Pelosi names Garamendi to Agriculture Committee

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today named Rep. John Garamendi to the House Agriculture Committee for the final few weeks of this 112th Congress, even as the House might take up a big farm bill during the lame-duck session.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Garamendi, D-Fairfield, expect approval of the assignment at Wednesday’s House Democratic Caucus meeting. This is a committee seat that was left vacant in August by the sudden retirement of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.

John Garamendi“I didn’t enter Congress to twiddle my thumbs and sit quietly in the background. I must be where the needs of my district are and that’s in the final negotiations for the five-year farm bill,” Garamendi said in a news release Tuesday. “I want to thank Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi for giving me this opportunity to serve where I am needed.”

He said passing a good farm bill is important to the family farmers in his newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, where he won re-election this month by turning away a challenge from Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, a Republican. But the food aid contained in the bill will provide vital help to struggling families across the state, he added.

“As a farmer and rancher, I know we need to get this done, and I will work around the clock to make sure California specialty crops and commodity programs are protected,” he said.

House rules dictate that joining the Agriculture Committee requires Garamendi to resign from the House Natural Resources Committee, which he did today; he’ll continue serving on the Armed Services Committee in this lame-duck session. Committee assignments for the new 113th Congress, which begins at noon on Thursday, Jan. 3, have not been announced yet.


Brown-bagging for peace

Progressive Democrats of America is planning another round of brown-bag lunch vigils at House members’ district offices – including four in Northern California – next Wednesday, Feb. 17 to demand commitments to vote against more money for war.

brown-bag lunch The first round, on Jan. 20, targeted 22 House members; this round already has 37 events scheduled. And this time, PDA will be joined by CODEPINK, AfterDowningStreet, Democrats.com, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, and United for Peace and Justice. Poster slogans include “Healthcare not Warfare,” “Corporations out of Politics,” “Bailout Main Street not Wall Street,” and “Brownbaggers not Teabaggers.”

In Northern California, the vigils are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s office, 1010 10th St. in Modesto; noon to 1 at Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s office, 1101 College Ave. in Santa Rosa; and noon to 2 p.m. at Rep. Barbara Lee’s office, 1301 Clay St., Suite 1000-N in Oakland, and at Rep. John Garamendi’s office, 1981 N. Broadway, Suite 220 in Walnut Creek.

Can you guess which of these is least likely to invite the brown-baggers in? I knew you could.

The activists want House members to vow to oppose any bills that fund wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen, and to publicly urge their colleagues and the House leadership to do the same. They also want members to cosponsor antiwar legislation including Lee’s HR 3699, which would prohibit any increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That bill’s 28 cosponsors already include Woolsey as well as Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

“We have to choose between jobs and wars,” PDA national director Tim Carpenter said in a news release. “The American people are on one side, but our so-called representatives in Congress are on the other. The Supreme Court is busy increasing corporate control of our elected officials. We need to be busy enforcing the people’s control before it is too late.”


Lawmakers’ plea for NUMMI goes unheeded

California’s U.S. Senators, joined by much of the Bay Area’s House delegation, wrote to Toyota today to forestall closure of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, but apparently it’s too little, too late.

NUMMI is a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota; GM announced last month it will withdraw, and Toyota has been considering doing the same. The plant’s closure would cost 4,500 California jobs directly, and an estimated 35,000 or more indirectly.

The lawmakers wrote to Toyota Corp. President Akio Toyoda to emphasize NUMMI’s importance to California’s economy and to offer to work with Toyota to keep the plant open. Also, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reports she recently spoke on the phone with Toyota Motor America President Yoshimi Inaba about her willingness to help find solutions to keep the plant in operation’ other California lawmakers have talked to company officials as well.

But even as the lawmakers announced their effort, media began reporting Toyota’s decision to pull out of the venture and close the plant.

UPDATE @ 5:11 P.M.: Never say die, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office insists. The governor has talked with and written to the Toyota execs, too, and has formed a “Red Team” of stakeholders to work on keeping the plant open. “The Schwarzenegger Administration is actively engaged with NUMMI’s partners, Toyota, federal officials, local officials, labor, suppliers and other stakeholders to work together to ensure the future success of the facility,” David Crane, the Governor’s special advisor for jobs and economic growth, said in a release. “Our office will continue to respect Toyota’s wishes to keep discussions private as we work together to determine the best path for ensuring NUMMI’s continued operations in Fremont.”

See the letter, after the jump…
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Ellen Tauscher introduces anti-foreclosure bill

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, introduced a bill Wednesday that would let the California Housing Finance Agency issue an estimated $10 billion in new bonds to help refinance “underwater” mortgages and jump-start growth in neighborhoods devastated by home foreclosures.

The bill also would grant CalHFA the power to use Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) money to help families refinance their homes at a price they can afford in order to avoid foreclosure.

“Foreclosures are decimating neighborhoods from Fairfield to Antioch and Oakley,” Tauscher said in her news release. “This legislation will help families in the hardest hit areas get the additional resources they need to stay in their homes and keep these vibrant communities from disappearing.”

