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Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Jerry McNerneyMcNerney seeks jobs for vets: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, today announced he’s among the co-authors of the bipartisan Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, aimed at helping reduce unemployment among veterans. Among other provisions, H.R. 1941 aims to ensure every veteran takes part in the Transition Assistance Program – which provides information about transitioning from military service to civilian life to armed forces members within 180 days of their separation or retirement – and that the program delivers individualized assistance to each returning veteran. The bill also encourages federal agencies to hire veterans; provides additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits to qualifying veterans with service-connected disabilities; creates a competitive grant program for nonprofits that help veterans find employment through job training and mentorship initiatives; and requires the Department of Labor, the Department of Defense, and the VA to work to reduce and eliminate barriers between military training and civilian licensing requirements for specialized work. “Taking aggressive steps to help returning veterans find good jobs is the right thing to do and will benefit the economy,” McNerney said in a news release. “Employers and veterans alike will benefit from the Hiring Heroes Act, and I look forward to working with a bipartisan group of my colleagues to move this bill forward.” The bill was introduced yesterday by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and the other co-sponsors are Bob Filner, D-San Diego; C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla.; and Norm Dicks, D-Wash. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this year.

John GaramendiGaramendi again urges Afghanistan withdrawal: Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, brought his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, calling for a substantial drawdown in U.S. forces in Afghanistan by 2013, to the House Rules Committee today. He’d brought a similar amendment last week to the Armed Services Committee, of which he’s a member; the bill without his amendment was approved in a 60-1 vote with Garamendi the sole dissenter, saying he couldn’t in good conscience vote for a bill that extends the counterinsurgency strategy and needlessly puts servicemembers’ lives at risk. He instead advocates pulling most troops out and shifting the remaining ones away from nation building and toward tightly focused counterterrorism efforts.

Pete StarkStark pushes missing-kids bill: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will host a news conference tomorrow – which is National Missing Children’s Day – to introduce the Recovering Missing Children Act. His office says the bill would ensure that state and local law enforcement have access to the resources they need to bring missing children home safely. The U.S. Treasury Department studied 1,700 parental abductions and found that in over one third of the cases, tax returns were filed using the missing child’s Social Security number; hundreds of those tax returns had a new address for the child and the abductor, but law enforcement officers weren’t allowed access to this information. The Recovering Missing Children Act would allow such access. Expected to join Stark for the bill’s introduction are U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn.; Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.; Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children President Ernie Allen; and Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations National Coordinator Wendy Jolley-Kabi.

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Garamendi in bipartisan push vs. Afghanistan war

Last week it was the progressives urging President Barack Obama to speed up withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the wake of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s death. Today it’s a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

Garamendi signed onto a letter along with fellow Democrats Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Rush Holt, D-N.J.; and John Tierney, D-Mass.; as well as Republicans Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; John Campbell, R-Calif.; and John Duncan, R-Tenn.

“The success of this mission does not change the reality that America still faces a determined and violent adversary,” they wrote. “It does, however, require us to reexamine our policy of nation building in Afghanistan. We believe it is no longer the best way to defend America against terror attacks, and we urge you to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan that are not crucial to the immediate national security objective of combating al Qaeda. … The killing of Osama bin Laden was made possible by a strong intelligence operation and well-trained Special Forces units. In combating extremism, the combination of actionable intelligence and highly mobile Special Forces has proven most effective against an enemy that is not limited to a single geographic location.”

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Progressives again urge Afghanistan withdrawal

Acting on the promise they made earlier this week, the House’s progressive leaders – including three from the Bay Area – urged President Barack Obama today renewing their call for a significant reduction in U.S. troops in Afghanistan following the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., along with CPC Peace & Security Task Force co-chairs Mike Honda, D-San Jose, Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, noted how bin Laden’s recent death not only provided comfort to families of “the victims of his unconscionable attacks on innocent life” but also provided an opportunity to end U.S. involvement in America’s longest war. The letter also cites the growing bipartisan consensus to ensure that the scheduled July reduction in troops “meet the expectations of Congress (and) the American people.”

Scores of House members urged the President in March to make the July reduction in U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan significant and sizable.

The latest New York Times/CBS poll shows nearly half of those surveyed said the nation should decrease troop levels in Afghanistan, but more than six in 10 also said the United States had not completed its mission in Afghanistan, suggesting that the public would oppose a rapid withdrawal of all American forces. The nationwide telephone poll was conducted May 2 and 3 with 532 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points for all adults.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Lee leads letter urging Afghanistan withdrawal

Rep. Barbara Lee today led a bipartisan group of 80 House members in writing to President Barack Obama, urging him to make a significant, sizeable reduction in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan beginning no later than July.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“Our service men and women have performed with incredible courage and commitment in Afghanistan. But they have been put in an impossible situation where there is no military solution,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release.

