Congressional Votes for the Week Ending May 24

WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. House voted almost unanimously last week for a bill to expand tax-favored retirement plans and benefits. The bill would remove limits on the amount people can contribute to IRAs each year and raise the age at which they must start making withdrawals, among other things. All of Alabama’s representatives voted for the bill, which is headed to the Senate.

Read more about this bill and other votes in Congress last week.


Expansion of Worker Retirement Plans

Voting 417 for and 3 against, the House on May 23 passed a bill (HR 1994) that would expand tax-favored retirement plans and benefits. The bill would remove limits on contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts; increase from 70½ to 72 the age at which individuals must start making annual withdrawals from their plans; require employers to include in company-sponsored plans part-time employees with sufficient work histories; qualify home-health care workers to participate in 401(k)-style plans; allow penalty-free early distributions to cover birth and adoption expenses; expand the use in retirement plans of annuities offering lifetime payments; make it easier for workers to take retirement accounts with them to new jobs; and allow penalty-free distributions from Section 529 college savings plans for apprenticeship programs and repaying student loans.

The bill also would provide tax credits to encourage employers to automatically enroll workers in company retirement savings plans, as opposed to the current system in which workers are given an opportunity to sign up. After being automatically enrolled, workers could opt out of the plan. The bill would make it easier for small businesses to establish and administer multiple-employer and pooled-employer retirement plans, and would reduce the premiums some charities and cooperatives pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Richard Neal, D-Mass., said the bill is needed because “too many people (are) in danger of not having enough in retirement to maintain their standard of living and avoid sliding into poverty. Social Security benefits are modest, employer-sponsored pensions are disappearing and too many people find it difficult to save for retirement. … A 2018 study found that almost two-thirds of workers have no retirement-account assets.”

Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the bill “makes it easier for Main Street businesses to offer retirement plans … to join together, to pool their resources. …This legislation is pro-worker and, equally important, pro-family. …The time is ripe for these reforms – workers’ paychecks are rising, inflation is low and businesses are expanding.”

No member spoke against the bill. The negative votes were cast by GOP Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas.

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

Boycotts, Divestiture, Sanctions

Voting 200 for and 222 against, the House on May 23 defeated a Republican bid to include a rebuke of the so-called “BDS” movement in HR 1994 (above). The motion was unrelated to the bill’s purpose of expanding retirement savings. BDS is a global campaign by some companies and other entities to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel and Israeli-owned firms in response to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said: “Let’s stand up against this anti-Zionism and the anti-Semitism that underlies” the BDS movement.

Richard Neal, D-Mass., urged members to “set aside this demagoguery and turn down this motion … .”

A yes vote was to adopt the motion.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer

Voting no: Sewell

Restoring Consumer Financial Protections

Voting 231 for and 191 against, the House on May 22 passed a Democratic-sponsored bill (HR 1500) that would restore Consumer Financial Protection Bureau powers watered down or abandoned by the Trump administration.

The bureau was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law as an independent agency to protect consumers against predatory practices in matters involving credit cards, unsecured payday lending, debt collection, mortgages and auto financing. The administration has reined in the bureau by subjecting it to White House direction, freezing its staffing and cutting its budget while reducing oversight functions and scaling back enforcement activity.

In part, the bill would restore supervisory and enforcement powers to the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity; reconstitute an office charged with overseeing the student loan industry; increase rank-and-file staff levels; eliminate slots created for political appointees; resume aggressive regulation of payday lenders; and strengthen enforcement of the Military Lending Act, which caps interest rates on payday and auto loans to military families. The measure would also require the bureau to once again publicize student loan fees charged by large banks, reopen public access to a database of 1 million-plus consumer complaints, and resurrect and expand the agency’s Consumer Advisory Board.

Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said the bill is needed because “Republicans want to shield Wall Street, granting it free rein to plunder. Instead of draining the swamp, this lawless president has drained the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of its strength.”

Andy Barr, R-Ky., said the measure is “not about consumer protection. It is not about putting consumers first. It is about politics. It is about giving lip service to protecting our service members while excluding the necessary action to actually do it.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.


