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Bay Area lawmakers OK medical device tax repeal

Three Bay Area House members were among the 46 Democrats who joined with Republicans on Thursday to approve repealing the medical-device tax enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.

As the Associated Press reports, the tax took effect two years ago and was designed to help pay for expanded coverage for millions of people. It’s levied on equipment like artificial hearts and X-ray machines but not on items used by individuals, like eye glasses. Foes of its repeal say that this and other taxes the law imposed on the health care industry were outweighed by added customers the law has created, and that repealing it means paying that $24 billion, 10-year cost with bigger federal deficits.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which passed on a 280-140 vote. Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton voted for it, while the rest of the Bay Area delegation was opposed.

“I support the Affordable Care Act and policies that improve our ability to conquer illnesses and diseases before they conquer us,” Swalwell said in a statement emailed later Thursday. “Today’s vote will help more start-up bio-innovation companies create devices that have the potential to make us healthier.”

McNerney emailed a statement saying that “medical research and technology contribute significantly to California’s economy with more than 75,000 jobs, and advancements in the field are resulting in new treatments and cures that improve the lives of people across the country.

“We should be doing everything to encourage further innovation by removing unnecessary barriers that hinder new research and job growth – especially in California, the home to more medical device companies than any other state in the nation,” he said. “As I’ve said before, this law is not perfect and we should continue to look at ways to improve it. Doing so will not only benefit medical innovation, but lower costs and improve care for individuals and families as well.”

Speier’s office said she was on a plane Thursday afternoon and couldn’t be reached for comment.

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AD16: Sbranti won’t run, joins Swalwell’s staff

Former Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, a Democrat who lost November’s 16th Assembly District race to Republican Catharine Baker, won’t challenge Baker in 2016, he said Wednesday.

Instead, he’s ending his 17-year teaching career and starting work June 15 as deputy chief of staff to Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin – his former student at Dublin High.

Tim Sbranti“Everything comes full circle in life,” Sbranti said Wednesday. “He talks about how he learned from me, and now I learn from him. It’s actually kind of an honor to have a student who has done so well that I can now go work for him.”

Sbranti, 40, who has a 1-year-old daughter, said he’ll spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C., this summer getting oriented to the job; after that he’ll be based in Swalwell’s district office with trips to D.C. about once a month. He’ll be the main liaison between the D.C. and district staffs, with an eye toward ensuring the legislative team’s work is in line with the district’s priorities and “expanding our office’s relationship with the community,” he said.

Sbranti’s decision not to run against Baker in 2016 could start a mad scramble among ambitious local Democrats as the state party makes a priority of ousting Baker, the Bay Area’s only Republican lawmaker. Baker, R-Dublin, is expected to be vulnerable as the presidential election’s high turnout gives Democrats, who have a 7.3-percentage-point registration edge in the district, more of an advantage.

I hear that Sbranti made his intentions known a few weeks ago, but East Bay Democrats were so pre-occupied with the 7th State Senate District special election – in which party pariah and Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer defeated Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, on Tuesday – that they’re only now pivoting to consider AD16.

Names mentioned in the past include former Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson, but the word on the street is that she’s not interested right now. Likelier candidates might include Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich, who finished fourth in last year’s AD16 primary behind Baker, Sbranti and Glazer; five-term Orinda Councilwoman Amy Worth; and Danville attorney Jerome Pandell, a Democratic activist who ran for the San Ramon Valley School Board last year. Or, some in the party might be hoping for a businesswoman from outside the usual political circles – like Baker – to get into the race.

Sbranti said he’ll miss being in the classroom, though he’ll stay involved in education as a member of the governing board of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, which advises and assists school districts, charter schools and county education offices on meeting the goals set forth in their Local Control and Accountability Plans. And he also might keep helping out as a basketball coach at Dublin High as time allows, he said.

“I want to stay connected,” he said, “but at the same time I’m excited about what lies ahead.”

He won’t rule out some future run for elected office. “Not any time soon, certainly not in my immediate future, but I think it would be foolish to rule out at any point down the line that I would run for something. It’s just not on my horizon right now.”

Swalwell said he’s excited to welcome Sbranti aboard after nearly 20 years as a teacher, state legislative staffer, councilman and mayor.

