handgun manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers should be held liable for criminal actions that individuals commit with those guns. ... Such an activist approach is both bewildering and inconsistent with the original understanding of the Second Amendment.”

A yes vote was to advance the nomination.

Voting yes: Kerry  

Voting no: Brown  

Not voting: None