Blue Dog Coalition Recess Round Up
Here’s what the Blue Dogs have been up to since the House of Representatives was last in session in June 2017. We hope you enjoy catching up on all of the great work our members are doing for the American people.
Blue Dog Coalition announces Policy Task Forces for the 115th Congress. Last month, the Blue Dog Coalition released a statement announcing Policy Task Forces that focus on the following issue areas: economic growth, fiscal responsibility, government reform and accountability, and national defense. Through these Task Forces, the Blue Dogs will lead the way on not only talking about what they are for – but also acting on it. “When it comes to getting things done in Congress, the Blue Dogs always lead the way,” said Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Blue Dog Co-Chair for Administration. “In the 115th Congress, we gained a talented class of seven freshman members of Congress who came to Washington to fight for economic growth, fiscal responsibility, more accountability, and strong national defense. They join the Blue Dogs in doing more than just talking about creating real solutions; we are going to create the commonsense, bipartisan solutions the American people have always called for.”
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN): Rep. Jim Cooper urged Americans to tell Republican senators to vote against their version of the health care bill. Rep. Cooper called the bill "tragic" and "cruel," predicting it has a "slightly-less than 50 percent" chance of passing. Republicans can lose no more than two of their own members if they hope to pass the legislation. “I wanted to be as outspoken as I’ve ever been on any issue," Rep. Cooper told reporters in Nashville. "This is near and dear to my heart because nothing is more important to Tennesseans than to make sure they have a chance at a full, productive life.”
Rep. Cooper also recently sent a letter to Iraqi ambassador Fareed Yaseen with questions about how his Kurdish constituents would be treated if they are deported. In Rep. Cooper's letter, he seeks information from the Iraqi ambassador pertaining to the potential risks Nashville's Kurds could face if sent back to Iraq and how they will be dealt with if they are deported. Nashville has the largest population of Kurds in the United States.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA): Rep. Jim Costa joined Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), and fellow Blue Dog Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), to introduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017. The legislation addresses the budgeting process for fighting wildfires, aiming at fixing the escalating costs of wildfire suppression crowding out funding for forest management. “Recent wildfires have caused incredible hardship to California’s mountain communities,” said Rep. Costa. “What’s more, it’s estimated that there are over 100 million dead trees in California’s forests right now. This is unprecedented, and is a result of a combination of the effects of a 5-year long drought and an increasing pace of bark beetle infestation. Our forest managers, as hard as they have tried, simply cannot do their jobs effectively while arcane Congressional budget rules divert funds needed for active management of our forests to combatting wildfires. It’s time to treat wildfires like the natural disaster they are and stop the never-ending cycle of taking money needed for forest management. This legislation will do exactly that, in a commonsense way, and I urge Congress to bring this to the President’s desk as rapidly as possible.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX): Rep. Henry Cuellar ordered an effort across the federal government to eliminate improper payments, which includes payments incorrectly distributed to deceased persons, accidental overpayment, and other errors that cost taxpayers money. In fiscal year 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported $144.3 billion in improper payments, an increase from fiscal year 2015’s $136.7 billion. Rep. Cuellar directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to specifically target the issue of payments to deceased persons, and to report to Congress within 120 days on their progress. “Improper payments, excessive printing, and other wasteful practices can really add up over time,” said Rep. Cuellar. “Improper payments alone lost $144.3 billion in taxpayer money in 2016, and while some of that was returned, most was not. Estimates put government printing costs at close to $3 billion annually; there is certainly an opportunity to cut that down. I introduced these common sense measures to save taxpayer money and make government work more efficiently for the American people.”
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX): Congressman Vicente Gonzalez established the new Congressional Oil & Gas Caucus, which will be dedicated to educating Members of Congress about issues related to the production, transport, refining, distribution, and trade of oil, gas, and other petroleum hydrocarbons including crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids. Congressman Gonzalez will serve as chair of the newly-formed caucus and hopes to quickly grow the group’s membership, which currently includes several members of the Blue Dog Coalition. In addition to this, Congressman Gonzalez, along with other Members of Congress, visited the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, in early June where he met with several deported veterans. Rep. Gonzalez is currently working on a bill that will repatriate deported veterans and bring them back home.
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL): Rep. Daniel Lipinski announced in a statement that he has been joined by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in a call for a strong “Buy American” component in the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Lipinski and his colleagues are asking the Administration to prioritize making “Buy American” laws permissible under NAFTA. “Laws that boost strong domestic content government procurement policies ensure that hard-working Americans’ tax dollars are spent on products that are made in the United States and stimulate local economies,” Rep. Lipinski and his peers stated in a bipartisan letter to United States Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer. “It is vital that our trade agreements are negotiated to allow domestic content preferences. Strong ‘Buy American’ laws support manufacturing jobs, decrease the trade deficit, and support the Administration’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ initiative.”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL): Rep. Stephanie Murphy introduced a balanced budget amendment that would amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the federal government from spending more than it receives in any given fiscal year, except in the cases of war or recession. Murphy’s amendment also generally prohibits a court from enforcing this requirement by ordering cuts to Social Security or Medicare payments. Rep. Murphy is the only House Democrat to introduce a balanced budget amendment so far this Congress. “Our national debt is skyrocketing, and we are irresponsibly passing this burden on to our children and grandchildren—shackling them with unsustainable debt,” said Rep. Murphy. “My balanced budget amendment will compel Congress to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.” Over recess, Rep. Murphy held an event with the Concord Coalition to talk about the issue with her constituents. “Let me make it clear; I don’t take the prospect of amending the [U.S.] Constitution lightly,” Rep. Murphy said at the event. “But nevertheless I filed this bill because I want to spur a candid and bipartisan debate in Congress, and here in Central Florida, and around the country, about the risks posed by piling deficit upon deficit, as we’ve been doing for the last few years. This is a conversation we need to have as a nation, and it cannot be a Democratic or Republican issue.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL): Rep. Brad Schneider’s bipartisan amendment with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) to help innovative small businesses commercialize their research passed the House Small Business Committee. The amendment makes changes to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs to remove hurdles and streamline the process facing startups taking their ideas from concept to commercialization. The amendment builds on legislation previously introduced by Rep. Schneider, fellow Blue Dog Rep. Lipinksi, and Rep. Luján.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR): Rep. Kurt Schrader’s bill to improve the safety and reliability of the electric grid on our federal lands, the Electric Reliability and Forest Protection Act, passed through the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, 300-118. Under current law, even where trees and plants are already in contact with transmission lines, it can take months for Forest Service to approve the removal of the hazardous vegetation from the transmission lines rights of way. This creates a dangerous environment and significantly increases the likelihood of blackouts and forest fires. Schrader’s bill will make it easier to quickly remove any hazardous trees and plant life from electricity transmission lines before they cause deadly and costly damage. This bill was endorsed by the Blue Dog Coalition, and was co-sponsored by several Blue Dog members, including the following: Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ): Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a comprehensive strategy to combat the financing of terrorism and related forms of illicit finance. “Terrorist organizations pose a serious threat to our national security, and it is critical that we cut off the funding that supports these groups,” said Congresswoman Sinema. "This legislation is a commonsense solution that ensures the United States denies funding to terrorists and protects America and our allies.”
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA): Rep. Mike Thompson is amongst a group of bipartisan lawmakers who introduced legislation designed to ease meaningful use requirements on physicians. “I’m glad to collaborate with my colleagues on this commonsense, bipartisan fix. Electronic health records have great potential to improve care coordination and patient outcomes. This measure will help to ensure that health providers aren’t unduly burdened by reporting measures that don’t improve care quality,” said Rep. Thompson.