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Here's What's Happening in Congress:

21 August 2008
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Here we are continuing the brief review of the votes taken before the Congressional August recess. To view other blog posts from over the last sixteen months or so, click here.

On July 17, the House voted on HR 6515, a bill on oil exploration. This bill would facilitate drilling in Alaska and also try to encourage oil exploration on land already leased. The bill was considered under a suspension of the normal rules, meaning debate was limited and amendments were not allowed to be offered. When a bill is considered under a suspension of the rules like this, a two-thirds vote is required to pass it. The House voted 244-173 on this bill, but because the vote fell short of that two-thirds mark it failed (summary). Remember that when viewing any PVS summary, you can click "How members voted" in the upper right to view the yeas and nays on that vote.

Tax revenue collected on gasoline has been lower this year than projected, leading to a decrease in the size of the Highway Trust Fund. The House voted 387-37 on July 23 to pass HR 6532 (summary). This bill would transfer about $8 billion from the general fund in the Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund. It passed 387-37 and is currently sitting in the Senate Finance Committee.

Also on July 23, the House had a vote to pass HR 3221, the high profile housing assistance bill that contains many tax-related provisions and provisions addressing housing assistance and loan assistance programs. This bill raises the national debt limit to $10.62 trillion from $9.82 trillion, expands federal mortgage insurance programs, provides grants to states to redevelop abandoned properties, imposes loan limitations on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and imposes other regulations on these two companies, provides a tax credit for first time home buyers that they will have to repay over the fifteen years following the purchase of their home, and provides a property tax deduction for the state and local property taxes paid, with a limit of $500 for an individual and $1000 for a joint filing (summary). The Senate concurred with the House version by a vote of 72-13 (summary) and the President signed it into law on July 30.

The next day the House voted on HR 3999, a bill that would authorize around $1 billion for the rebuilding of structurally deficient bridges (summary). It passed 367-55.

S 3186, a bill that would provide a $2.53 billion supplemental appropriation to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for fiscal year 2008 (which ends on October 1) was brought up in the Senate on July 26. In the Senate, debate on legislation is unlimited. Often to place a limit on debate, a cloture vote will be taken. To invoke cloture on a piece of legislation, 60 of the 100 Senators must vote yes on a cloture vote. Usually if a cloture vote passes, a passage vote on the bill comes immediately afterward. If a cloture vote fails, it tends to be difficult to pass a bill through the Senate. The cloture vote on the motion to take up debate on S 3186 failed 50-35 (summary). This bill is still on the Senate calendar, meaning it could potentially be taken up again at any time but there is no guarantee that a bill on the calendar ever will come to the floor.

The House voted on July 30 to pass HR 1108, a bill that would authorize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco. This bill prohibits most cigarette flavorings and gives the FDA the power to regulate labeling requirements and ingredient levels, among other things. This bill also places certain limits on the FDA's regulatory ability, including prohibiting the FDA from banning tobacco products altogether, requiring zero nicotene levels, or raising the minimum legal age of tobacco use to an age higher than 18. The bill passed the House 326-102 (summary). This bill is currently in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

The Senate adopted the conference report on HR 4137 on July 31. HR 4137 made certain changes to student assistance and the relationships between colleges and lenders, including raising the maximum annual Pell grant, requiring textbook manufacturers to disclose costs of materials when faculty members are selecting texts, requiring the Secretary of Education to post an online list of the most expensive and least expensive colleges, and requiring colleges with the largest tuition increases to disclose the causes of the increases (summary). This bill passed the Senate 83-8. The House also passed the conference report by a vote of 380-49 (summary). The President signed this bill into law on August 14.

Also on July 31, the U.S. Senate passed the conference report for HR 4040. This bill increases funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission and creates new consumer product safety standards, including setting new maximum lead and other levels in children's toys, prohibiting the sales of three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) until a mandatory consumer safety standard is in effect, and requiring businesses to disclose the manufacturers of their products upon request by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (summary). This conference report passed the Senate 89-3. This bill was signed into law by the President on August 14.

HR 1338, the Unequal Pay Bill, passed the House on July 31. This bill makes changes to the enforcement of prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages and authorizes $15 million for the purposes of this bill. This bill allows the Department of Labor to make grants available to states and non-profits that provide training programs for women and girls to develop negotiation skills, creates a National Award for Pay Equity in the Workplace to be given to employers that have made efforts to eliminate pay disparities between men and women, and requires the Department of Labor to make information on pay disparities readily available to the public (summary). The bill passed the House 247-178 and is now in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

That concludes our recap of the key votes taken by Congress before their August recess. If you would like more information or have any questions, please call us at 1-888-VOTE-SMART (1-888-868-3762) or email us at and we will be happy to assist you. Good day.

Related tags: 2008, blog, key-votes

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