Blue Dogs Congressional Roundup
Members of the Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Ranking Member Sander Levin requesting a hearing to discuss the future of the Highway Trust Fund and emphasizing the importance of investing in our roads, bridges and transit systems. The full text of the letter can be found HERE.
Rep. Filemon Vela (TX-34) formally joined the Blue Dog Coalition last month. Rep. Vela has represented Texas’s 34th District since 2013 and is a member of the Agriculture and Homeland Security Committees.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon): With Doc Fix Plan, a Template for Problem Solving: In November, No Labels Problem Solver Reps. Reid Ribble (R-WI) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) led a group of 96 members of Congress in writing a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging permanent Medicare payment reform. This letter didn't push one particular agenda or get held up on specifics. Rather it set a common sense goal, and said loud and clear to the leadership -- if you put a sensible bipartisan solution forward, we stand ready to vote for it. This group enabled Boehner to go to Pelosi and the Democrats first, sidestepping a partisan bill in favor of involving those lawmakers who view working across the aisle as a strength, not a weakness. There have been numerous instances in the past where the leadership has been forced to go to this group in order to salvage a deal that's fallen through. This time, setting a common goal and working in a bipartisan manner was the first step, not a last ditch effort.
Op-Ed: FEHBP modernization would improve service, save money: Rep. Kurt Schrader co-authored an op-ed in The Hill with Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin) about reforming the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) to save taxpayers as much as $300 million dollars and to modernize comprehensive health plans that will better meet consumers’ needs.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee): Cooper Pushes to End Gerrymandering, Change Redistricting: Rep. Jim Cooper introduced two bills that would stop the secretive practice of gerrymandering by letting the public participate in the Congressional redistricting process. A longtime advocate for transparency in redistricting, Cooper is sponsoring the bills as political division paralyzes Congress, and as the U.S. Supreme Court considers arguments questioning the constitutionality of an election commission established by the state legislature in Arizona. Opponents of independent commissions believe that redistricting power is limited to the legislature and cannot be carried out by commissions through the initiative process. Cooper has joined a bipartisan amicus brief that would protect the ability of states to use independent redistricting commissions.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-California) Costa Leads Bipartisan Group to Modernize Anti-Poverty Grants: Congressman Jim Costa was joined by Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), and 5 other Members of Congress in introducing the Community Economic Opportunity Act of 2015. The bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) program which supports more than 1,000 non-profit Community Action Agencies tasked with serving economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The CSBG was last reauthorized in 1998. Ninety percent of CSBG funds go directly to local communities to provide critical services such as child care, job training, housing, and financial education that improve self-sufficiency. The results of these programs have allowed local organizations to leverage nearly $2.30 in private capital from every dollar that the federal government invests in CSBG.
Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Nebraska): Ashford has independent record so far that’s needed: Ashford’s office says his is one of the most independent records in the House so far — voting with the Democrats 73 percent of the time (when the party line average is 93 percent) — and that 30 of his 39 bills include Republican co-sponsors. Ashford was known for his independent-mindedness during his years in the Nebraska Legislature. He has long been outspoken in his support for the Legislature’s nonpartisan culture and the way it promotes practical policy-making. Our dysfunctional Congress would benefit greatly by having fewer partisan stalwarts and a greater number of energetic independent thinkers. Such lawmakers prod their respective parties to stop and look beyond simple talking points. These independent thinkers encourage their colleagues to pull back from extreme positions and work toward practical consensus-building.
Ashford Introduces Mandatory Debate Bill: U.S. Congressman Brad Ashford (NE-02) introduced legislation which would require the House to consider bills with a mandatory 10-hours of debate on the House floor to allow more debate and bipartisan legislation. The bill would amend the rules of the House by mandating that every bill have no less than 10-hours of debate. This 10-hour clock could be circumvented if two-thirds of House Members vote to do so – working to ensure that only bills with strong support from both parties move through the House faster.
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-Georgia): Estate tax harms minority- and women-owned businesses: The death tax threatens to cut down minority-owned businesses at every generation. A 2004 study by two Boston College professors showed that the death tax will confiscate 10 to 13 percent of all African-American wealth by 2055. The death tax creates an unfair situation for minority businesses which have primarily started to accumulate wealth within the last 60 years. The National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) recently joined the Family Business Coalition and 82 other industry groups on a letter supporting Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Sen. John Thune's (R-S.D.) Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015.
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois): Lawmakers reintroduce bill to revise FEMA formula for natural disaster aid: Federal lawmakers from Illinois renewed their push Thursday to revise the aid formula used in determining how much the U.S. government provides to aid communities recovering from natural disasters. U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and downstate House members Cheri Bustos, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, John Shimkus and Mike Bost reintroduced a measure meant to blunt existing Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations that they say penalize smaller communities in states with big cities like Chicago, reducing their ability to get aid.
