Blue Dogs Congressional Roundup - October 16, 2015
Blue Dog-Endorsed Crude Oil Export Bill Passes the House: A bipartisan team of Texans, U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, rounded up an overwhelming majority of House votes on Friday to back a bill repealing the nation's long-standing ban on exporting domestic crude oil to the international market. But the final House tally — 261 for and 159 against — wouldn't be enough to overcome a threatened presidential veto of the measure. Generally, Democrats opposed the bill and Republicans supported it, with plenty of crossover in both directions… "We didn't get the veto override vote, but we got close enough to it that we can be optimistic," Barton said. "Sixty percent of the House voted for this."
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon): Schrader Speaks about Bipartisanship, Budget: What is the federal government doing to balance the federal budget? What is the progress on getting rid of the "Cadillac Tax?" And just who is going to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House? The luncheon, sponsored by Rich Duncan Construction, had the right person to answer most, if not all, of those questions: U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader. Schrader represents Oregon’s 5th District, which includes Lincoln, Marion, Polk, and Tillamook counties. He was back in Oregon while Congress is on a break until next week. And he came bearing surprising news for the luncheon attendees: Washington, D.C., isn’t as broken and dysfunctional as the media claims. He apologized in advance to those in the audience who might have heard a few of the anecdotes he was going to tell showcasing bipartisanship in the nation’s capital.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-California): Costa, AG Secretary Vilsack Talk Trade, Agriculture: The U.S. Agriculture Secretary made a visit to the Valley Tuesday partly to tout the trans-pacific partnership. The trade agreement would involve 12 countries representing 40 percent of the global economy. Foster Farms in Livingston was the first stop on Tom Vilsack's west coast swing. The U.S. Ag Secretary looked over the company's improved food safety standards designed to lower salmonella levels. Vilsack and Fresno Congressman Jim Costa then came to Fresno to discuss the trans-pacific partnership. "I can tell you there is immediate impact, immediate benefit and over time a very significant market access because of tariff reduction and because of this system for sanitary and phyto-sanitary barriers," said Vilsack. Vilsack says the TPP offers a big opportunity for Valley commodities. "If you're looking at dairy the market access is expanded in Canada and Japan. If you're looking at tree nuts you're seeing an elimination, a reduction of significant tariffs." Same with locally grown fruits and vegetables but critics argue the trans pacific partnership would send more jobs overseas. "This is all about jobs and the economy in america. 95-percent of the world's market is outside america. We're 5-percent of the market," said Congressman Costa. Costa has not yet decided how he will vote on the trans-pacific partnership. The 1,000 page proposal is expected to be released to lawmakers within 25 days.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee): Cooper Pushes for Dam Safety: Cooper's concern on the topic is clear as he joins the Army Corps of Engineers' civil design and dam safety chief Mike Zoccola, accompanied by other corps staff. Before the group can even get their hard hats fastened, the congressman is politely but firmly grilling Zoccola, pressing him about dam safety. As the tour continues from one side of the lock to the other to the top of the dam wall, then down below to the loudly whirring turbines in the power house, Cooper inquires about the dam's intricacies as well as the possible effects of nearby blasting. His anxiety is heightened by recent events upstream: more than $1 billion in combined urgent repairs to Wolf Creek Dam (located 275 miles upstream near Jamestown, Ky.) and Center Hill Dam (70 miles east near Smithville). Repairs to the latter are not yet complete. Cooper says those were just two more examples of the corps reacting to long-deferred emergencies rather than acting to head them off. It's why he's so concerned about Old Hickory Dam, despite assurances that all is well. Several days after his tour, he will publish an op-ed in The Tennessean outlining the threat he believes the quarry poses to the dam, and hence to Nashville.
Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Nebraska): Ashford Calls for End to Lawmakers Sending Taxpayer-Funded Mailings: Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., wants to cut off the mass mailings sent from Capitol Hill lawmakers every year on the taxpayers’ dime. “We must end special privileges for members of Congress,” Ashford said in a press release Tuesday. “Nebraskans expect elected officials to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. That’s why I will not spend tax dollars for self-promoting mass mailings, which do not help my constituents.” Ashford has not sent any so-called mass mailings since taking office early this year and says he won’t in the future. He has co-sponsored legislation to repeal congressional mail privileges, casting that move as part of a larger push to tamp down congressional perks. For example, he also has backed various bills that would eliminate automatic pay adjustments for members, reduce congressional salaries by 10 percent and end congressional pensions.
