By Mark Fischenich
WASHINGTON — Here's how area members of Congress voted on major issues in the week ending March 15.
STREAMLINED EMPLOYMENT PROGRAMS:
Voting 215 for and 202 against, the House on March 15 sent the Senate a Republican bill (HR 803) to consolidate 35 federal programs for job training, adult education and literacy education into a single, broad-based workforce program to be administered by the states as they see fit rather than by Washington.
The bill is a five-year renewal of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) to be funded at $6 billion annually through block grants controlled by governors.
The WIA historically has used targeted grants to fund the vocational needs of specific populations. Under this bill, groups such as dislocated workers in search of new skills, the disabled, returning veterans, the poor and migrant workers would compete against one another for available funds.
Ted Yoho, R-Fla., said the bill "is not restrictive to any group, be it gender or race, but is for all Americans. This bill will allow people to find gainful employment in the marketplace. This is what America is in dire need of right now...."
George Miller, D-Calif., said the bill was being rushed "to meet the deadline set by the majority leader (Eric Cantor) as part of a rebranding strategy. This bill is a political product that puts ideology over the practical solutions of evidence-based reforms...."
A yes vote was to pass the bill.
Voting yes: John Kline, R-2, Erik Paulsen, R-3, Michele Bachmann, R-6
Voting no: Tim Walz, D-1, Betty McCollum, D-4, Keith Ellison, D-5, Collin Peterson, D-7, Rick
Voting 184 for and 233 against, members defeated a bid by Democrats to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour as part of a GOP workplace bill (HR 803, above). This would be the first increase since 2009.
George Miller, D-Calif., said: "Let's reward work for people who go to work every day in very difficult jobs, sometimes very dirty jobs, sometimes very demeaning jobs....and at the end of the year they end up poor."
John Kline, R-Minn., said: "We need jobs out there. The best approach right now is to get federal spending under control and government out of the way of the nation's job creators."
A yes vote was to raise the minimum wage.
Voting yes: Walz, McCollum, Ellison, Nolan
Voting no: Kline, Paulsen, Bachmann, Peterson
DEMOCRATS' WORKFORCE PLAN:
Voting 192 for and 227 against, the House on March 15 defeated a Democratic alternative to HR 803 (above) that sought to retain but reform the existing Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Democrats proposed reviewing, pruning and consolidating the dozens of grant programs for specific populations.
The Democratic plan also struck language in the GOP bill that would increase the business community's representation on state workforce boards at the expense of seats held by non-business stakeholders such as unions and community colleges.
Jared Polis, D-Colo., called the GOP bill "essentially a slush fund for state governors...at the expense of groups that traditionally have high unemployment, including veterans who so capably served our country...."
Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the Democratic plan "adds to the confusion of the dizzying maze of existing programs. We should be streamlining our nation's workforce-development system, not making it more complicated for workers and job seekers."
A yes vote backed the Democratic plan.
Voting yes: Walz, McCollum, Ellison, Peterson, Nolan
Voting no: Kline, Paulsen, Bachmann
Voting 246-181, the House on March 13 passed a Republican bill (HR 890) to block a Department of Health and Human Services policy concerning work requirements in the 1996 welfare-reform law.
The policy allows states to try innovative strategies for moving individuals from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to work so long as the result is a higher percentage of welfare recipients finding jobs. Republicans say the policy would weaken the law, while Democrats say it would increase hiring.
Dave Camp, R-Mich., termed it "critical that our laws both foster job creation (and) ensure welfare is always a pathway to work."
Sander Levin, D-Mich., called the bill "a pure fabrication" of the facts of administration's welfare-to-work policy.
A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.
Voting yes: Kline, Paulsen, Bachmann, Peterson
Voting no: Walz, McCollum, Ellison, Nolan
2010 HEALTH-LAW REPEAL:
Voting 45 for and 52 against, the Senate on March 13 defeated a bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act until such time as the U.S. economy returns to annual growth in the range of 3-to-5 percent.
Economic growth was essentially flat in the fourth quarter of 2012 after reaching an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter. This amendment was offered to a bill (HR 933) still in debate that would fund the government between March 27 and Oct. 1 at an annual rate of $1.043 trillion.
Amendment sponsor Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said: "Obamacare includes more than 20 tax increases" and "will raise $1 trillion in taxes -- that's $1 trillion in the private sector that is not going to be available to hire new workers. Job losses in just the medical device industry...could total as many as 47,100, or 10 percent of...industry employment."
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said: "I wonder if (Cruz) saw the last election....The presidential candidate of the Republican Party said he wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He lost. President Obama, who initiated this and signed it into law, he won, quite convincingly. So the American people basically said, it's time to move on with the Affordable Care Act."
A yes vote backed the amendment.
Voting yes: None. Voting no: Al Franken, D, Amy Klobuchar, D
FEDERAL HIRING FREEZE:
Voting 45 for and 54 against, the Senate on March 14 defeated an amendment to HR 933 (above) to freeze the hiring of "non-essential" federal employees during the last half of fiscal 2013.
Non-essential civil servants are defined as those whose duties do not directly protect human life and property.
Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said "if we care about federal employees, we do not want to spend money on positions that are truly not necessary right now, given the priorities, so the rest of the federal workforce can be there."
Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., called the amendment "just one more blow to a battered civil service....We have now frozen their pay for several years. They are facing increased costs in their pension program and now they are going to face furlough, and then we are going to tell them we don't think a lot of you are essential."
A yes vote backed the amendment.
Voting yes: None. Voting no: Franken, Klobuchar