Tauscher’s co-authors on the bill are Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater; Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.; and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Cardoza’s Central Valley district includes more than half of the city of Stockton, which has been rocked by one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates. “As I have continued to say, the foreclosure crisis remains at the heart of our nation’s economic crisis. It is imperative that we pursue all means to address this problem and ensure that taxpayer funds are being used in the most responsible way,” he said.

UPDATE @ 8:36 A.M. THURSDAY: Click here for a copy of the bill.


Following the money on the auto bailout

House members who voted for the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act last Wednesday averaged a lot more in campaign contributions from the auto industry in the past five years than those who voted against it, according to those wonderful number crunchers at Berkeley-based MAPLight.org.

But the industry’s contributions to most of the Bay Area’s House contingent — most of whom voted for the bailout — fall well below the averages, those statistics also show.

From January 2003 through October 2008, auto manufacturers, auto dealers and labor unions gave an average of $74,100 in campaign contributions to each Representative voting in favor of the auto bailout, compared with an average of $45,015 to each Representative voting against the bailout–65% more money, on average, given to those who voted Yes. The final vote to pass the bill was 237-170, with 26 not voting and one voting “present.” Senate Republicans immediately scuttled the bill, and the White House is now talking about finding money from the already-approved $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to bail out Detroit.

“Big-money interest groups investing in political influence see sky-high returns, while ‘we the people’ foot the bill,” MAPLight.org executive director Daniel Newman said in a news release. “Votes in Congress once again align with the river of money that flows through our broken political system.”

Among House Democrats, the 205 “yes” voters received an average of $74,846 each, about 19% more than those 20 voting “no,” who received an average of $63,140. The 32 House Republicans voting “yes” received an average of $69,323 each, 63% more than the 150 voting “no,” who received an average of $42,598.

In the greater Bay Area, only Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, voted against the bill; Stark’s auto-industry contributions over the past five years totalled $36,500, while Cardoza’s totalled $53,700. As for the rest of the local delegation:

  • Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto — $32,000
  • Mike Honda, D-San Jose — $42,100
  • Barbara Lee, D-Oakland — $46,700
  • Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose — $22,500
  • Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton — $48,500
  • George Miller, D-Martinez — $122,800
  • Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco — $127,500
  • Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough — $11,000
  • Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo — $22,050
  • Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma — $70,750
  • No big surprises here. House Speaker Pelosi and Education & Labor Committee Chairman Miller are magnets for contributions from any industry, and McNerney managed to outstrip most of his other peers here because he was a freshman incumbent fighting what was supposed to be a competitive challenge this year. And in all these local cases, most of the money came from unions, not manufacturers.


    McNerney breaks with pack on DC gun control

    H.R. 6842, the District of Columbia gun-control repeal bill that Lynn Woolsey was so angry about yesterday, was passed by the House today on a 266-162 vote; the only greater Bay Area members supporting it were Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater.

    While seeking office in 2006, McNerney said he favored maintaining and strengthening the current level of enforcement of existing federal restrictions on purchase and possession of guns. Today, a staffer relayed his statement via e-mail:

    “As a gun owner, I believe in the 2nd amendment and the right of Americans to own firearms. The Childers amendment complies with the Supreme Court’s decision and brings DC in line with laws in other states. I do believe we need common sense gun laws and that no one needs Uzis with fingerprint proof grips.”

    Meanwhile, other Bay Area voices in Congress are decidedly unhappy about the bill.

    From Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont:

    “The supporters of this amendment are not representing the people of D.C., they are representing the gun lobby. The nationwide statistics on deaths caused by intentional and accidental gunfire are extreme to begin with, but Washington D.C. is rated as the thirteenth most dangerous city in the country, where the homicide rate is almost double the national average. Are the supporters of this amendment representing the families in the District who have lost their loved ones to gun violence? Or the policemen and women who experience up close the misuse of guns by both kids and adults every day? No. Supporters of this amendment are only supporting the National Rifle Association.

    “We’re not living in the 1700s, when governmental police forces were nonexistent and state militias were a constant threat to central government. Supporters of Mr. Childers’ amendment need to pull their heads out of the past and face the present: gun violence is an ugly reality, and we’re not doing the people of the District of Columbia any favors by considering legislation that will endanger lives under the disguise of protecting constitutional rights. The people who make up this country are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and they certainly can’t claim their right to the last two if they lose their lives. That’s what guns do — they kill people.”

    And from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

    “The House bill would repeal D.C.’s ban on semi-automatic weapons, including military-style assault weapons; prohibit D.C. from enacting common sense guns laws, like requiring safe storage of guns even in homes with small children; and make it more difficult for police to trace guns used in crimes.

    “How can anyone believe that eliminating such provisions is prudent?

    “There is no good reason why anyone needs semi-automatic military assault weapons in an urban city. We should not allow .50 caliber, military sniper rifles near the White House.

    “As a former Mayor who saw firsthand what happens when guns fall into the hands of criminals, juveniles, and the mentally ill, I believe that the legislation approved today places the families of the District of Columbia in great jeopardy.

    “If this bill comes to the floor of the United States Senate, I will do everything in my power to stop it.”