House advances welfare, coal bills

The vote was preceded by an hourlong debate in which Democrats accused Republicans of pursuing the two bills in order to score political points. Many noted that the Senate will not take up either bill, and said Congress should instead be working on a farm bill, something House Republicans now appear prepared to pick up after the November election.

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For these reasons, and because some elements of the coal bill have already been passed by the House, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said consideration of the welfare and coal bills is "simply a waste of time."

"It costs a lot of money to bring all the members of Congress back to Washington from the four corners of the United States," she said. "And to come back and re-pass bills that have already passed and will never go beyond this House cannot be called anything else but a colossal and disastrous waste of time."

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) argued that Republicans are making the point that the Obama administration is making decisions on issues that should be left to Congress.

"Congressmen and congresswomen must stand up and insist that Congress create these standards and create these options, not being made by executive fiat," Bishop said. "That is the very purpose of why we're here."

The welfare resolution, H.J.Res. 118, would disapprove of the Obama administration's decision to allow states to waive current requirements that some welfare recipients work to receive their benefits. Republicans say that change would gut the welfare reforms that were agreed to two decades ago by removing a factor that encourages a return to the workforce.

Democrats who support the change argue that it will give states the flexibility to create new welfare programs that might also help return people to work.

The Stop the War on Coal Act, H.R. 3409, would block the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, prevent rules on the storage and disposal of coal ash and limit Clean Water Act rules. As the title of the bill suggests, Republicans believe these rules are tantamount to government opposition to the coal industry.

But Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said during rule debate that the GOP bill would override a market preference for natural gas over coal.

"These aren't wars, this is innovation," he said. "It's competition. It's natural gas versus coal."

With the rule approved, the House was expected to begin debate on the welfare resolution, and then vote on that resolution later in the day. Passage of the coal bill is expected Friday.

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