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House Dems applaud DiFi water plan’s failure

A bunch of Northern California House members are relieved that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has pulled the plug on closed-door negotiations over a California water bill.

“You’ve got to work with people to get something done,” Feinstein, D-Calif., told the Associated Press on Thursday, adding that “I’m going to put together a first-day bill for the next Congress, and it can go through the regular order.”

But the question of which people she’s working with remains. Feinstein and California’s House Republicans have been pushing water bills without the usual mark-up hearings, with House Democrats largely excluded and little or no public scrutiny.

Representatives Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, issued a joint statement Thursday saying they’re glad Feinstein’s effort failed.

“We are pleased Senator Feinstein will not be pursuing passage of the water legislation secretly negotiated by her and House Republicans. This legislation would have eviscerated environmental laws protecting fisheries, California watersheds, local water supplies, and tribal and local economies in order to benefit a few powerful Delta water exporters,” they said. “We applaud the Senator for stepping away from this deeply flawed legislation and realizing that a bill of this magnitude requires public hearings and regular committee process.”

The lawmakers, whose mostly Delta-adjacent districts would be direct affected by such a bill, said they’ve been “raising serious objections to both the secretive process and the harmful content of this legislation” and will “continue to demand next year that any water legislation responding to California’s severe drought be balanced and take into consideration the array of stakeholders in California.”

Restore the Delta, a grassroots environmental protection group, had issued a statement blasting the possible bill a few hours before news broke that it won’t happen this year.

“Senator Feinstein is carrying water for industrial growers who have planted tens of thousands of acres of almonds and other permanent crops in the midst of the past several very dry years,” Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta’s executive director, said in a news release. “Sen. Feinstein is rushing through legislation to aid these growers at the expense of the rest of California.”

UPDATE @ 3:23 P.M.: This just in from Feinstein:

“Over the past several weeks I have been working closely with members of the California delegation who expressed interest in reaching a bipartisan agreement on legislation to address California’s drought crisis without violating the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act or biological opinions.

“Although we have made progress, it has become clear that we will be unable to present an agreed-upon proposal before Congress adjourns this year.

“I deeply believe the people want both parties to work together, and that is the only way we will be able to enact water legislation. Claims that this has been some kind of secret process are false. In order to come up with a bill that is ready for public comment, back-and-forth negotiations and consultations are often necessary, including extensive technical assistance from federal and state agencies. That process is ongoing and we have no agreed-upon bill at this time.

“It is important to remember there is a real human face to this crisis. Some communities can no longer deliver water to homes. Thousands of residential wells have run dry. And many families lack very basic necessities like water for showers and cooking.

“California is in a state of prolonged drought, and we must come together to find ways to provide the water necessary for life and well-being. This isn’t about corporate agriculture, this is about California.

“It’s my hope that groups critical of this effort will strive to be productive rather than destructive. It’s clear that we need to get more water to our cities, businesses, farmers, households, fish and the Delta. And it’s equally important that we continue to protect wildlife and the environment. Only together will we stand a chance of agreeing on a bill that can help accomplish all of these goals.”

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Today’s congressional odds and ends

IMMIGRANT FAMILY DETENTION – Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, led 32 House Democrats in writing to President Obama about how the Homeland Security Department is detaining immigrant families, and its plan to significantly expand family detention in the months ahead. “At the current rates, within one year this Administration will have increased capacity to detain immigrant women and children by more than 4,000 percent” Lofgren said. “As the law requires, there needs to be a better assessment in place to appropriately screen and assess these women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence, torture or persecution in Central America.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

