Tag Archives: Farm Bill

The Session From Nowhere

Capitol DomeThe members of the 113th Congress have almost managed the impossible — to beat the Do-Nothing Congress of 1947-48, the one excoriated for enacting only 395 bits of legislation. [USAT]

Bills Enacted by session of Congress*the 113th Congress is still in session.

Not only is the last column in the graphic painfully small, but it becomes even more pathetic when we look at a graphic illustration of the number of bill which even made it to an up or down vote:

Bills up or down by Session 1973-2013Not only has the 113th Congress not enacted any legislation, it hasn’t even brought many bills to the floor for a vote.

It is one thing to crow about protecting the huddled masses from iniquitous laws, and quite another to simply obstruct the entire process by not even considering them.  From a technical perspective the Republican controlled 113th’s obstruction is a function of the misuse of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate and the absurd application of the ephemeral “Hastert Rule” in the House which asserts that legislation which doesn’t have the support of the majority party’s caucus will never reach the floor.  There is also the matter of legislation passing the House which has absolutely no chance in the Senate, and was never intended to have any life in that body, bills simply passed to pad the records or to make a display.  Witness the number of attempts to rescind Roe v. Wade.  The technical obstructionism of the Tea Party Republicans requires some heavy lifting in the justification department.

The previous “low” for Congressional enactment was the 112th Congress’s record of 284 bills to be sent to the White House, thus far by GovTrack’s count the 113th has managed only 56.   As the Nevada Progressive calls it, Less isn’t More.   What’s left on the table?

The Farm Bill – both houses have passed their own versions, and in the lovely but over-simplified “I’m Just A Bill On Capitol Hill” this should lead to a conference to hammer out a compromise bill which can be passed in both wings of the building.  The conference is in progress [WaPo] but there’s little progress to report.  “Competing House and Senate proposals remain tens of billions of dollars apart — the Senate proposes slashing about $4 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade, while the House would cut nearly $40 billion,” [WaPo] and the chasm remains.   For those who are unrepentant clock watchers, the House and Senate are facing a January 1 deadline.

ENDA – (Employee Non-Discrimination Act)  The Senate passed this bill, S. 815, on November 7, 2013 on a 64-32 vote. [rc 232] Even conservative Republican Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) assisted with passage in the Senate, however the bill may die in the House:

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said in an emailed statement. Other House Republicans have been outspoken against the bill, arguing that it imposes on the religious liberties of business owners and managers. Although, there is a religious exemption under the law that protects churches and other religious institutions from being penalized under ENDA.” [USNWR]

The “increase in frivolous litigation” argument is boilerplate language applied by the GOP to any and all legislation pertaining to human or civil rights.  The House version, H.R. 1755, with 200 co-sponsors, has made it as far as the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice [Thomas] to which it was assigned on June 14, 2013 — and no further.  Sub-Committee membership includes Chairman  Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ),  Rep. Steve King (R-IA), and the memorable logician Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Neverland), among the eight Republicans facing five Democrats. [USHSCCJ]  Hope that H.R. 1755 will emerge from this conglomeration of Tea Party favorites must be slim indeed.

Comprehensive Immigration Policy Reform – The Senate’s version, S. 744, passed the Senate on June 27, 2013 on a 68-32 vote. [Thomas] It, too, has entered the House of No Return.  There are 11 pieces of the measure, or bills related to the measure, in various stages of decay in the House.  [Thomas]

 Common Sense Gun Regulations –  Polling conducted by Pew Research in May 2013 showed 81% of Americans in favor of universal background checks for gun purchases.  Including 81% support among Republicans and 83% support from Democrats. [Pew]  Massive support notwithstanding – the bill was filibustered in the Senate.  [WaPo]   Senator Heller voted to support the GOP filibuster on April 17, 2013 [rc 97], one of the 46 members of that body who voted to kill the bill.

JOBS –  Let’s look at our infrastructure needs by drilling down to one bill as an example. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced the SAFE Bridges Act of 2013 (H.R. 2428) on June 19, 2013.  “Directs the Secretary of Transportation (DOT) to establish a program to assist states to rehabilitate or replace bridges found to be structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, or fracture critical. Requires states to use apportioned program funds for projects to rehabilitate and replace such bridges. Sets the federal share of project costs at 100%.”   Rehabilitating or replacing insubstantial or dysfunctional bridges would be a blessing for the stumbling construction sector.  It would also, indeed, make us safer.

