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Anna Eshoo urges probe of Navy Yard radio failure

Rep. Anna Eshoo wants to know why first responders who rushed to the Washington Navy Yard during last Monday’s massacre had radio failures that left them using personal cell phones and runners to communicate.

Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, joined with committee ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, in writing today to Lawrence Strickling, the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for communications and information, and Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn to urge an investigation.

“If these reports are accurate, this will not be the first time communications difficulties impaired first responders during an emergency,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, there have been numerous communications system failures during recent natural disasters and national emergencies, most notably the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.”

Congress last year enacted legislation creating FirstNet, which is tasked with overseeing the construction of a nationwide, high-speed, interoperable broadband network dedicated to public safety. Eshoo and Waxman today asked that an inquiry into last week’s snafu also focus on how FirstNet might prevent similar communications breakdowns in the future; they requested an update by Oct. 21.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Posted on Monday, September 23rd, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, Henry Waxman, U.S. House | No Comments »

Dems pursue Medicare Part D drugmaker rebates

House Democrats including two from the Bay Area have introduce a bill they say would save the government more than $100 billion by reducing Medicare Part D prescription drug costs for taxpayers “without resorting to the Republicans’ reckless proposal to double seniors’ health care costs by 2022 by dismantling Medicare.”

H.R. 2190, the Medicare Drug Savings Act of 2011 was introduced yesterday to eliminate what its authors call “a sweetheart deal for brand-name drug manufacturers that allows them to charge Medicare higher prices for millions of low-income enrollees in the Medicare Part D program.”

Until 2006, the government received substantial rebates on drugs used by “dual eligible” Medicare and Medicaid enrollees. But the Medicare Part D law eliminated these rebates, dramatically raising prices for the government and windfall profits for manufacturers. H.R. 2190 seeks to eliminate the windfall, requiring that manufacturers pay the rebates for dual eligible and low-income Part D enrollees so taxpayers and the Medicare program don’t overpay.

A similar proposal was also included in the recommendations from the President’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the bill’s backers note.

Pete Stark“Instead of making devastating cuts to programs that help low-income and middle-income Americans, as Republicans keep putting on the table, we should do what every other industrialized country does and ask the pharmaceutical industry, one of the wealthiest in the world, to chip in,” Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking member and an original co-sponsor of this bill, said in a news release.

“What’s more, the savings from this legislation could pay for a multi-year ‘doc fix’ – something we tried to do in a comprehensive way but have had to address yearly so Medicare’s payments to doctors aren’t slashed,” Stark added.

“The federal government is the largest payor for senior’s drugs and it is absurd we do not use our bargaining power to negotiate drug discounts with the high profit pharmaceutical industry,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking member and another original co-sponsor. “Unlike the Republican plan, Democrats recognize that you don’t reform Medicare by ending the program nor do you make Medicaid sustainable by simply shifting the costs onto states. This bill will improve Medicare and Medicaid’s sustainability while still providing the needed benefits our nation’s citizens depend on.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Beverly Hills, introduced the bill. Besides Stark and Miller, the other original co-sponsors are Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich.; John Dingell, D-Mich.; and Rob Andrews, D-N.J., ranking member on Education and the Workforce’s Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee.

Posted on Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Under: George Miller, healthcare reform, Henry Waxman, Pete Stark, U.S. House | No Comments »

Blue Shield, Boehner and ballooning deficits

A trio of California House members expressed concern today about Blue Shield of California’s announcement of a significant increase – averaging 30 to 35 percent – in health insurance premiums for many of its policyholders, a hike the Democratic lawmakers say will force many Californians to choose between health insurance and daily necessities such as food and rent or mortgage payments.

(Yep, that would be the same Blue Shield of California that gave $15,000 to outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s officeholder account late last week, days before he left office; it also gave $10,000 Monday to the California Republican Party and $3,568.83 to Democratic state Senate candidate Ted Lieu.)

Reps. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, said the increase underscores the danger of repealing last year’s health care reforms, as House Republicans have vowed to do.

