Washington Digest — House votes to cut off fed funds for conventions


WASHINGTON — The House voted last week to end federal funding for national political conventions, a post-Watergate practice that critics said has outlived its use.

Lawmakers voted 310-95 to end the subsidy. The Democratic and Republican parties each received $18 million this year, about 20 percent of what was spent as private donors paid the remainder.

Still, said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.: “It’s wrong to use taxpayer dollars to finance partisan political events.”

Public funding for the conventions began in 1976 as a way to restore confidence in politics following Watergate. While the 1980 events were almost entirely funded with taxpayer dollars, they have gotten more expensive.

“Party conventions today are by and large week-long televised movie sets and almost entirely symbolic,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif. “Although conventions do provide important insight into party platforms and presidential candidates, spending millions of taxpayer dollars to fund them, particularly in today’s environment, is simply untenable.”

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, spoke against the bill, saying it would invite corruption and “turn over another electoral function to private interests.”

Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro voted to end public funding for the conventions. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, did not vote.

Visa Bill Shelved

The House shelved a bill that would have created a new green card program to allow immigrant students with advanced science and technology degrees to remain in the United States.

The vote was 257-158. While the bill gained a majority it was brought to the House floor under a fast-track procedure that required a two-thirds vote to pass.

Supporters said the bill would help domestic companies recruit skilled young workers..

“We are currently educating highly skilled Ph.D.’s and master’s (degree students) and sending them back home to compete against us after they graduate,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark.

Opponents complained the new program would replace an existing “diversity program” that awards 55,000 visas by lottery to citizens from countries where they otherwise might not get the opportunity to immigrate to the United States.

Womack and Crawford joined Griffin in voting for the bill. Ross did not vote.

Obama welfare initiative rejected

The House voted 250-164 to block an Obama administration plan to allow governors to alter work requirements for welfare recipients.

The administration proposal would allow states to apply for waivers from certain work requirements in the welfare law as long as they come up with alternatives to increase participation in work programs.

Republicans charged Obama was trying to gut welfare-to-work requirements. The bill will “protect welfare work requirements from executive overreach, ensuring that welfare recipients must continue to work in order to qualify for benefits,” said Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.

Democrats charged Republicans were misrepresenting Obama welfare policies and playing politics.

The bill was designed merely “to provide a fig leaf of credibility for a political attack ad that has no credibility whatsoever,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.

Womack, Griffin and Crawford voted to block the Obama proposal. Ross did not vote.

Veterans Jobs Bill Blocked

The Senate was unable to advance a bill that would have created a $1 billion jobs program for returning veterans.

Democrat sponsors fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Republicans who said the bill violated spending limits set by Congress last year.

The vote was 58-40. Five Republicans voted with Democrats to advance the bill.

The program would have created a veterans job corps in a bid to trim a 10.9 percent unemployment rate for servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted for the bill. Sen. John Boozman. R-Ark., voted to block it.