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Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

Last week in Congress: How our representatives voted with analysis from News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski

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WASHINGTON — Congress took last week off.

Well, not exactly. As usual, the President's Day week recess was an occasion for lawmakers to go home, meet with constituents and, well, raise money for the next campaign.

All of which raises an important question: Why does Congress spend so much time away from Washington?

The simple answer is: to meet with constituents and to raise money. But the real answer is more complex.

Decades ago, members of Congress moved to Washington and went back home to their districts far more sporadically than they do now. But with jet travel came the expectation that federal lawmakers would be seen back home as well as in the nation's capital.

And ever since, Congressional leaders have struggled to find a balance between tending the nation's business and keeping the home fires burning.

For years, the House really stayed in session only three days a week -- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- allowing members, even those from far-flung states, to go home every weekend.

But many members found this schedule grueling. That's why last year, Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor switched to a three-weeks-on, one-week-off schedule where the Washington weeks were supposed to be longer -- but not that much longer -- and members would enjoy many more full weeks at home. Now the House is usually in session four days a week, taking either Monday or Friday off.

That's similar to the schedule the Senate has followed for years -- but it leaves us with a conundrum.

There are no new votes to analyze this week.

Targeted News Service omitted some of the previous week's Senate votes, which are listed below. But neither -- one that's part of many to come on transportation funding, the other the confirmation of a federal judge -- were of overwhelming significance.

--Jerry Zremski

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Here are the recent votes of Western New York's four members of the House of Representatives and the state's two U.S. senators on major legislation in Congress. A "Y" means the member voted for the measure; an "N" means the member voted against the measure; an "A" means the member did not vote.

SENATE

* Transportation Bill: The Senate rejected cloture for debate on a bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would reauthorize federal highway and transit construction programs. Boxer said cloture was required to move forward with a bill that was urgently needed given the impending expiration of authorization for the programs. An opponent, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, criticized provisions creating various transportation programs, especially an "unfunded, unlimited discretionary grant program that has divided the transportation community."

The vote Feb. 17 was 54 yeas to 42 nays, with a three-fifths majority required for approval.

Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Y; Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Y.

* New York District Judge: The Senate confirmed the nomination of Jesse M. Furman to serve as district judge for the Southern District of New York.A supporter, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., cited Furman's experience as a clerk for federal judges and as a federal attorney in saying she was "more than confident that he has the experience to serve the Southern District of New York with great competence and fairness." An opponent, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, cited doubts about Furman's record, including writings on gun control and "a religious club's access to school facilities for meetings."

The vote Feb. 17 was 62 yeas to 34 nays.

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Information is supplied by Targeted News Service and the Associated Press.

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