BIO-DEFENSE FUNDING – Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, joined with Rep. Mike Rogers, R-M ich., in calling for additional funding for the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and related bio-defense programs amid the ongoing Ebola epidemic. “BARDA is now leading the federal government’s efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics against Ebola,” they wrote. “While ongoing programs at the National Institutes of Health are essential for early-stage Ebola research, only BARDA has the infrastructure to actually get a vaccine or drug prepared for use in this outbreak.” Eshoo and Rogers authored the 2006 law creating BARDA; their letter went to House Appropriations Committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking members; Speaker John Bohener; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chair and ranking member; and White House Ebola “czar” Ron Klain.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)SURGEON GENERAL – Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; and Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, got 88 of their House colleagues to sign a letter calling for the confirmation of Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy, as the nation worries about Ebola. Obama nominated Murthy almost a year ago, but conservatives have blocked his confirmation mainly because he sees gun control as a public health issue. “As our nation faces public health concerns, the Senate needs to stop playing politics with Presidential nominees and confirm a Surgeon General to assist in disseminating information and to amplify the work being done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Lee said. “Dr. Murthy is an eminently qualified physician and has the support of our nation’s preeminent health and physicians groups. It’s time to confirm him.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

Mike ThompsonNAPA QUAKE DISASTER FUNDS – The Obama administration has approved individual-assistance Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds for areas in Napa and Solano counties hurt by Aug. 24’s 6.0-magnitude earthquake, senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Thompson announced Tuesday. The administration also approved Small Business Administration loans for homeowners, businesses, and nonprofit organizations; until now, only public assistance FEMA disaster funds had been approved. “The approval of this much needed assistance is an important step in our region’s recovery, and it will finally allow us to start helping folks get back on their feet,” said Thompson, D-Napa. “Individuals and families will be able to use these funds to begin the process of rebuilding and repairing homes and other personal property. And, local businesses will be able to apply for low-interest SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory and supplies.” Individuals in Napa and Solano Counties can register with FEMA online, via smartphone, or by calling 800-621-3362.

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California House Dems call for Shinseki to resign

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle – including some from California – are calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign amid scathing reports that the VA delayed critical care for patients and gamed its own scheduling system.

Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova; and Scott Peters, D-San Diego, are among Democrats who’ve joined with a far larger number of Republicans to urge Shinseki’s ouster. The Military Times is keeping a tally.

From McNerney:

Jerry McNerney“I reviewed today’s preliminary report from the VA Inspector General, and I was deeply troubled by what I read. The unacceptable delays in Phoenix were not an isolated incident, but rather appear to be part of a larger pattern of neglectful actions in certain VA medical facilities. It appears there was even knowledge inside some parts of the VA that standard scheduling practices were not being followed and that veterans were waiting far too long for care. These delays may have even resulted in preventable deaths.

“I believe the best way to restore the confidence of our veterans is for Secretary Shinseki to step down and allow new leadership to initiate an investigation that will first, get to the bottom of these allegations, second, punish anyone who put our veterans at risk, and most importantly ensure that our veterans are getting the timely health care they deserve. An independent investigation of these accusations is the only appropriate way to ensure transparency and fairness throughout the process.

“General Shinseki has my respect and I commend him for his distinguished career as a public servant and as a decorated member of the military. That being said, it’s clear that our veterans deserve a new leader at the VA who can restore confidence and make sure that this never happens again.

“Our veterans and our nation are counting on us to make this right. I intend to do everything in my power to make sure that happens, and I call on the Administration and the VA to devote every necessary resource to fixing this. Those who fought for our nation deserve no less.”

From Bera:

Ami_Bera_official_photo“Our veterans, and their families have sacrificed so much for our country, and they deserve our unwavering support. That’s why I have been working to address problems at the VA and to get our heroes the benefits they are owed since my very first month in office.

The latest report that at least 1,700 veterans in Phoenix were never even placed on a wait list to get the medical care they needed is deeply troubling. This cannot continue. It’s obvious there are very serious systemic and management problems at the VA that we must address. While General Shinseki’s dedication and service to his country are indisputable, these failures that happened under his leadership are unacceptable and it is clear that he must step down.

These problems are much bigger than one person, though, and we must continue to investigate how this occurred, find out if it’s happening elsewhere, and continue to respond. That will likely require more changes at the VA, including holding others who allowed this to happen accountable.”

And on the other side of the aisle, from Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto:

Jeff Denham“In the days following disturbing reports of secret waiting lists created at the Phoenix Park Veterans Affairs Medical Center, we have now learned that this gross mistreatment of our nation’s finest men and women is happening across the country. The way our veterans have been treated in Phoenix and multiple other VA hospitals nationwide is nothing short of criminal.