“Thanks to health reform, for the first time these rate increases are completely transparent and posted on healthcare.gov,” Stark said in their news release. “With the increased resources from the health reform law, California can work with Blue Shield to mitigate these increases and protect consumers. Unfortunately Republicans want to immediately repeal these protections, and future reforms that will prevent rate increases like this in the future.”

Miller said Blue Shield’s announcement “just shows that the status quo is not working for California’s families.”

“And Republican repeal of health reform will only put big insurance companies in even greater control of Americans’ health care,” he continued. “The Affordable Care Act, when fully implemented, will ensure real competition and accountability so that families already stretched thin by health insurance costs can find relief. Repealing the health reform law poses a real danger to middle class families.”

The Dems noted Blue Shield clearly stated its proposed increases “cover a period of more than one year and have almost nothing to do with the federal health reform law. These rates reflect trends that were building long before health reform.” The insurer also noted health reform actually will help get costs under control in the future through initiatives that make health care more efficient, the lawmakers said.

(UPDATE @ 3:50 P.M.: Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, a former state Insurance Commissioner, got in on the act, too. “Today’s egregious rate hike by Blue Shield of California is further proof that we can’t trust the insurance industry to stand with consumers,” he said. “As we climb out of a deep recession, the insurance companies are kicking us back down. Fortunately, for rate increases over 10 percent, the 2010 health care reform allows the Federal government to review, question, and disclose facts to the public about the increase.”

“When Congress passed the Patient’s Bill of Rights last year, we instituted important reforms that are helping to rein in the worst abuses of the insurance industry. Next Wednesday, House Republicans will attempt to repeal these vital consumer protections,” he continued. “Even with the strong consumer protections found in the Patient’s Bill of Rights, insurers like Blue Shield are still exploiting patients for financial gain. This is an argument for more consumer protections, not less. House Republicans want to replace the Patient’s Bill of Rights with the Insurance Industry’s Right to Discriminate. Let’s not start the New Year by exposing consumers to new risks.”)

For more on today’s healthcare follies, follow me after the jump…
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Posted on Thursday, January 6th, 2011
Under: George Miller, healthcare reform, Henry Waxman, John Boehner, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Rep. Miller calls in from Copenhagen

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

Congressman George Miller, telephoning from Copenhagen this morning, described what appears to be the failure of world leaders to come to an agreement at the global climate change summit as a disappointment but not waste of time.

“You would like to have a clear agreement, whether or not it is a partial agreement, but it is a bit of a setback,” said the Martinez congressman. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next 24 to 48 hours, but the outcome is less than we would have liked to see.”

Miller attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Denmark as chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee and at the request of his close ally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Also in the House delegation were House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD., and authors of the House energy bill, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Miller is a veteran of global climate change summits. He was in Brazil, Johannesburg and Kyoto, the site of the 1997 emissions reduction pact. The U.S. has never ratified it.

In the whirlwind, two-day Copenhagen trip, where he spent considerable time navigating multiple layers of tight security, Miller  met with fellow parliamentarians from India and Europe. He said he found many of his foreign colleagues optimistic about the likelihood of stronger U.S. political and financial commitments to emission reductions.

“The European community is very encouraged by the fact that the House passed an energy bill earlier this year,” Miller said. “They have been monitoring emissions and working with a similar cap and trade legislation.”

The delegation also received a briefing from the scientific Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who downplayed the significance of the recent flap over hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. Climate change critics say the emails prove the science that links human activity to the Earth’s warming is flawed.

Miller said he heard nothing in Copenhagen that changes his mind about the validity of the climate science.

“We were told that some of those emails were 13 years old, and a lot of the other allegations were untrue,” Miller said. “I don’t think it changes the body of science. So many people who were skeptics before have looked at these scientific papers and changed their minds.”

The specter of melting icecaps and rising seas struck Miller particularly hard, he said, as he stood in line for a Danish-style hot dog, which resembled a pup in a blanket and began chatting with a young woman with the Cook Islands delegation.

“She told me, ‘For the island nations, this summit is not going well. We are worried that what you agree to will still be too much greenhouse gases and much our islands will disappear,’” Miller said. “It’s very a concrete thing for a lot of people.”