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-Georgia): Bishop Urges Passage of Crude Oil Export Ban: The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday that repeals the ban on crude oil exports, which was originally imposed by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 as a response to the 1973 oil crisis… During the floor debate on Friday, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) referred to the bill as “much needed legislation which would lift the arbitrary ban on the export of one of our country's most abundant natural resources, crude oil.”… “The current ban on exports is a relic of a different time, before we as a nation knew just how much crude oil we have stored in the earth across this country,” said Bishop. “We are in the position of showing the world that we can provide a stable source of energy to friendly countries around the globe,” he said. “Our supplies will dilute the market share of unfriendly countries and weaken their grip on our democratic ally nations who have to depend on some of our unfriendly countries for their oil supply. We can provide an alternative source to those who don't want to support our adversaries and their adversaries.”
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois): Bustos Returns from Trade Mission to Cuba: Illinois farmers are getting some help getting their produce to Cuba. There are now plans to open an Illinois Cuba Working Group office in Havana. Representative Cheri Bustos spent the last four days in Cuba talking to leaders about how to increase exports to the small island nation. As tensions continue to thaw between Cuba and the U.S. Bustos says she wants to make sure Illinois is at the forefront of new economic opportunities. She says that starts with agriculture. "It won't happen overnight by any means but I hope it will happen, and that is to help Cuba gain access to the standard credit markets to help them get credit so they can buy our goods in Illinois," Rep. Bustos said.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas): Cuellar Announces Less Crime on Texas Border than in D.C.: U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has released a compilation of the latest statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that show a lower murder rate in cities along the Texas-Mexico border than in other major cities across the nation and the state of Texas. The numbers are from 2014. The FBI crime rates also show that the number of robberies, assaults, and rapes is significantly lower in border cities than the major metropolitan cities in Texas. “Many people, both in the political arena and out, mischaracterize the southern border region as very unsafe,” Cuellar said. “But today’s numbers, for yet another year, paint a very different picture.”
Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Florida): Graham Introduces Bill to Help Prevent Government Shutdown: U.S. Representative Gwen Graham announced her new "Shutdown Prevention Act" Friday in Tallahassee. She's looking to eliminate future shutdown threats and implement measures to force Congress to pass an annual budget. Graham says the legislation would take away power from the small minority that is causing chaos in Congress, and put it back in the hands of the moderate majority. It would allow any member of Congress to offer a 30-day extension in the event of a shutdown, during which time their travel funds would be cut off, recesses forbidden, and limiting weekends to just two days.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois): Congressman Dan Lipinski’s (IL-3) proposal directing the National Science Foundation to award grants for innovative, informal science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education projects and programs has been signed into law. “This new law will help museums and science centers across the country introduce a variety of engaging STEM programs that will support and build upon what our young people are learning in school,” said Rep. Lipinski. “These programs will reach the more than 13 million students that visit museums each year, many of whom may be inspired to pursue science careers as a result.” Activities supported by the grants may encompass a single STEM discipline, multiple disciplines, or integrative initiatives.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota): Peterson Pushes Back on Recommended Dairy Guidelines: Lawmakers Oct. 7 asked federal officials whether Americans should trust the government’s dietary guidelines, which inform everything from school lunches to advice from a doctor. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack defended the guidelines before the House Agriculture Committee, pointing out that the latest guidelines haven’t even been written yet. They are released every five years and the 2015 version is due by the end of this year. Lawmakers from both parties expressed frustration about how the government recommendations have shifted. A government advisory committee’s recommendations in February, for example, said dietary cholesterol now is “not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption” after years of doctors saying that Americans consume too much cholesterol and shouldn’t eat too many eggs. The advisory committee, which is charged with making preliminary recommendations for the guidelines, also backed off stricter limits on salt, though it said Americans still get too much. “People may be losing confidence in the guidelines,” said Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN. “Given the public’s skepticism we should maybe reconsider why we are doing this.”
