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Here's What's Happening in Congress:

11 January 2008
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Congress is in a pro forma session right now, meaning that they are meeting every couple of days or so for a matter of minutes or even seconds to prevent being in an official adjournment. They are not currently considering legislation or taking any votes. However, before they left for Christmas, they did make some noteworthy moves. Here is a recap.



The Senate on December 14 passed the Farm Bill, HR 2419, which reauthorizes subsidy programs until 2012 and adds certain programs for subsidies for fruit and vegetable producers, for land conservation, and for renewable fuel development, among other things. This bill originally passed the House in an earlier form in July by a vote of 231-191 and passed the Senate in an amended form by a vote of 79-14. Look for a summary on the Senate version to appear in the coming days.

(Remember when looking at how people voted on our website, that you can change the organization. If you want to see the votes sorted alphabetically by name, click "Name" at the top of that column. You can also sort by vote position by clicking "Vote" above the "Y"s and "N"s.)

During consideration of the Farm Bill, the Senate also considered a few amendments that garnered quite a bit of attention. In order to limit debate on the amendments to the bill, an agreement was reached that all amendments to the Farm bill would need 60 votes to pass the Senate. One of these amendments was Senate Amendment 3711. This amendment would have gradually eliminated direct payments and replaced them with government sponsored insurance. It failed the Senate by a vote of 37-58. Another amendment was Senate Amendment 3695, which failed the Senate by a vote of 56-43 (again, these amendments needed 60 votes to pass). This amendment would have limited the amount of subsidies that a married couple may receive to $250,000 and required that any individual or entity receiving subsidies must be actively involved in a farming operation. Another amendment was Senate Amendment 3810, which would have placed caps on the level of adjusted income part-time and full-time farmers, ranchers, and foresters could have in order to qualify for subsidies. This amendment failed by a vote of 48-47.

On December 11, the House voted to pass H Res 847, which recognizes the importance Christmas and the Christian faith, affirms the role of Christianity in the founding of the U.S., and rejects persecution against Christians in the U.S. and around the world. This resolution passed the House by a vote of 372-9.

The conference version of HR 1585, the Defense Authorization Bill, passed the House by a vote of 370-49. This bill provides authorizations for funding for the Department of Defense, and establishes and extends programs related to the Department of Defense. It passed the Senate 90-3 and has been presented to the President.

HR 4299 is a bill that extends and expands the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program, which is a program whereby the government assists the insurance sector in the case of a terrorist attack. It passed the House by a vote of 303-116.

This year there has been a lot of attention given to the alternative minimum tax again. This tax was created a few decades ago in an effort to get the most wealthy households in the country to pay a minimum amount of tax; they were able to avoid most income tax using investments. The alternative minimum tax has never been tied to inflation and has therefore applied to more households as time has gone on, causing a resistance to build. HR 4351 would extend the alternative minimum tax credit and increase the amount of income exempt from the tax, among other changes. It passed the House by a vote of 226-193.

HR 3996 also extends the alternative minimum tax credit through the taxable year of 2007. The House concurred in the Senate amendments to this bill by a vote of 352-64, sending it to the President.

HR 6, the energy bill, has been going back and forth between the House and the Senate. Rather than sending the bill to a conference committee, the two chambers have been concurring in each others amendments and adding their own amendments and sending it back to each other. On Dec. 13, the Senate agreed to concur again in the House amendments with their own amendments. The Senate concurrence vote passed 86-8. The House then concurred in the Senate amendments without adding new amendments by a vote of 314-100, sending the bill to President Bush.

Also on December 13, the House passed HR 2082 to authorize appropriations for intelligence activities, limit interrogation techniques to those outlined in the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations, and require certain reports to Congress. This bill passed the House 222-199.

As you can see, Congress voted on quite a bit of notable legislation before starting their holiday break. We're almost through it, though. However, we can't stop without mentioning HR 2764, the bill that funds the government. This bill started out as an appropriations bill for the Department of State, but because of the delays in passing most of the annual appropriations bills, an omnibus appropriations bill was drafted to fund the government for the fiscal year that started on October 1. If you need a refresher on how appropriations bills are organized, click here.

As I just mentioned, HR 2764 started as the appropriations bill for the Department of State. It passed the House that way back in June and passed the Senate back in September with an amendment. In December, the House voted to concur in the Senate amendment and to add appropriations for most of the rest of the government, as well. This vote went 253-154. That was on December 17. A few minutes after that, the House held another vote to add funding for operations in Afghanistan to the bill. This vote passed 206-201. The House then sent the bill over to the Senate. The Senate then voted to concur with the House's amendment to add funding for operations in Afghanistan, but only after adding funding for operations in Iraq. This vote went 70-25. Then the Senate voted to concur with the House's amendment to add the consolidated appropriations to fund the government. This vote went 76-17. The Senate then sent the bill back to the House so the House could concur in the addition of funding for operations in Iraq. The House concurred in the amendment to add funding for operations in Iraq by a vote of 272-142.

If you have any questions about what any of these particular votes means, or any other questions about the legislative process or particular pieces of legislation, please call us at 1-888-VOTE-SMART (1-888-868-3762) or email us at comments@votesmart.org and we will be happy to help you be the Informed Voter.

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