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Archive for March, 2013

Speier launches Congressional Watchdog Caucus

Rep. Jackie Speier has founded a Congressional Watchdog Caucus to oversee federal programs so that they’re run properly, taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and employees are treated fairly.

Um, isn’t that one of Congress’ main functions anyway? So true, says Speier, D-San Mateo – but the usual channels are getting clogged with politics.

“Oversight is all about responsible governance, not about scoring political points or shaming public officials. Taxpayers rely on us to be good stewards of public funds. They can’t afford wasteful expenditures and neither can the government,” Speier said in a news release. “As Members of Congress, we are the watchdogs entrusted to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse, and we have the authority to hold leaders accountable for misconduct. The Congressional Watchdog Caucus will support Members and staff in oversight actions and work together to develop strategies for effective investigations.”

Speier is the caucus’ founder and chair, but lest you think this is just more partisan rhetoric, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., will be its co-chair.

“There are many people and organizations interested in good government; this caucus will allow us to coordinate and leverage efforts, across the country, to monitor, report on, and conduct oversight of federal spending and federal activities,” Coffman said. “It’s our responsibility to watch over the federal government and make sure the money our citizens send to Washington isn’t wasted. Our families need to know their taxes are being wisely spent.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Dianne Feinstein & Bill Nelson get tough on Big Oil

Federal subsidies would be reduced for oil companies that conduct spill-prone, deep-water drilling under a pair of bills introduced Monday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Feinstein’s Deepwater Drilling Royalty Relief Prohibition Act ends federal incentives for deep-sea oil and natural gas drilling, barring the Interior Department from waiving royalty payments that oil companies would otherwise pay when drilling in waters deeper than 400 meters.

“The BP spill illustrated just how devastating oil spills in deep water can be. But even though we understand the great risks and lack the technology to drill safely, unwise incentives that push oil companies to drill deeper and deeper remain in place,” Feinstein said in a news release.

“While oil companies continue to collect record profits, the government should not lose out on royalties that could fund clean energy deployment,” she said. “This is especially egregious at a time when federal budgets continue to contract — it’s time to end this practice and collect reasonable royalty payments from large oil companies for exploitation of public resources.”

Feinstein noted five of the largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell — made a combined $118 billion in profits in 2012, but the big three American oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips) paid effective federal tax rates in 2011 of only 13 percent, 19 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Nelson’s Oil Spill Tax Fairness Act changes the tax code to deny tax deductions for oil spill-related expenses including legal, clean-up and other costs. Current law lets a company responsible for causing an oil spill is also responsible for the cost associated with cleaning that spill up, and Nelson’s bill would keep such a company from them turning around and writing those costs off as a tax deduction.

This bill was spurred by BP’s efforts to write off its clean-up expenses after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico created one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history. The legislation would apply to those responsible for an oil spill in U.S. territorial waters, but not to expenses caused by a natural disaster or an act of war.

“Given the record profits of the big oil companies, I don’t think they need any more help from taxpayers,” Nelson said in a news release.

Posted on Monday, March 18th, 2013
Under: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

New details on President Obama’s Bay Area visit

More details are now available on President Obama’s first visit to the Bay Area since he won his second term – a fundraising junket to benefit Democratic campaigns in next year’s midterm elections.

The president will arrive in the Bay Area on Wednesday, April 3 for two events that evening in San Francisco to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

First will be a cocktail reception at the Pacific Heights home of Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer – the billionaire former asset manager who bankrolled last year’s successful Proposition 39 – for which tickets cost $5,000 per person. After that, there’ll be a $32,500-per-person dinner hosted by billionaire heirs/philanthropists Ann and Gordon Getty. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is expected to attend both.

The president will remain in the Bay Area overnight and then attend two fundraisers on Thursday, April 4, to benefit the Democratic National Committee.

First comes a brunch at the Atherton home of Liz Simons and Medley Partners managing director Mark Heising, for which tickets cost $32,400 each. Then the president will attend a luncheon at the Atherton home of former insurance mogul and Levi-Strauss heir John Goldman and his wife Marcia, for which a $1,000 buys a basic ticket, $5,000 buys access to a photo reception as well, $7,500 buys lunch and photo reception tickets for two, and $20,000 buys access to a special co-sponsor reception.