Miller also met with top officials from Honeywell, Whirlpool and other U.S. energy companies in Denmark to promote green technology.

“Americans are the innovators,” he said. “To me, what was most interesting is that while we get attacked for passing the energy bill, the leading businesses in the energy field are American companies who tell us that it is fantastic that we have passed this bill. It will create huge investment in more efficient use of energy.”

Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009
Under: energy, Environment, George Miller, Henry Waxman, Nancy Pelosi | 3 Comments »

McNerney lands an Energy & Commerce seat

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is crowing that he has officially secured a seat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which deals not only with those namesake issues but also has input on health care and consumer affairs and protection. McNerney, a wind energy engineer by trade, said he’s “thrilled.”

“I’m anxious to delve into some of the committee’s issues, including the development of a new national energy policy that focuses on the use and production of renewable energy and addressing the need for affordable and accessible healthcare for all Americans,” he said in his news release.

McNerney in his first term had served on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming; the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; the Veterans Affairs Committee; and the Science and Technology Committee.

Spokesman Andy Stone said McNerney will probably have to relinquish one of those seats, given the fact that he already needed a waiver to let him serve on four committees at once.

His new appointment became official today after a vote in the Steering and Policy Committee and then a ratifying vote by the entire Democratic Caucus. The vote and ratification also cemented last month’s palace coup staged by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, to replace Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., as Energy and Commerce’s chairman — a change which seems to be taking the panel in a much more liberal direction. Waxman is seen as more aligned with President-elect Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, on issues such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental concerns; Dingell, the panel’s top Democrat for close to three decades, was a staunch supporter of Detroit automakers and other big industries such as electric utilities.

So, an interesting place for McNerney to be, at an interesting time.

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
Under: Henry Waxman, Jerry McNerney, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | No Comments »

Drug czar sent to prop up N.Cal. Republicans?

The White House apparently sent drug czar John Walters and his deputy out on the Congressional campaign trail last year on the taxpayers’ dime to benefit embattled Republicans including former Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Rep. John Doolittle, R-Granite Bay, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman claimed today.

Waxman, D-Los Angeles, released documents including former White House Political Affairs Director Sara Taylor’s Nov. 20, 2006 memo which recapped all the “suggested participation” events Walters or his deputies had attended earlier in the year. Among them were April 11 and 12 community roundtables that Walters and Doolittle held in Nevada City and Oroville, respectively, and a May 8 “meth roundtable” Deputy Director Scott Burns held with Pombo in Stockton.

Waxman wrote a letter to Taylor today requesting that she testify before his committee Monday, July 30 about the apparent politicization of the Office of National Drug Control Policy:

The list of Republican officials named in your memo reads like a roster of the most vulnerable Republican members of Congress seeking reelection in 2006. Your memo identifies 29 events with 26 Republican office-holders. Assessments by political analyst Chartie Cook in October and November 2006 considered the re-election races of 23 of the 26 candidates identified in your memo as “competitive;” 15 of the races were listed as “toss-ups.” Your list included eleven Republican candidates who lost, ten who won their races with less than 53% of the vote, and two who won by fewer than 1100 votes. You included no Democrats or Independents in your memo of suggested travel by the ONDCP Director.

There’s also a post-election e-mail memo from Douglas Simon — the ONDCP’s White House liaison — to other staffers relating White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Adviser Karl Rove’s “thank you for all of the work that went into the surrogate appearances by Cabinet members… He specifically thanked, for going above and beyond the call of duty, the Dept. of Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture, AND the WH Drug Policy Office. This recognition is not something we hear everyday and we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed.”

See other documents released today here. Pombo, of course, was unseated by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Doolittle fended off Democratic challenger Charlie Brown, who now is hard at work raising funds and building support for another run at Doolittle in 2008.

Posted on Tuesday, July 17th, 2007
Under: Elections, General, Henry Waxman, Jerry McNerney, John Doolittle, President Bush, Richard Pombo, U.S. House | No Comments »