Voting yes: Sewell

Voting no: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 

Congressional Control of Bureau Budget

Voting 192 for and 235 against, the House on May 22 defeated a Republican amendment to HR 1500 (above) that sought to include the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau budget in the congressional appropriations process, thus giving the House and Senate more control over the independent agency. The bureau now receives its annual budget of about $600 million from the Federal Reserve with no strings attached. The Fed uses interest earned on government securities in its portfolio as its main funding source.

Amendment sponsor Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said: “It says pretty clearly in the Constitution that no money may be drawn from the Treasury except as an appropriation by the United States Congress.”

Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said: “Under the guise of the appropriations process, Republicans are seeking to do by amendment what they were unable to do for the eight years they were in power – eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau entirely.”

A yes vote was to establish congressional control over the consumer bureau’s budget.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer

Voting no: Sewell

Mandatory Arbitration v. Consumer Lawsuits

Voting 235 for and 193 against, the House on May 22 voted to reinstate a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would prohibit financial services firms from using mandatory arbitration clauses that prevent aggrieved customers from joining class-action lawsuits against the companies. Mandatory arbitration is conducted by company-approved mediators under rules that limit discovery, bar disclosure of the outcome and prohibit meaningful appeals. Consumers that agree to mandatory arbitration forfeit the option of pursuing claims in court. This vote occurred during debate on HR 1500 (above).

Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said: “Arbitration is arbitrary. It does not fairly resolve disputes. It is biased toward the financial institution.”

Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., called this “a trial lawyer’s dream amendment” given the large share of class-action settlements that goes to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

A yes vote was to reinstate a rule barring mandatory arbitration clauses in financial services contracts.


Voting yes: Sewell

Voting no: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer

Allocations From Civil Penalty Fund

Voting 191 for and 231 against, the House on May 22 defeated a Republican motion to HR 1500 (above) that sought to require disbursements from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Civil Penalty Fund to be used only to benefit victims of financial crimes. The fund is a depository for penalties the bureau collects in enforcement actions. Present law permits use of the fund to compensate victims or, when victim payments are not practicable, to finance programs that improve financial literacy and consumer education. Backers of this measure sought to bar the latter allocations, calling them a “slush fund.”

Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said: “Let’s put an end to the slush fund at the bureau. Let’s redirect where this money belongs. Let’s give this money to the victims.”

Katie Porter, D-Calif., said: “The 2008 economic collapse cast a long shadow. One study … found that suicides spurred by evictions and foreclosures doubled between 2005 and 2010.”

A yes vote was to adopt the motion.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 

Voting no: Sewell


Federal Judge Daniel Collins

Voting 53 for and 46 against, the Senate on May 21 confirmed Daniel P. Collins, an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles, as a judge on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He held Department of Justice positions in Washington under President George W. Bush and spent four years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

Collins drew Democratic opposition, in part, for refusing to acknowledge the existence of climate breakdown and declining to tell senators whether he believes the Brown v. Board of Education 1954 school-desegregation case was correctly decided. Democrats also found fault with his authorship of a law review article in 1995 calling for the Supreme Court to reverse its 1966 Miranda v. Arizona ruling that protects the civil liberties of detained criminal suspects.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Collins “has developed a reputation for legal excellence. The American Bar Association rates him well qualified for this new post.”

Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Collins’s record on “reproductive rights, executive power, civil liberties and criminal justice matters puts him far outside the judicial mainstream,” adding “we cannot have a judge on the 9th Circuit who denies climate change and its impacts.”

A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.


Voting yes: Richard Shelby, R 

Voting no: Doug Jones, D

$19.1 billion disaster aid

The Senate on May 23 approved, 85 for and eight against, $19.1 billion in emergency aid to homeowners, farmers, businesses, local governments and other entities struck by natural disasters such as wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes in recent years. The bill includes $1.4 billion for Puerto Rico and $4.5 billion requested by the administration for security and humanitarian aid on the southern border.

A yes vote was to send HR 2157 to the House.


Voting yes: Shelby, Jones 

Voting no:  None



Congress will be in Memorial Day recess in the week of May 27.