Posted on Monday, March 18th, 2013
Under: Barack Obama, campaign finance, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Swalwell gathers foes of TSA’s new knife policy

Almost 60 House members so far from both sides of the aisle have signed a letter co-authored by an East Bay lawmaker expressing concern about the new Transportation Security Administration policy allowing knives on planes.

TSA revised their prohibited items policy to allow certain knives and sports equipment in airplane cabins; the new policy is set to take effect on April 25. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. – ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee – are circulating the letter.

At a hearing yesterday, TSA Administrator John Pistole acknowledged his agency hadn’t properly engaged stakeholders like flight attendants before reaching its decision. The letter calls on TSA to withdraw the new policy until it has consulted adequately with flight attendants, pilots and transportation security officers.

“The support for our letter objecting to TSA’s decision by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle validates the general consensus that this is a foolish policy that could, in a worst-case scenario, seriously harm Americans,” Swalwell, a freshman member of the Homeland Security Transportation Security Subcommittee, said in a news release. “Based on my conversation with Administrator Pistole yesterday at the Homeland Security Committee hearing, I am more convinced that TSA should not implement this policy.”

The letter is supported by the American Federation of Government Employees, the Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, the Federal Flight Deck Officer Association and the National Association of Police Organizations. The letter will keep circulating through Tuesday; the only Bay Area member besides Swalwell to have signed it so far is Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa.

Here’s Swalwell questioning Pistole at yesterday’s hearing:

UPDATE @ 4:04 P.M. THURSDAY 3/21: 133 House members ended up signing this letter, including greater Bay Area Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013
Under: Eric Swalwell, U.S. House | 6 Comments »

Watch Mitt Romney’s speech at CPAC today

2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney today addressed the American Conservative Union’s 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Of course, I left the race disappointed that we didn’t win. But I also left honored and humbled to have represented values we believe in and to speak for so many good and decent people. We’ve lost races before, and in the past, those setbacks prepared us for larger victories. It is up to us to make sure that we learn from my mistakes, and from our mistakes, so that we can win the victories those people and this nation depend upon.”

“Romney was so shocked and exhausted on election night, his address to CPAC today felt like the real concession speech,” Ari Shapiro, who covered the presidential campaign for National Public Radio, posted on Facebook today. Shapiro will be talking about that later today on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013
Under: 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney | No Comments »

Maryland is about to abolish the death penalty

Maryland lawmakers today approved what California voters narrowly rejected a few months ago: abolition of the death penalty.

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 82-56 to replace that state’s death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole; the state Senate had approved the bill 27-20 last week. Gov. Martin O’Malley had introduced the repeal legislation and so there’s no question that he’ll sign it into law now; in doing so, he’ll make Maryland the sixth state in as many years to do away with capital punishment.

“State after state is deciding that the death penalty is simply not worth the risks and costs to retain,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said in a news release. “Maryland is the sixth state in recent years to choose this course, but it won’t be the last.”

California voters in November rejected Proposition 34, which like Maryland’s law would’ve replaced the death penalty with life without parole; 48 percent voted for it, 52 percent against.

The defeat came despite the elevated turnout brought by a presidential election and after supporters had reframed the issue in part as one of fiscal wisdom, arguing the tight-budgeted state can’t afford the tremendous cost of putting and keeping so many people on death row.

California now has 732 condemned inmates, but has executed only 13 since reinstating its death penalty in 1978; the last execution was in 2006. Prop. 34 would’ve commuted all currently condemned inmates’ sentences to life without parole.

Maryland has carried out five executions since 1976, but has only five inmates now on its death row. The new law won’t directly affect those five, leaving it up to O’Malley to decide whether their sentences should be commuted separately.

Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013
Under: ballot measures, State Prisons | 4 Comments »

Pelosi, Eshoo will attend new Pope’s investiture

Two Bay Area members of Congress will be headed to Vatican City for the March 19 inaugural mass for newly elected Pope Francis.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will be part of the presidential delegation led by Vice President Joe Biden; other members of that group include New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Georgetown University President John DeGioia.

And Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, has been chosen by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to be part of the bipartisan congressional delegation to the event. “It is a high honor to be appointed to the House delegation to attend the investiture of Pope Francis, and humbling to be a witness to history,” Eshoo said in a news release today.