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California): Sanchez Blasts Wasteful Syria Equip and Train Program: The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan argued for keeping a military presence in the country at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday… He said the U.S. spent $4.1 billion on training Afghan security forces in 2015 and will spent $3.86 billion in 2016… Campbell faced a heavy grilling from lawmakers who questioned why after 14 long years of war, the U.S. should extend its presence… Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) also blasted Campbell's assessment. "It's pretty much been a failure," she said. "I've heard this. I've heard this for 14 years. We're going to get better. It's going to be more efficient. We're getting there." "The reality is that we're not," she said. "Mr. Jones was right."
Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia): Scott Bucks Party on Fiduciary Bill Vote: The House Financial Services Committee passed alternative legislation that would govern retirement investing Wednesday, but the vote fell short of bipartisanship. The bill, called the Retail Investor Protection Act (RIPA), is sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo. Seen as an alternative to the Department of Labor’s fiduciary only rule, the Retail Investor Protection Act passed by a 34-25 vote along party lines. Only Rep. David Scott, R-Ga., voted with Republicans, a surprise given the growing criticism of the DOL proposal from Democrats. Several Democrats who voted with Wagner when she first introduced the RIPA in 2013 changed their votes this time. Ninety-six House Democrats recently signed a letter asking DOL Secretary Thomas Perez to make significant changes to the rule.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona): Sinema Slams VA After Disturbing Inspector General Report: A scathing report on urology care at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix says some sick veterans died awaiting care and hundreds were medically sidetracked or neglected because of short-staffing and mismanagement… Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, described the report as "appalling" and the VA's failure to care for veterans as an "atrocity." The OIG report says that Phoenix administrators finally authorized outside appointments in May 2014, but even then the process was stalled by "complicated administrative processes." In September 2014, the report says, more than 3,000 urology patients were listed as "lost to follow-up" because their care status was unclear.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California): Thompson Pushes for Background Check Reform: Rep. Mike Thompson ramped up support for his bipartisan firearms background check bill to curb tragedies like Oregon’s recent college shooting. The Northern California Democratic congressman, whose district includes Santa Rosa Junior College, co-wrote the Public Safety and Second Amendment Protection Act of 2015 with GOP Rep. Peter King. Co-sponsorship has grown to 183 House members since the Umpqua massacre. Thompson and King’s bill, HR-1217, would expand mandatory background checks to all commercial guns sales. This ordinance already applies to federally licensed firearm dealers and would force all other commercial distributers to conform, according to Thompson. “If you go to gun a show [and buy a firearm], you would have to get a background check. If you buy a gun over the internet, you would have to get a background check,” Thompson said.
Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas): Vela Fights to Have Criminals Extradited to Face Trial in U.S.: Thirteen people have been extradited back into the United States, including Edgar Valdez Villarreal who is known as "La Barbie." "The extradition of those 13 is a good sign with respect to the Mexican government’s willingness to send criminals to face justice here at home," said Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville. Vela said the extraditions reflect the efforts of prosecutors and law enforcement officials across the U.S. Recently, Vela along with Rep. Michael McCaul sent a joint letter asking for immediate action by the U.S. and Mexico to arrest, extradite and bring former Tamaulipas governors Tomas Yarrington and Eugenio Hernandez to justice. "Governor Yarrington was indicted in federal court here in the United States," Vela said. "A federal judge issued an extradition order and he's still not here." The two former governors of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas are accused of being key players in criminal enterprises that caused a negative impact on both sides of the border. "The reason is so important to bring the governors to face their alleged crimes here in the United States is because one of the biggest problems that we see in Mexico is with certain of their officials that really don't implement rule of law," Vela said. By bringing the two former governors Tamaulipas back into the U.S., it will give officials more information about the corruption networks, Correa-Cabrera said. "We need to focus on former governments and current authorities that have allowed this situation to worsen and (the)cartels or drug trafficking organizations to grow," Vela said.
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