“His work has produced results that have helped create jobs, protect our environment, and provide affordable housing. But his work is not done, and I’m lucky he wants to continue serving our community as my deputy chief of staff,” the second-term congressman said. “Tim inspired me when I was his student to go into public service. I couldn’t be more thrilled to now have his counsel as I work to serve the East Bay.”

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Rep. Eric Swalwell is having a good week

It’s a banner week for the East Bay’s Rep. Eric Swalwell.

On Tuesday, the life sciences and pharmaceutical industry held a fundraising reception for Swalwell, D-Dublin, at Washington, D.C.’s Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar; contributors gave $500, $1,000 or $2,000 each.

On Wednesday, it became apparent that he barely needed Tuesday’s fundraiser. The first-quarter campaign finance report he filed with the Federal Election Commission showed he raised $330,136 from Jan. 1 through March 30, bringing his cash on hand to $534,161.

Mind you, that’s what he has left after giving $50,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and smaller contributions (usually $500 each) to a bunch of California Democrats in tougher districts, including Ami Bera, Julia Brownley, Pete Aguilar and Scott Peters – the kind of party tithing that helps members of Congress build clout for leadership positions.

And speaking of leadership positions, Swalwell – already a regional Democratic whip – on Thursday announced he’ll chair a new “Future Forum” of 14 young Democratic House members focused on issues and opportunities for millennials.

Eric SwalwellAt a kickoff announcement in Washington, Swalwell and Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said forum members are starting a national listening tour with stops in New York, Boston and the Bay Area, with other cities to follow in coming months.

In the Bay Area, those events will include a town hall on rising student debt and college affordability from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. next Monday, April 20 in the event center at Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Blvd. in Hayward. Swalwell and several other forum members also will hold a town hall on millennial entrepreneurship from 6 to 7 p.m. that night at the Impact Hub SF co-working space, 925 Mission St. in San Francisco.

“The issues of rising student loan debt, college affordability and declining millennial entrepreneurship do not just impact young Americans, they affect the health of our overall economy. Congress can’t afford to ignore these pressing challenges,” Swalwell said in a news release. “But we can’t just be talking about millennials; we need to be listening to millennials. To that end, we are crowdsourcing stories and ideas at events around the country and via social media and Medium to hear directly from our generation about how Congress can take action to better our future.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in the release that the forum members “bring the energetic, innovative, forward-looking leadership needed to meet the 21st century challenges we face. This effort is about bringing young people to the table and harnessing their dynamism, optimism, and hope to create a future where equality of opportunity exists for all, not just the ultra-wealthy and well-connected.”

Other Future Forum include Aguilar, D-Redlands; Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.; Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.; Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.; Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; Grace Meng, D-N.Y.; Seth Moulton, D-Mass.; Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

All this unfolds while there’s not yet anyone clearly preparing to challenge Swalwell in 2016.

At this time two years ago, then-state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett already had announced she would take him on. But her third-place finish in last June’s top-two primary has called into question whether a challenge on Swalwell’s left flank can be effective in a district where 22.7 percent of voters are nonpartisan and 21.5 percent are Republicans.

Now, without a potential rival breathing down his neck, watch for him to spend more of his second term focused not only on serving constituents but also on shoring up his bona fides within the party to assure himself a more prominent future.

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Rep. Eric Swalwell visited troops, officials in Iraq

Rep. Eric Swalwell returned Wednesday from a bipartisan congressional trip to Iraq.

Swalwell, D-Dublin, is a House Intelligence Committee member and was briefed in Iraq by senior military officials involved with Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He also met with Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, and he attended Easter Sunday service and brunch with enlisted troops.

Swalwell Easter brunch with troops in Iraq

“This trip gave me the opportunity to see up close the damage the Iraqi-led, U.S.-supported coalition is having on ISIL,” Swalwell said in a news release. “Because of the enduring work of our troops and intelligence community, we have ISIL on the ropes and are well-positioned to deliver a knockout blow. The real challenge, however, is what does Iraq look like post-ISIL? The United States can provide limited, short-term military aid to Iraq, but a longstanding peaceful future requires Iraqi leadership that puts an end to sectarian violence.”

“It was an honor to spend Easter Sunday in Iraq with my heroes, the brave men and women of our Armed Services and intelligence community,” he added. “I was moved by the commitment of our troops, who were spending Easter away from their loved ones, to serve our country.”

