WASHINGTON – Here’s how Alabama’s members of Congress voted on major issues in the week ending April 20.
Modernization of IRS Information Systems
Voting 414 for and three against, the House on April 18 passed a bill (HR 5445) requiring a sweeping modernization of Internal Revenue Service information systems that would make it easier for taxpayers to communicate with the agency online and bolster cyber-defenses against large-scale hacking operations as well as smaller schemes targeting the identities and refunds of individual taxpayers. In addition, the bill puts the IRS on a path toward providing taxpayers with secure individualized portals on the agency website to be used for obtaining forms and data and filing returns.
The bill proposes no major funding increases that would help the agency, which has experienced deep budget cuts since 2010, carry out the proposed technology upgrade.
Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, said the IRS “continues to struggle with … modernization efforts to update its legacy systems, some of which date back to the 1960s. In the era of 5G and broadband Internet, it is still hard to imagine why the IRS continues to use technology our children wouldn’t even be able to recognize.”
John Lewis, D-Georgia, voted for the bill but said, “Congress’ decisions to cut the agency’s budget by nearly $1 billion over the past eight years have not helped” the performance of its information technology systems. “We all understand that the IRS is in desperate need of more funding and more staff.”
A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.
Voting yes: Bradley Byrne, R-1, Martha Roby, R-2, Mike Rogers, R-3, Robert Aderholt, R-4, Mo Brooks, R-5, Gary Palmer, R-6, Terri Sewell, D-7.
Voting no: None.
Disclosure of Trump Tax Returns
Voting 226 for and 189 against, the House on April 18 blocked a parliamentary attempt by Democrats to force floor debate on a bill (HR 305) now in committee that would require presidents, including Donald Trump, and major-party presidential candidates to publicly release their personal tax returns for the three preceding years. While a candidate, Trump vowed to release his returns following completion of what he said was an ongoing IRS audit. But he has refused to do so, becoming the first White House occupant in nearly 50 years to withhold his returns from the public.
Anna Eshoo, D-California, said Trump “has 564 financial positions in companies located in the United States and around the world, according to the Federal Election Commission, making him more susceptible to conflicts of interest than any president in our history. Only a full release of his tax returns will provide the public with clear information as to his potential conflicts of interest and his potential entanglements with foreign governments and foreign businesses.”
No member spoke on the other side of the issue.
A yes vote was to quash a bid for debate on a bill requiring disclosure of presidential tax returns.
Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Palmer.
Voting no: Sewell.
Not voting: Brooks.
Discrimination in Auto Lending
Voting 51 for and 47 against, the Senate on April 18 approved repeal of an action by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau against “third party” car and truck loans that impose interest rates on minority borrowers that are higher than those offered other similarly qualified borrowers. Backers of the repeal measure (SJ Res 57) said the bureau is prohibited by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law from regulating auto dealerships. But the bureau warned lenders in 2013 that they are responsible under the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act for any discriminatory pricing of auto loans. The bureau said that law prohibits creditors from discriminating based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status or age.
Although the consumer bureau did not issue a formal rule on auto lending, critics say the 2013 guidance is essentially the same as a regulation and is therefore subject to repeal under the Congressional Review Act. This would greatly expand the scope of the review act, which to date has been used only to nullify actual regulations within 60 working days of their effective date.
Under third-party lending, finance companies originate loans that dealers arrange for their customers, with dealers adding a markup to the interest rate and sharing in interest proceeds. Next to home mortgages and student loans, auto loans are the third-largest source of household debt in the United States.
Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said the repeal would correct a mistake by the consumer bureau but “not do anything to change the prohibition, the illegality of discriminating against a person based upon that person’s race.”
Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said: “This repeal could permanently weaken federal anti-discrimination laws … . These are the laws that brave Americans fought for during the civil rights movement.”
A yes vote was to send the repeal measure to the House.
Voting yes: Richard Shelby, R.
Voting no: Doug Jones, D.
Jim Bridenstine, Space Agency Administrator
Voting 50 for and 49 against, the Senate on April 19 confirmed Jim Bridenstine, 42, a three-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma, as administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Republicans praised Bridenstine’s record as a naval aviator with combat experience and advocate of expanded ties between NASA and commercial space ventures. But Democrats objected to putting a politician without a scientific background in charge of an agency devoted to science. They also faulted Bridenstine over his skepticism that human activity causes climate-change, support of administration policies against Muslim travel and opposition to same-sex marriage.
James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, said that, as a congressman, Bridenstine advocated “space and research and trying to realign NASA into being mission-focused” and was “passionate in trying to get NASA back on focus with a big vision and a big mission.”
Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, said: “Global warming isn’t theory; it is based on science. Unfortunately, Mr. Bridenstine’s words do not reflect the accepted science behind climate-change, including the very science that NASA has been collecting and needs to continue to collect.”
A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.
Voting yes: Shelby.
Voting no: Jones.
Carlos Muniz, Department of Education Counsel
Voting 55 for and 43 against, the Senate on April 18 confirmed Carlos G. Muniz as the U.S. Department of Education’s general counsel. Muniz leaves a Jacksonville, Florida, law partnership to serve under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He previously served in Florida as deputy attorney general, chief of staff to Attorney General Pam Bondi and deputy general counsel to former Gov. Jeb Bush. Democrats criticized Muniz, in part, for his support of for-profit colleges, policies to privatize public education and opposition to Florida joining a lawsuit alleging Trump University defrauded its students.
Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said Muniz “will have the important job of providing legal assistance to (Devos) concerning … policies of the department and making sure that these policies follow the law, which, given his background, he has the experience to do.”
Patty Murray, D-Washington, said: “Mr. Muniz’s involvement in the Trump University case gives me great concern that, at the Department of Education, he will once again not stand up for student-loan borrowers defrauded by other predatory for-profit colleges.”
A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.
Voting yes: Shelby, Jones.
Voting no: None.
KEY VOTES AHEAD
The Senate will vote on judicial nominations in the week of April 23. The House’s legislative schedule was to be announced.