“One of my most serious responsibilities is to the Central Valley’s veterans. They deserve transparency and quality care. I’ve requested a full review of the Palo Alto VA Medical Center’s scheduling practices to ensure that we are providing the very best care possible and I will not rest until I have answers from our local VA.

“We now know that these problems are widespread and systemic. The Department of Veterans Affairs must have new leadership. Sec. Shinseki has served his country honorably, but we can’t expect accountability within the VA if it doesn’t start at the top. Sec. Shinseki must step down, and drastic changes must take place in order to ensure our veterans receive the care they deserve.”

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Activists seek ‘Robin Hood tax’ upon Wall Street

Activists organized in part by the California Nurses Association rallied Friday at congressional offices in 22 cities – including four in Northern California – to call for a tax on Wall Street speculation to relieve economic inequality and address basic needs.

The Oakland-based union scheduled the events for Friday because it’s the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his death was amid a campaign for economic justice that included anti-poverty and worker-rights issues.

Supporters of HR 1579 – authored by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and cosponsored by local lawmakers including Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield – sometimes call it the “Robin Hood tax.”

The bill would levy a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades and smaller amounts on transactions of bonds and derivatives. Its goal to reduce harmful financial market speculation; discourage high-volume, high-speed trading; and slow down proliferation of complex derivatives while raising hundreds of billions of dollars per year for jobs, health care, education, the fights against HIV/AIDS and climate change, and more.

Several dozen countries have similar taxes, and the United States had one until 1966. Business leaders including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Pollin, and Larry Summers have recommended adopting a financial transaction tax, and after Wall Street’s crash 1987, such a tax was endorsed by President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, carried a similar bill in 2010.

There’s no chance the Republican-led House will ever advance this bill.

Still, Northern California activists rallied Friday at the offices of congressmen George Miller in Concord, Mike Honda in San Jose, Ami Bera in Rancho Cordova and Jeff Denham in Modesto – three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.

“My patients are trying to heal from an illness or surgery and when they go home they are forced to make a decision between buying medication or food,” California Nurses Association co-president Malinda Markowitz, an RN at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said in a news release. “That’s why I want Rep. Mike Honda to support the people of this community by supporting the Robin Hood Tax.”

The nurses’ union notes King once said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”

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Money matchups: CA3, CA7, CA9, CA10 & CA21

Aside from the Honda-Khanna and perhaps the Swalwell-Corbett Democrat-on-Democrat contests, the Bay Area doesn’t offer much in terms of competitive House races – yet some races elsewhere in Northern and Central California are heating up, according to campaign finance reports filed last week.

3rd Congressional District
(likely Democratic*)

  • Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, raised about $114,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $216,000 cash on hand and $55 in debts.
  • Dan Logue, the Republican assemblyman from Chico, raised about $88,000 in 2013’s final quarter and finished the year with about $251,000 cash on hand but about $122,000 in debts – the latter, mostly the $115,000 he loaned his own campaign.
  • Republican Ryan Harter of Plumas Lake just entered the race last month and so has not yet reported any fundraising.
  • 7th Congressional District
    (Toss-up*)

  • Freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, raised more than $338,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $1,152,000 cash on hand but about $342,000 in debts.
  • Former Rep. Doug Ose, a Republican from Sacramento, raised about $129,000 in the final quarter, finishing 2013 with about $277,000 cash on hand and $44,000 in debts.
  • Igor Birman, a Republican from Rancho Cordova and former chief of staff to Rep. Tom McClintock, raised about $72,000 in 2013’s final quarter and finished the year with about $124,000 cash on hand and $18,000 in debts.
  • Elizabeth Emken of Fair Oaks, who was U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Republican challenger in 2012, raised about $49,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $306,000 cash on hand but about $312,000 in debts – the latter, mostly the $285,000 loan she made to her own campaign in June and September.
  • 9th Congressional District
    (likely Democratic*)

  • Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, raised about $130,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $306,000 cash on hand and $3,000 in debts.
  • Republican Steve Colangelo of Stockton raised about $7,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $582 cash on hand but almost $23,000 in debts.
  • Republican Karen Davis of Lodi raised no funds but loaned her campaign $12,000, all of which was paid to consultant Chad Condit – the son of former Rep. Gary Condit.
  • 10th Congressional District
    (likely Republican*)

  • Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, raised about $196,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $1.3 million cash on hand and about $34,000 in debts.
  • Democrat Michael Eggman of Kingsburg – brother of Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stoctkon – raised about $188,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $287,000 cash on hand and $2,700 in debts.
  • 21st Congressional District
    (lean Republican*)

  • Freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, raised about $232,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $677,000 cash on hand and $12,000 in debts.
  • Democrat Amanda Renteria of Sanger – a former aide to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Debbie Stabenow – raised about $338,000 in 2013’s final quarter, finishing the year with about $257,000 cash on hand and $6,500 in debts.
  • (* all ratings courtesy of the Cook Political Report)

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    Three NorCal House Dems vote for Upton bill

    Reps. Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi and Ami Bera were among 39 House Democrats who joined with most Republicans to pass a controversial bill Friday that would let insurers keep selling policies which fall short of the new healthcare law’s standards and consumer protections.

    H.R. 3350 by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., would not only let people with insurance that doesn’t meet the new law’s standards keep it through 2014, but it would also let new customers buy such policies too. The House approved the bill 261-157, but the bill faces a tougher time in the Democrat-led Senate and President Obama has vowed to veto it.

    Most Democrats say the Upton bill basically guts the new law, disrupting the risk pools that make individual insurance sold on the new health benefit exchanges affordable for most Americans.

    A spokeswoman for McNerney, D-Stockton, didn’t reply to an e-mail and a phone call Friday.

    Matthew Kravitz, a spokesman for Garamendi, D-Fairfield, said Obama and House members on both sides of the aisle “all agree that the fact that so many plans are being dropped is an issue of concern.”

    “Congressman Garamendi has always said that every law, including the Affordable Care Act, can be improved,” Kravitz said. “Congressman Garamendi voted for the Democratic plan to fix this problem, and he also voted for the Republican plan. The Upton bill has flaws, but by bringing the issue to the Senate, Garamendi hopes the Senate will take up their own legislation and both chambers, in a bicameral bipartisan fashion, can hash out a compromise during a conference committee.”

    Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, issued this statement:

    “I voted for the Keep Your Plan Act today so that all Sacramento County families have the individual choice to keep their insurance if it is working for them.

    “That being said, I encourage Californians to explore their options on California’s new health insurance marketplace, Covered California, where families are likely to find plans that offer better coverage, for less money. California’s website is working, and health plans in the marketplace offer more patient protections and assistance to help pay for insurance, which isn’t available under existing plans.

    “The bipartisan passage of today’s bill, and the President’s new proposal to let Americans keep their current coverage through 2014, are important steps in the right direction. As a doctor and the former Chief Medical Officer of Sacramento County, I am committed to bringing down the cost of health care and will keep working to fix parts of the Affordable Care Act that aren’t working for the American people.”

    All three Democrats hold what could be described as swing districts. The Cook Political Report, a renowned prognosticator of elections, rates McNerney’s 9th Congressional District and Garamendi’s 3rd Congressional District as “likely Democrat,” meaning they’re not considered competitive at this point but have the potential to become engaged. But Cook rates Bera’s 7th Congressional District as a toss-up in which either party has a good chance of winning.

    Elizabeth Emken, one of three Republicans seeking to unseat Bera next year, issued a statement saying Bera is trying to mask his support of an unpopular law.

    “Regardless of his vote today, Ami Bera has continually defended Obamacare and all the problems it has caused while voting to keep it the law of the land,” she said. “Bera’s votes have put over 1 million Californians in danger of losing their health care. He can claim he was ‘concerned’ all he wants, but his voting record tells the painful truth – Ami Bera approved of Obamacare, and now he is trying to distance himself from its disastrous effects.”

    Health insurers are discontinuing individual-market policies that don’t meet the standards set forth in the nation’s new law. Those receiving such notices are being offered new policies by their insurers, but also can go to the Covered California website to shop around for the best deal and to determine whether they’re eligible for subsidies.