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House passes ‘clean’ homeland security funding

About a third House Republicans joined with Democrats on Tuesday to pass legislation fully funding the Department of Homeland Security through this year’s end.

Some more conservative Republicans opposed the move, refusing to vote for a bill that doesn’t defund or otherwise roll back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. But the GOP leadership – speaker John Boenher, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Bakersfield; and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. – all voted for it. The vote was 257-167.

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin:

“For the past three months, House Republicans have been playing a dangerous game in which the American people are on the losing end. Today, reason prevailed and the games are finally over. The people charged with protecting our national security deserve more than uncertainty. It is outrageous that Homeland Security funding was held hostage to a partisan debate. This is not how we should govern.

“Americans are rightly sick of the politically manufactured crises they’ve come to expect from this Tea-Party-led Congress. I am grateful to finally move past this brinkmanship and address real challenges. It’s time to get to work doing what the American people sent us here to do, creating economy-boosting jobs that pay enough for hard-working families to get ahead.”

From Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock:

“The top priority of Congress is to ensure the safety of the American people. Today’s vote ensures that our homeland security agents and personnel have the certainty and long term funding necessary to do their critical work of keeping us all safe. I do not support the President’s unilateral executive action on immigration as it flies in the face of the United States Constitution and ignores the will of the people. However, we cannot hold hostage funding for our national security and I will continue to push for a full debate on every aspect of immigration reform.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“Once again, Leader Pelosi has led the House out of a dire situation by providing the Democratic votes necessary to avert a dangerous partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. The agency will be fully funded through the remainder of the fiscal year, and the American people can be assured that key national security operations will not be interrupted.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

“Our national security will not be shut down. Thankfully enough Republicans put their country before their party and joined with the Democrats to pass a clean DHS bill. Funding for our national security should never be held hostage in a political debate. Those upset by the President’s immigration plan should instead work with us to fix our broken system.”

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Who will skip Netanyahu’s speech to Congress?

The Bay Area delegation is split over attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday, March 3.

Democrats and the White House remain miffed that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu unilaterally. The Israeli leader is expected to speak against the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, instead urging Congress to impose further sanctions; also, the address comes two weeks before Israel’s legislative election. For these reasons, and as some pro-Palestinian groups urge a boycott, some Democrats are choosing to skip the speech.

Here’s how the Bay Area delegation shakes out:

Skipping the speech: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose

Attending the speech: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz

Undecided: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa

Didn’t respond to inquiries: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo

A few of them offered explanations, or at least, comments:

Lofgren: “I am disappointed Speaker Boehner chose to irresponsibly interject politics into what has long been a strong and bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel. As President Obama has noted, it is inappropriate for a Head of State to address Congress just two weeks ahead of their election. I agree that Congress should not be used as a prop in Israeli election campaigns, so I intend to watch the speech on TV in my office.”

Huffman: “I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress.”

Boxer: “Whether I wind up going or not, it was a terrible mistake by the Republican majority to play politics with this enduring relationship.”

McNerney, via spokesman Michael Cavaiola: “Rep. McNerney is not planning to attend the speech. He’s got several previously planned commitments for that day.”

DeSaulnier, via spokeswoman Betsy Arnold Marr: “Congressman DeSaulnier has not made a final decision as he hopes the Prime Minister will reconsider his plans particularly in light of the upcoming election.”

Honda, via spokesman Ken Scudder: “Congressman Honda regrets that Speaker Boehner ignored protocol in making this invitation. The speaker turned what should have been an important visit of one of our closest allies into a political stunt. Congressman Honda also has concerns about the potential political nature of this speech given Israel’s elections are less than two weeks away. Despite this, and the congressman’s disagreement with the Prime Minister’s opposition to the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, Congressman Honda is going to attend the address on March 3. The United States and Israel share strong cultural, economic and security partnerships, and he will attend the speech to hear firsthand what the Prime Minister has to say on these serious and complicated issues.”

Thompson, via spokesman Austin Vevurka: “We still don’t know what the Congressman’s schedule will be that week, but I will of course keep you posted as we know more. That being said, Congressman Thompson understands the importance of hearing from international leaders, but he is concerned that the speech has become overtly political. He hopes the speech is rescheduled and Netanyahu is invited back at a later date in a manner that respects long-established diplomatic protocol.”