That delegation will be led by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and also includes Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; Sean Duffy, R-Wisc.; Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas; Jim Langevin, D-R.I.; Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill.; and Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, as well as House Chaplain the Rev. Patrick Conroy.

Besides Pelosi and Eshoo, Bay Area members George Miller, D-Martinez; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, are of the Roman Catholic faith, as is California Gov. Jerry Brown, himself a former Jesuit seminarian.

“I’m glad he’s a Jesuit,” Brown told reporters during a question-and-answer session Wednesday. “He is from Argentina, so that might give him a broader perspective to see the world through the Southern Hemisphere, but what the hell do I know? I thought Jesuits weren’t allowed to consider higher office. At least they weren’t in my day.”

Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Obama coming to Bay Area for Dem fundraisers

President Barack Obama will headline his first Democratic fundraiser for 2014′s midterm election right here in the Bay Area next month.

The April 3 fundraiser in San Francisco will raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. According to an invitation obtained by The Associated Press, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will also attend.

The White House confirmed Thursday that the president will be in Northern California on April 3 and 4 for fundraising events for both the DCCC and the Democratic National Committee.

My esteemed colleagues at the Chronicle reported last week that the president should expect to be met in San Francisco by protestors urging him to nix the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The AP reports Democratic officials have said the president plans to headline at least 14 fundraisers this year for the party’s House and Senate candidates. Some of the events will be in Washington, but most will be held around the county.

Congressional Republicans say Obama is more focused on regaining Democratic control of the House in the midterm elections than he is on seeking bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. Obama disputed that notion during private meetings with lawmakers this week.

Posted on Thursday, March 14th, 2013
Under: Barack Obama, campaign finance, Democratic Party, Democratic politics, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

What the politicos are saying about Pope Francis

From President Barack Obama:

“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy. As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years—that in each other we see the face of God. As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day. Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith. We join with people around the world in offering our prayers for the Holy Father as he begins the sacred work of leading the Catholic Church in our modern world.”

From Vice President Joe Biden:

“Jill and I want to offer our congratulations to His Holiness Pope Francis, and extend our prayers as he takes on this holy responsibility. I am happy to have the chance to personally relay my well wishes, and those of the American people, when I travel to Rome for his Inaugural Mass. The Catholic Church plays an essential role in my life and the lives of more than a billion people in America and around the world, not just in matters of our faith, but in pursuit of peace and human dignity for all faiths. I look forward to our work together in the coming years on many important issues.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“With the election of His Holiness Pope Francis, the world’s Catholics turn to a compassionate leader for the poor, a champion of the least fortunate, and a man of humility committed to love and understanding between faiths and nations.

“Pope Francis has made history as the first Jesuit priest to ascend the Chair of Saint Peter and the first Pope from the Americas; his selection is a sign of respect and admiration for the growing ranks of Catholics, indeed all people, across Latin America.

“Whether named for St. Francis of Assisi, who cared for all of God’s creation, or St. Francis Xavier, who brought the faith to Asia, Pope Francis has been, and will be, a moral force to protect the poor and advance the faith.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Under: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Boxer: Santa Cruz cop killer was military snafu

At a U.S. Senate hearing today on sexual assault in the military, Sen. Barbara Boxer cited the deadly shootings of two Santa Cruz detectives by Army veteran Jeremy Goulet as an example of military justice gone awry.

Boxer, D-Calif., testified before the Boxer testified at the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel’s oversight hearing.

“Last month, an Army veteran shot and killed two Santa Cruz police detectives who were attempting to question him over a sexual assault allegation,” Boxer said. “In the aftermath of this shooting, we learned that even though the former soldier had faced two separate rape charges while serving in the Army, charges against him were dropped and he was discharged without a conviction as part of a plea bargain.”

“Now what is it going to take to convince the military that sexual assault is a violent and vicious crime and that those who perpetuate it are capable of other violent crime—including murder?” Boxer asked. “What is it going to take? It is a vicious, violent crime, and those capable of that vicious crime are capable of other crimes—yes, murder.”

Boxer’s comments echo those that former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made last week at the two slain officers’ funeral.

“We do know that he had a history of sexual violence both in and out of the military. And for whatever reason, people somehow always looked the other way,” Panetta had said, acknowledging that military sex offenders were not always prosecuted for the offenses they committed. “And at some point, somebody pays a price.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | No Comments »