One in nine of American bridges are rates structurally deficient by the ASCE. [Report Card pdf] And, some 200 million trips are taken every day in this country over deficient bridges in 102 American metropolitan regions.   At least we made it over the river (and through the woods) to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving… now we have to do it again for Christmas?  The ASCE is clear that just because we’ve not worried about our infrastructure doesn’t mean we shouldn’t:

“Most of America’s infrastructure was built after WWII.  These investments of the 20th century spurred our nation’s economic boom and made us a global power. Today, quite simply, that tab is coming due. Australia currently spends 2.4% of GDP on capital investment, compared to 0.60% by the U.S.  Canada’s federal government investment in infrastructure is approximately 2.9% of GDP. And though our percentages of GDP spent on infrastructure are indeed comparable to Germany, in 2011, Germany adopted a five-year, $52 billion federal Framework Investment Plan for infrastructure. The question facing our country is are we going to maintain our 20th century foundation while making new investments for a prosperous 21st century. This is a unique challenge. America’s economy must lead the world, and as such, the foundation of that economy—our infrastructure—should lead the way. ” [ASCE]

The sputtering of conservative think tanks about the efficacy of public-private partnerships is singularly insufficient to address the massive infrastructure and transportation needs faced by this nation.   Meanwhile, Rep. Rahall’s bill sits in the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit — and has done so since the day after it was introduced. [Thomas]

A more comprehensive bill, the American Jobs Act, was re-introduced by Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL) in the 113th Congress [HuffPo]

“According to independent analysts including Moody’s Economy, the American Jobs Act would mean up to 1.9 million new jobs.  The bill would provide tax cuts to tens of millions of low- to moderate-income Americans and stop layoffs of teachers, firefighters, and other public workers.  To ensure that the bill does not add to the federal budget deficit, it includes a series of cost-saving changes to the taxation of hedge fund investment income as well as cuts to corporate subsidies.  In addition to the provisions from President Obama’s original bill, the new 2013 American Jobs Act includes a simple provision to cancel the reckless, across-the-board budget cuts known as Sequestration for the coming fiscal years.”  [Wilson]

H.R. 2821 was assigned to the appropriate House committees on July 24, 2013, and then went to the land of No Return.

It’s not like we don’t have enough to do … it’s just that there is a Congress, especially the House of Representatives, which has demonstrated its incapacity to address the issues which need to be discussed and faced rationally, and to work for the American people.  The House Calendar (pdf) for the 113th first session Congress is “pretty blank,” and the second session is even further reduced.  The problem of un-productivity is exacerbated by the lack of  work time allotted to actually Doing anything.

President Harry Truman thought he had a problem with the 80th Congress when he spoke at a campaign stop in Elizabeth, New Jersey on October 7, 1948:

“Some people say I ought not to talk so much about the Republican 80th “do-nothing” Congress in this campaign.  I will tell you why I will talk about it.  If two-thirds of the people stay at home again on election day as they did in 1946, and if we get another Republican Congress like the 80th Congress, it will be controlled by the same men who controlled that 80th Congress–the Tabers and the Tafts, the Martins and the Hallecks–would be the bosses.  The same men would be the bosses, the same as those who passed the Taft-Hartley Act, and passed the rich man’s tax bill, and took Social Security away from a million workers.”  [SpeechesUSA]

Heaven bless him, he never had to work with the 113th lead by Representatives Boehner, Cantor, and the likes of Louie  Gohmert.

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More? Heck, Amodei answer Oliver Twist’s Question

Oliver TwistRepresentatives Heck (R-NV3) and Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of H.R. 2642, the Food Stamp Free Farm Bill, which passed the House on a 216-208 vote on July 11, 2013. [roll call 353]  Lovely.  However, might I be excused for asking about the “Pro-Life” bona fides of the two conservative representatives from the Silver State when it’s laudable to decry a woman’s right to choose the medical procedures necessary to terminate a problematic pregnancy, or even to deplore the use of contraceptives  — BUT once the child is born it is equally laudable to criticize the profligacy of women who have “too many children” and therefore require public assistance to feed them?

That said, two of Nevada’s Congressional representatives have voted to cut food assistance to approximately 156,319 households in this state.

“In 2011, 12% (332,959) of the population participated in SNAP in Nevada, which is 3% less than the average for all SNAP Participation and Benefits.

In 2011, 16% (156,319) of the households participated in SNAP in Nevada, which is 2% less than the average for all SNAP Participation and Benefits.”  [NVSNAP]

What benefit has been slashed?  The average individual benefit in NV as of 2011 was $124 per month.   Who are the people assisted by this meager benefit?  71% of all SNAP participants are families with children.   26% of all Nevada SNAP participants are families with elderly or disabled individuals. 42% of all Nevada participants are WORKING. [CBPP pdf]

The GOP’s stereotypical imagery of the food stamp recipient as a loafer consuming brew on the porch steps while “hard working” Americans underwrite his existence is just that — an marketable image for ideological consumption, a stereotype suitable for assuaging the I Got Mine You Try To Get Yours Sucker self-serving philosophy of selfishness.

It appears this stereotype is alive and well and vivid for at least two of Nevada’s Congressional representatives, Dicken’s beadle would have been proud.  Representative Titus (D-NV1) voted against the bill, Representative Horsford is recorded as not voting.

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Farm Bill Tom Foolery

PlowThe House of Representatives of the United States of America was supposed to pass a Farm Bill (HR 1947) on June 20, 2013 but that didn’t happen, and the actions of Nevada Representatives Heck and Amodei weren’t helpful.