Congresswoman hopes to expand Federal Pell Grants for students: Rep. Cheri Bustos made a stop at Illinois Central College in East Peoria. The 17th District Congresswoman spoke to students about her effort to expand the Federal Pell Grant program. Currently, undergraduate students can get a Pell Grant in the spring or fall. The money students receive does not have to be repaid. Bustos has re-introduced legislation to expand the program year-round. That way, students can finish their degree faster.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas): Cuellar’s push to get CBP to treat border crossers with respect makes it into law: U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has passed legislation that requires Customs and Border Protection to review the training it gives staff on how to handle border crossers. Cuellar was successful in getting language from his proposed legislation included in a Homeland Security funding bill that was passed by the Senate and the House. The Laredo Democrat said his amendment is “extremely important to Texans along the border and folks who travel along it every day” because it requires CBP to review training manuals and coursework as well as incident reporting practices within the agency.
Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Florida): Graham bill eliminates first class flights for Congress: U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham wants members of Congress to fly coach and give up their luxury cars. Graham said the Congressional Travel Perks Elimination Act (HR 1339) would save millions of dollars over the next decade by prohibiting members of Congress from using taxpayer dollars to fly first class and for long-term car leases. Graham said this is the first of several bills she'll introduce aimed at quashing congressional perks.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois): Rep. Lipinski Introduces rail safety bill: A group of House Democrats is calling for Congress to spend $1 billion over the next five years on boosting the safety of U.S. commuter railways after a recent string of accidents. The funding is contained in a piece of legislation introduced by Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) that has been dubbed the Reassuring Adequate Investment in Lifesaving Systems (RAILS) Act. The lawmakers said the measure calls for spending $200 million per year on “positive train control safety technologies, rail integrity inspection systems, a system for electronic communication regarding hazardous material rail shipments, and other new rail safety items.”
House Passes Amtrak Bill with Lipinski Amendment to Improve Boarding Procedures: With widespread bipartisan support, the House of Representatives passed the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, the first Amtrak bill since October of 2008. Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3), the most senior member from Illinois on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, supported the legislation, which includes his amendment that improves the boarding procedures for wheelchair users, bicyclists, and other non-motorized vehicle users.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota): Peterson introduces fuel transport bill: Congressman Collin Peterson recently introduced legislation to make it easier for farmers, custom harvesters and agriculture producers to safely and efficiently transport fuel. Current regulations require certain class A commercial licensed drivers to obtain a hazmat endorsement while operating a service vehicle with a fuel tank of 1,000 gallons or less of diesel fuel. Without this endorsement, they are prohibited from transporting more than 118 gallons of fuel at a time. H.R. 1267 would exempt certain class A drivers from this requirement.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California): Broken promises on trade: The litany of broken promises extends beyond jobs and trade deficits. False promises regarding human rights and labor standards helped pass trade agreements involving Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and Bahrain – and many studies and organizations, including by the U.S. government itself continue to document child and forced labor, non-existent labor standards and more. Congress is granted the constitutional authority to provide important oversight and approval to trade legislation. Yet the TPP has been negotiated largely in secret – what we do know about many of its troubling provisions come through leaks rather than a seat at the negotiating table.
Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia): Founds New Payment Tech Caucus: Rep. Scott is a co-chair of the new Congressional Payments Technology Caucus (CPTC). The mission of the CPTC is to explore the new and innovative technologies in the payments industry, as well as answer questions about data security, new technologies, unbanked users’ access to electronic payments, and more.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona): Sinema ventures to SXSW: They were all at Austin's SXSW interactive learning about technology, innovation and bridging the gap between Washington, D.C. and innovation.
More elected and government officials attended the conference than ever before. Between senators, congressmen and administrators, about 40 Washington influencers were on the ground. "What we hear from startups is that they are facing a tough regulatory environment that is sometimes byzantine, confusing and expensive to comply with," said Arizona Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, also adding "making the regulatory environment less burdensome would be a huge help."
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California): Gun Owners Should Support Background Checks: We now have a bipartisan bill in the House ready for a vote. We know it can pass. Two hundred and sixty representatives in the House — including 76 Republicans — voted last year to fund the background check system at record levels. If they are willing to fund the system at historic levels, they should support using the system. If the Republican majorities in both chambers have a better idea, let’s see it. If not, let’s bring background checks up for a vote. The bill is pro-Second Amendment, it’s anti-criminal, and it’s the best thing we can do to reduce gun violence while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans to own firearms.
Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas): Vela Appointed Senior Democratic Whip by House Leader: U.S. Representative Filemon Vela (D-Brownsville) was appointed by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer – the 2nd highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives – to serve as a Senior Democratic Whip for the 114th Congress. Senior Whips are charged with mobilizing the Democratic vote, acting as a liaison between members and Democratic leadership, and coordinating legislative strategy.