Blue Dogs Congressional Round Up - July 17, 2015

Jul 17, 2015
In The News


Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon): Is a deal on federal timber policy in the offing? House GOP hopes so as it passes new logging bill: Congressional Republicans waded back into the timber issue again as they pushed a measure through the House Thursday aimed at increasing logging on federal lands. Sponsors said the measure would help combat the growing wildfire problem and encourage efforts to build consensus on how to manage federal forests. But environmental groups and many Democrats said the measure amounts to another effort by the timber industry and its allies to run roughshod over environmental laws. The big unanswered question after the 262-167 vote for the "Resilient Federal Forests Act" was whether it could serve as the basis for a potential deal with the Senate and the Obama administration and end the long standoff over federal timber policy… Schrader defended the legal provisions in the bill, saying in a floor speech: “It is common practice for radical groups to file a litany of alleged grievances on any forest project that's suggested, mostly just to drag out the process and delay good forest policy they disagree with, at great taxpayer expense.  Most of these claims are purely procedural. We must reform this legal gotcha game by forcing these groups to focus on legitimate substantive claims of impropriety that they feel they can win on.”

Supreme Court’s health care act decision resonates in Oregon: The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed individuals who purchase health insurance through federal exchanges can get subsidized premiums drew a bevy of attention in Oregon. The 6-3 decision in favor of the U.S. government in the King v. Burwell case challenged a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Justices ruled that residents in states that did not set up their own health care exchanges can receive tax subsidies to afford health insurance. “The Supreme Court’s ruling today further confirmed the intent of the authors of the Accordable Care Act to provide affordable insurance to millions of Americans," said Rep. Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat, in a release. "Since the ACA became law, more than 10 million uninsured Americans have gained health coverage, kids under 26 cannot be dropped from their parents’ health plans and not one single American can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. In the words of Speaker (John) Boehner, ‘Obamacare is the law of the land,’ and I hope this latest ruling will be the last right wing attempt to attack the meat and bones of this law."

Rep. Jim Costa (D-California): Industry leaders urge Senate drought action: Fresh produce industry leaders urged the Senate to take up Western drought relief legislation after the House of Representatives easily passed the Western Water and American Food Security Act. Approved by a margin of 245 to 176 on June 16, the bill was introduced by Rep. Valadao, R-Calif. and garnered support from all but one Republican lawmaker. Five Democrats, including Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., crossed party lines to approve it. The bill will help more than just California, said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for Western Growers. “There are provisions in this bill that permit a more streamlined approval process, an environmental review process, for the construction of future (water) projects anywhere in the West,” he said.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee): In Tennessee, Hospitals Want Obamacare, Republicans Don’t: One of the Democrats, Cooper, teaches health policy to graduate business students at Vanderbilt University. In a statement, he noted that the hospital companies based in the Nashville area backed Obamacare and Governor Bill Haslam’s failed attempt to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. "Nearly 155,000 Tennesseans are accessing health coverage through the federal exchange because Tennessee has declined to start its own," Cooper said. "Those Tennesseans stand to lose their coverage if King prevails, and we are hopeful that the state will respond quickly and not allow them to be left out in the cold."

For one-time Hopkins researchers, accidental discovery led to Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough: For their decades of research and its humble, serendipitous beginnings, Wiesel and the late Hubel have been selected as the second winners of the 2015 Golden Goose Award, the award's founders announced today. The Golden Goose Award honors researchers whose federally funded work may have seemed odd or obscure when it was first conducted but has resulted in significant benefits to society. "Thanks to two scientists, federal funding, and a mistake in the lab, we have new discoveries about the human brain and how to improve eyesight in children," said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), whose idea it was to create the Golden Goose Award. "Thank goodness for serendipity." Cooper first had the idea for the Golden Goose Award when the late Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI) was issuing the Golden Fleece Award to target wasteful federal spending and often targeted peer-reviewed science because it sounded odd. Rep. Cooper believed such an award was needed to counter the false impression that odd-sounding research was not useful.

Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Nebraska): Rep. Brad Ashford honoring fallen officer with bill: Congressman Brad Ashford is hoping to extend citizenship to families of first responders after their death, hoping to honor fallen officer Kerrie Orozco. Congressman Ashford is working to create a bill called the Kerrie Orozco act that would make the path to citizenship for families of fallen police, fire and other first responders a little easier. Officer Orozco's husband was working towards is U.S. citizenship but after his wife's death the process has become more challenging. "Kerrie's husband hector came to me seeking help for their children, it was clear this is something we could do in congress," Representative Brad Ashford said. Thousands of people have donated money and well wishes to help secure the Orozco’s future, but their future may present hurdles if her husband can't get citizenship. "Certainly, obtaining citizenship, a more stable work environment for the three children who are U.S. citizens, I think is pretty compelling,” Ashford said. Orozco's husband moved to the United States from Mexico and is waiting to receive his green card for citizenship. The current law requires people to be a permanent resident for five years before applying for U.S. citizenship. Ashford's bill would eliminate the waiting period for spouses of first responders killed in action. "With this legislation, Hector who is in the process of receiving his green card will be eligible for citizenship immediately upon receiving his green card as opposed to having to wait at least five years as is now the case," Ashford said.

Rep. Ashford preserving war history with Veterans History Project: The goal of a national effort by the U.S. Library of Congress started 15 years ago is to preserve America's war history through the stories of those who fought them. "When you see one coming at you in a plane with a gun trained on you, you think you're not going to make it out. A lot of guys didn't," World War II veteran Darrald Harsh said. "If a plane outside all of a sudden bursts and goes down in flames, it's pretty scary." Harsh recently recounted his days as a bomber during the war to Rep. Brad Ashford… Ashford was there to capture stories on video, gather photos and documents for the Veterans History Project, which will be preserved in the Library of Congress. "To be able to capture these stories, not only is it great history, but it's a lesson to me, to my children and grandchildren, about the sacrifice these men and women made for this country," Ashford said. Ashford's father was a B-26 pilot. "He flew on D-Day," Ashford said.

Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-Georgia): Bishop, National VA head meet with veterans in Macon: The nation's Secretary of Veterans Affairs says conditions are improving at the nation's VA facilities, but not fast enough for him. Bob McDonald, along with Congressman Sanford Bishop, met with veterans in Macon Wednesday afternoon. The meeting was held at Central Georgia Technical College's Macon campus. The Veterans Affairs Town Hall Meeting began and ended with applause from more than 100 veterans, many who were pleased with the secretary's work. "I really think the VA is in the right direction," said Vietnam Veteran Larry Evans. Vietnam Veteran David Wilson agreed, saying, "I think it helped because it was a lot of questions that people brought up and secretary McDonald and Congressman Bishop had some good answers." The meeting came after a national scandal over care and wait times at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois): Bustos: Long-term Highway Trust Fund fix needed: With federal highway funding in perpetual crisis-management mode, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, on Saturday pressed for a long-term funding solution to replace what has become a series of stopgap measures. “At the end of this month, our Highway Trust Fund is bankrupt,” Rep. Bustos said in Moline, of the fund that faced the same situation in May before Congress approved a supplemental extension. “What the leadership in Congress has presented to the members of Congress to vote on have been these short-term fixes. I’m here to say that that is no way to run the government. It is no way to have any kind of proper planning for long-term infrastructure needs.” For a better and more stable source of important infrastructure funds, Rep. Bustos said she supports proposed legislation that would “bring home” overseas corporate profits, tax them and put the revenue in an “infrastructure bank” that would provide enough money for six years’ worth of planning. The idea has bipartisan support, she said, while different versions of it vary in how high to set the tax rate.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas): Congressman warns: Don’t blow opportunity south of border as China eyes Mexico’s energy reforms: If American companies do not take advantage of Mexico's energy reforms, oil hungry nations such as China will fill the void, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar warned. The Laredo lawmaker, whose congressional district includes parts of the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio, spoke at a Wednesday morning event in Reynosa hosted by Mexico's national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos, or PEMEX. Just last year, Mexico opened its energy markets to foreign investment in hopes of acquiring new technology and raising production of oil and natural gas. Although several American companies are among the bidders in the projects that have been opened so far, Cuellar warned that other nations such as China are also eyeing Mexico's oil and natural gas fields. "We have to make sure that we don't wake up one day and the Chinese are across the river when we had an opportunity to work with Mexico," Cuellar told the San Antonio Business Journal. A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that China has become the world's largest oil importer, which has prompted the populous Asian nation to search for new sources of energy across the globe.

Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Florida): Representative Gwen Graham Spends Day Working at PCB Hotel: It's not every day you see a congresswoman checking in guests at a hotel. "Welcome to the Sugar Sands Inn and Suites. Thank you for being here. Welcome to North Florida, the most beautiful beaches in the world," said Representative Gwen Graham. On Friday, Representative Graham spent the afternoon working at the Sugar Sands Inn and Suites in Panama City Beach, and she wore many hats. "She did hands on pretty much everything. She started with house keeping, worked with maintenance, and then she worked the front desk actually checking in guests," said David Coupe, the front desk manager at Sugar Sands Inn and Suites. She did such a good job the house keeping staff wants her to come back again. "She does a good job. She learned fast, she learns quick," said House Keeping Manager Glorida Coyde. Representative Graham says she hopes with the contacts she made and what's she learned she'll be able to help our tourism industry from Washington.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois): TRIP Act introduced by Lipinski: U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) recently introduced the Future Transportation Research and Innovation for Prosperity (TRIP) Act, which would support innovative technologies that have the ability to greatly alter mobility in America and beyond. “Surface transportation used to be rather staid and unimaginative, but today the very concept of ‘mobility’ is being reinvented through research, innovation and entrepreneurship,” Lipinski said. “Rapidly advancing automation, connectivity and information technologies are creating incredible opportunities for transportation innovation. We need to develop innovative ways to improve safety, ease congestion, improve personal mobility and cut energy use. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as well as the ranking member on the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, I am working to ensure that we are developing these technologies effectively in the United States.”  Lipinski said it is vital the country does not neglect the advancement of transportation technologies.  “We must strive to be proactive, not reactive, in regard to transportation innovation," he said. "It is important for industry and government to work together to accelerate implementation and maximize the societal benefits of these technologies."

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota): Mandatory GMO food labeling by states would be banned under proposed bill: A bill preventing states from requiring labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients easily passed a House committee Tuesday, but the legislation has drawn widespread opposition from many Democrats and consumer groups and faces an uncertain future.. The Pompeo legislation would ban states from adopting individual labeling laws and override any that are in place, instead giving food manufacturers the option to voluntarily tout their chips, soups, cereals and other items as lacking the ingredients. "Consumers increasingly want to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced," Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said of the voluntary approach. This bill "satisfies that demand while also recognizing what we know about the safety of the food that our farmers produce."

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California): O.C. GOP reps skeptical of Iran deal, Dems maybe OK: A proposed deal to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for greater oversight into the country’s nuclear power goals was met with skepticism and criticism Tuesday from Orange County congressional representatives, but a UC Irvine professor of history with ties to Iran praised the agreement… Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, who is running for U.S. Senate and serves on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, was also skeptical but saw signs of progress. “The announcement of this proposed deal is a positive sign that the United States and Iran can engage in negotiations despite a volatile history,” Sanchez said. “I recognize it is a historic moment that these two countries have come to the negotiating table and made it this far. However, I continue to have skepticism about Iran’s intentions.” Sanchez urged caution on easing sanctions. “Sanctions have been our most effective tool, and we must be cautious and not rush to repeal all sanctions,” she said. Sanchez added she is “extremely concerned” about inspectors not getting full access to Iran’s nuclear programs.

Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia): OP-ED: What an Iran nuke deal must never do: The deadline for an agreement on Iran's nuclear program is rapidly approaching. Several failing states in the Middle East are being overrun with terrorist groups, and Iran is influencing these civil wars directly and by proxy -- for example, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Iran also exerts control over the army in Iraq. Many of our allies in the region fear that Iran will dominate the entire Middle East. The United States must continue to enforce sanctions fully until any Iran nuclear weapons option is completely eliminated. As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and chair of the Assembly Committee on Science and Technology, I led a team of NATO's 28 member states in researching and writing an in-depth report on Iran's nuclear program. I presented our report to the full NATO Assembly in October 2012. The report revealed disturbing evidence of Iran having a hidden military nuclear weapons component to its nuclear program. It also raised such alarming concerns that the NATO Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Iran's nuclear program and Iran's noncompliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. The NATO Assembly resolution was approved at the same time that the European Union approved new sanctions. What would be a good deal? A good deal eliminates every Iranian pathway to a nuclear weapon and allows for "anytime, anywhere" inspections to verify Iranian compliance. A good deal must restrict Iran's nuclear capabilities, including those for research and development, until the country demonstrates to inspectors that it no longer seeks a nuclear weapons capability.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona): Sinema, Kirkpatrick make a wise carbon vote: Until the Environmental Protection Agency issues its final "Clean Power Plan" rule, the precise financial costs of this unprecedented action will remain unknown. But it is safe to say the costs will be substantial, especially in Arizona, where the EPA proposes cutbacks in carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants that are far higher than what it will be mandating in other states. There are other reasons for concern. Despite EPA assurances that its plan gives states plenty of "choices" in how to implement the CO2 cuts, the federal mission to mothball coal-fired power plants is all but explicit. With that end-game in mind, those options and choices appear to boil down to one: Shutter your coal-fired energy sources, which in Arizona provides a third of the state's power supply. These are big changes being proposed by the federal regulatory agency. And they are not the only ones on the horizon. Later this year, the EPA is planning to release changes to allowable levels of ground-level ozone, a move that could come with an even higher price tag than the carbon-dioxide mandates. In response, the Republican-led House of Representatives last month sent to the Senate legislation to put the brakes on the Obama administration's plans. Among those voting with the majority in the 247-180 vote were Democratic Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona. Unsurprisingly, the Democrats are feeling the wrath of environmental groups. The League of Conservation Voters is conducting a letter-writing campaign against both, demanding that they stop putting "polluters’ profits ahead of our health." The reality of this issue is infinitely more complicated than such white-hat/black-hat rhetoric suggests. There is growing evidence that the cost of implementation of the CPP alone (much less combined with new ozone rules) could be economically devastating and potentially destabilizing to the state's energy supply. With deadlines approaching within weeks that may include compliance mandates just five years in the future, the EPA regulations are a freight train rolling under full power. It makes sense to at least slow this train until lawsuits filed by several states work through the courts.The measure supported by Sinema and Kirkpatrick was a rare expression of bipartisanship from the House. Dismissing it as bone tossed to "special-interest polluters" is a gross distortion. The Arizona Democrats voted on behalf of bipartisanship, prudence and balance. Isn't that what we have been crying for from Congress all these years?

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California): PD Editorial: A monument to nature, persistence: President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that he would designate the Berryessa Snow Mountain area a national monument represented another golden moment in the rich history of land preservation in Northern California. The action assures the protection of roughly 350,000 acres of rolling, oak-dotted hills stretching from the shores of Lake Berryessa in the south to Snow Mountain and wilderness areas northwest of Mendocino National Forest. The announcement also is a tribute to the hard work of many environmentalists and lawmakers who have pressed for years trying to get special recognition for this remote swatch of land. Among those is Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who had authored a bill to designate the land as a national conservation area. Despite broad support from businesses and leaders in the five counties touched by the area — Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Solano and Yolo counties — the legislation was bogged down by a polarized Congress.

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas): EDITORIAL: Congrats to RGV’s Filemon Vela for State Bar honor: He might not be our most veteran of lawmakers from the Rio Grande Valley, but U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela already is making quite a name for himself in Washington, D.C., and in doing so is helping our region as a whole. Last week, Vela, a Democrat from Brownsville, was selected by the State Bar of Texas Hispanic Issues Section (HIS) as the 2015 HIS Legislator of the Year. That’s impressive, considering he only just got to Congress in 2012. His work at trying to get Congress to reform immigration, take notice of violence in Mexico, as well as his ability to represent the underserved is cited by the State Bar as factoring in his receiving this honor. Indeed, Vela has been an outspoken voice in trying to prompt lawmakers in Washington to recognize the destruction and economic threat to our border region that the violence across the Rio Grande in Tamaulipas is causing. As a lifelong Valley resident, he’s knowledgeable on how to make our border grow and prosper. We congratulate him on this honor and expect many more to be bestowed upon him in the years ahead.


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