Head counters, AKA the Whips, were fairly certain there would be about 40 votes from the Democratic side of the aisle for passage.  Let’s review the basic numbers.  There are 234 Republican Representatives and there are 201 Democrats.  There are no Independents.  Given these numbers, the House Republicans could theoretically pass any bill they want without Democratic assistance.  Since they’ve voted some 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights it’s reasonable to assume there is some cohesion in the majority.

So, why did the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (HR 1947) go down on roll call vote 286 with a 195-234 count?

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) was among the 195 voting in favor of the bill. Representatives Heck (R-NV3), Horsford (D-NV4), and Titus (D-NV1) were counted among the 234 opposed.  Why did those 40 Democratic votes vanish?

There wasn’t much Democratic support for the House version of the Farm Bill to begin with, estimates of 70 Democratic votes were probably too optimistic in the first place, and if Rep. Collin Peterson (R-MN7) is to be believed the straws that broke the old camel’s back were amendments brought to the floor which decimated the SNAP (food stamp) programs.

“And then, you know, we had made a deal on food stamps where I agreed to more cuts than we had considered last year, but I thought we had a deal that there weren’t going to be any other…that we were going to stand together to oppose any other changes in the food stamp area, but that’s not what happened. And three amendments got approved, that each one of them peeled off more support, so we got down to 24 votes, and that wasn’t enough.”  [Peterson, pdf]

The Southerland Amendment was the last straw — the “deal was off” as far as the few remaining House Democratic supporters were concerned.  This amendment was passed on a 227-198 margin [vote 284] with both Amodei and Heck voting in favor of the deal killing amendment.  House Amendment 231 (Southerland) proposed “An amendment numbered 102 printed in Part B of House Report 113-117 to apply federal welfare work requirements to the food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at state option.”

The federal welfare work rules are: “The Federal government provides assistance through TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). TANF is a grant given to each state to run their own welfare program. To help overcome the former problem of unemployment due to reliance on the welfare system, the TANF grant requires that all recipients of welfare aid must find work within two years of receiving aid, including single parents who are required to work at least 30 hours per week opposed to 35 or 55 required by two parent families. Failure to comply with work requirements could result in loss of benefits.”  [WI.org]  Rep. Eric Cantor was only too pleased to see these requirements added to the qualifications for the SNAP program. [Cantor] Cantor acknowledged the need to assist citizens in dire need but added, “our overriding goal should be to help our citizens with the education and skills they need to get back on their feet so that they can provide for themselves and their families.”

The last point goes absolutely nowhere toward explaining why the House hasn’t taken up legislation to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling from 3.4% to 6.8% next Monday — but, that’s another story.  Or, why in the midst of innumerable anti-choice bills there hasn’t been time for a JOBS Bill… but that’s yet another story.

The GOP axe job on the SNAP program probably wasn’t going to secure the total support of Representatives Horsford and Titus, and Rep. Titus’s interest may indeed have declined precipitously when her amendment, H. Amdt. 192, “to continue the USDA’s Hunger-Free Communities grant program,” failed on a voice vote.

Representative Amodei may one day have to explain why he voted for the Farm Bill, AND also voted for the amendment (Southerland H.Amdt. 231) which was the Deal Killer.   Mother always repeated the old saw, “Can’t have your cake and …..”

Representative Heck behaved precisely as one might expect of a Tea Party Darling, voting against the Farm Bill and voting for the Southerland Amendment.   There’s no time, and I’ve no enthusiasm for explaining yet again, the role of Automatic Stabilizers in the U.S. economy (such as Food Stamps) to a Representative who obviously doesn’t understand and evidently doesn’t want to.

Suffice it to say that a bill was reported out of House Committees, and then subjected to recorded votes on amendments from vote 256 to to 284 (not including the voice vote amendments).  It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the final bill failed after minority support was peeled off during successive waves of amendments.

What is a bit incredible is that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) couldn’t have foreseen the cumulative effect of the amendments on Democratic supporters of H.R. 1947.

Representative Cantor’s feeble attempt to lay the defeat of the Farm Bill at the office doors of Democrats who watched as “deal breaker” amendments were added to the legislation on the floor notwithstanding, perhaps the Washington Wags are on to something — Speaker Boehner cannot control his own caucus.   Brokering a “deal,” and then allowing amendments to come to the floor for recorded votes — amendments which are designed to deplete the store of minority good will — is a recipe for failure.

However, if the Speaker and his Party, are willing to offer the American public the governance philosophy that Nothing is Better Than Anything then he’s been successful.   If this is “success” then how to explain the tanking of Congressional approval?  The Congress of these United States now has an historically low approval rating — a rather miserable 10%.  [Gallup]

This sad state of affairs doesn’t bode well for some important measures which should be coming to the House floor — Immigration Reform, Student Loan interest rates, and JOBS, JOBS, Jobs, Jobs?

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