“Twice, President Obama has doubled down on a counterproductive military-first strategy in Afghanistan based upon the perpetual recommendation of the Pentagon for more troops, more time, and more resources,” she said. “This letter sends a clear signal to the President that the redeployment of a minimal number of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July will not meet the expectations of Congress or the American people, and further that we will strongly support a shift toward ending this war and bringing all of our troops home.

Among those signing today’s letter were representatives John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; George Miller, D-Martinez; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Lee last month joined with two House Republicans to introduce HR 780, The Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act, which would limit funding in Afghanistan for the safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors. That bill now has 56 co-sponsors, including all of the Bay Area members who signed today’s letter; no action has occurred since it was referred to the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

Read the full text of today’s letter, after the jump…
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Barbara Lee, Ron Paul aim to end Afghanistan war

Rep. Barbara Lee joined with two House Republicans this morning to introduce a bill that they say would end the war in Afghanistan.

The bill that Lee, D-Oakland, co-authored with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, would require that any money appropriated for the war in Afghanistan “shall be obligated and expended only for purposes of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel.”

“It sends, really, a strong message that we’ve come together today to speak with one voice on this issue,” Lee said on a teleconference with reporters.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee noted her lone vote against authorizing the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and said her concern that it was a blank check for war hasn’t abated since. Had Americans known we’d still be in Afghanistan almost a decade later, she said, perhaps there would’ve been a more robust debate. “It’s costing us $100 billion a year and countless American lives.”

Lee said the bill already has about 46 co-sponsors, on both sides of the aisle.

Jones, whose district is home to military installations including the Marine Corps’ Camp LeJeune, has seen service members deployed repeatedly to Afghanistan, to little avail. He said he has been in touch with a retired general – whom he declined to name, although he said reporters would recognize the name if he did – who has advised him that the situation in Afghanistan is untenable, and won’t lead to a stable, democratic government there.

“It’s time to bring them home, the American people are fed up and tired of seeking the broken bodies,” he said.

Paul thanked Lee for “leading the charge” and said the war is a consequence of policy dating back at least to the Persian Gulf War, an American interventionist attitude intent on remaking the Middle East and South Asia. We should persuade and lead by example, not by gunpoint, he said.

Asked whether yesterday’s vote on defunding the development of an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter indicated House members are becoming more willing to cross party lines, Paul replied he found it “a bit encouraging” but said it wasn’t a great test vote because there were “a lot of parochial interests involved.” Although the new crop of GOP freshmen seem more inclined to vote independently, he said, “we still have a way to go.”

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Barbara Lee’s news blitz on AIDS, climate, war

The always communicative Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is setting a new bar in news-release volume today, with five statements issued by midday.

In order, though not in their entirety:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee commemorates World Aids Day. “”In the spirit of World AIDS Day and this year’s theme of Universal Access and Human Rights, I call on my colleagues to take advantage of this moment and come together in a bipartisan manner with the administration to find the will and the funding necessary to stop this disease.”

Lee comments on the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Cancun, Mexico. “I urge President Obama and our international counterparts to recommit to the international negotiation process and cooperative efforts to ensure science-based reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions are accomplished in an equitable and verifiable manner.”

Lee, on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaks in support of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. “It is unfortunate that in order to pass The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act it comes at the expense of future Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program funding. As more Americans slip into poverty and unemployment remains at painfully high levels, we should not have to choose between feeding poor children or their parents at a time that some in Congress argue for a $700 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.”

Lee announces the launch of her newly redesigned website, featuring a homepage newsflash rotator, an interactive map of the 9th Congressional District and a more user-friendly design.. “I hope everyone will take a moment to explore my website to learn about my work on key issues and discover how to take advantage of the constituent services my office can provide.”

Lee calls for a change of course in Afghanistan, one year after President Obama announced his troop surge there. “There is no end in sight in to the war in Afghanistan and no military solution. The President’s recent decision to extend the timeframe for the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces to at least 2014 has put us on the path to another decade of costly and counterproductive military occupation in Afghanistan. Enough is enough. This war is not in the national interest of the United States, nor is it supported by the majority of the American people.”

Let’s all give a shout-out to Communications Director Nicole Williams and Deputy District Director Ricci Graham, perhaps the Bay Area’s hardest-working House communications team. A few more this afternoon, maybe?