By Jerry Zremski
WASHINGTON -- Congress returned last week from a two-week recess, but it didn't exactly dive deep into legislating. There were just a handful of votes on each side of Capitol Hill, and the ones on the House side were on, well, comparatively minor matters.
The Senate, though, cast three key votes.
First and most importantly, by a 68 to 31 margin, the Senate voted to proceed to debate on legislation that would require background checks on most gun purchases. Not surprisingly, New York's senators -- Democrats Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand -- voted to move forward on the bill. Schumer has been a behind-the-scenes driving force on the bill, and Gillibrand is a central figure in its provisions banning gun trafficking.
The Senate also confirmed Sally Jewell as Interior secretary in a 87-11 vote. Both Schumer and Gillibrand supported Jewell's confirmation.
Similarly, both New York senators backed the nomination of Patty Shwartz to sit on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Shwartz won confirmation in a 64-34 vote.
Meanwhile on the House side, a bill aimed at preserving Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites passed by a margin of 283 to 122. Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Chris Collins, R-Clarence, supported the measure, but Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican and fiscal conservative, was opposed.
The House also rejected an amendment that would have required a more detailed environmental review of small hydropower projects. Higgins favored that measure, while Reed was opposed. Collins missed that vote.
After that, the House approved a bill permitting the construction of small hydropower projects in Bureau of Reclamation canals. Both Higgins and Reed supported that bill, but Collins missed that vote as well.
A Collins spokesman said the Clarence congressman missed those votes because he traveled to Florida to speak at a conference on how President Obama's health care reform bill will affect small business. Collins chairs a subcommittee of the Small Business Committee that has oversight responsibilities regarding health care.