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USA Freedom Act vote splits Bay Area reps

The Bay Area’s House delegation was somewhat split – and along surprising lines – as the House voted 303-121 on Thursday to pass a bill supporters say would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The USA Freedom Act, HR 3361, was amended after it arrived on the House floor, and some former supporters believed it had been watered down too much; for example, a requirement for an independent public advocate on the secret intelligence court that oversees the NSA was dropped from the bill.

Voting for the bill were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton.

From Thompson:

“Our government has a responsibility to protect people’s civil liberties and our national security, and this legislation does both. It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability of our intelligence community, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”

Voting against the bill were representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

From Lofgren:

“Across the country, many people were surprised to learn that the privacy rights they believed were protected under the 4th Amendment did not apply to NSA surveillance of their communications.

“I originally cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act when it was introduced last yearbecause it was a small step toward reform and transparency. Unfortunately the bill was changed in key ways after committee action and will no longer provide the protections I sought.

“I voted against it today because it falls short of the Fourth Amendment protections Americans deserve.

“There is strong bipartisan concern that this bill makes it legal for the NSA to continue mass surveillance of U.S. citizens. Many civil liberties groups and leading tech companies share these concerns and felt compelled to withdraw their support.

“Without much needed improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress risks a continuation of mass surveillance in this extension of the Patriot Act.”

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House passes GOP water/drought bill

The House voted 229-191 on Wednesday to pass the controversial water bill put forth by Republicans as a necessity for dealing with California’s drought, but described by Democrats as a water grab and political ploy.

“While Californians are dealing with the brunt of the water shortage, this issue affects the entire country,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, the bill’s author, said in a news release. “I am proud the House of Representatives was able to come together to pass this common-sense legislation to provide a long-term solution for families and farmers suffering from this water crisis. It is now up to the Senators from California to ensure their Chamber acts upon our proposal quickly.”

Said House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, “It is unacceptable that vital water supplies are being forced out to the ocean instead of going to our cities. The issue demands immediate attention and today’s vote represents House Republicans’ commitment to putting California families over fish.”

But though sponsored by all the rest of California’s House Republicans, Valadao’s H.R. 3964 is as good as dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer plan to introduce a bill of their own in the next few days.

Feinstein said their bill will “offer relief for California and other drought-stricken states and to streamline federal projects and operations. We have worked with federal and state agencies, rural irrigation districts and urban water districts to draft legislation that will minimize controversy yet still maximize water supplies during this drought period. California is facing a 500-year drought, and the time to act is now.”

Said Boxer, “While House Republicans are pursuing divisive and discredited policies, we will be proposing solutions that will help bring relief to the communities hardest hit by this unprecedented drought.”

Fourteen California House Democrats – including the greater Bay Area’s George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael – issued a joint statement after the bill was passed:

All of California is in drought, but instead of working together on a long-term, bipartisan solution, our Republican colleagues have brought a bill to the floor today without any markup or hearing, which bypasses any public input. If enacted into law, this water grab would hurt California’s economy, damage our environment, and set a dangerous precedent of Congress imposing mandates on the water supplies of the states. This bill benefits a small group of Californians and creates no new water in the region. We have received letters from our home state’s Governor, Natural Resources Secretary, and Attorney General in strong opposition to H.R. 3964. The Western States Water Council opposed last Congress’ version of this bill (H.R. 1837) for its preemption of states’ rights, and the Obama Administration opposes the bill because it fails to alleviate the effects of California’s current drought and threatens water agreements in the west. 80 California sportsmen’s groups, commercial fishing industry groups, national conservation organizations, and Indian tribes also oppose this bill. This bill has no chance of enactment, and it would create more litigation over water if it were to pass, but even as a failed bill it hinders collaborative efforts being made throughout the State. It is time for real solutions; H.R. 3964 is not it.

Thompson gave of the more pointed floor speeches, saying “it would be more productive for this body to join in a rain dance on the floor today than to pass this bill.”

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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.

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    Go meet your House member

    With the House of Representatives not convening again until Nov. 12, many members are out in their districts meeting the masses in the next few weeks. Among other opportunities:

    Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, has three town-hall meetings scheduled tomorrow (Saturday, Nov. 2): from 9 to 10 a.m. in the auditorium at the Orinda Library, 26 Orinda Way; from 10:30 to 11 a.m. in the multi-use room at Las Lomas High School, 1460 S. Main St. in Walnut Creek; and noon to 1 p.m. in the multi-use room at Pleasant Hill Elementary, 2097 Oak Park Blvd.

    Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, will hold a “Coffee with your Congressman” specifically for East Bay veterans from 9 to 10:30 a.m. tomorow in the Coast Guard Room at the Hayward Memorial Hall, 22737 Main St. The conversation will include the Department of Veterans Affairs backlog and how his office can assist with VA claims.

    Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, will attend Antioch’s 47th Neighborhood Cleanup Event from 9 to 10 a.m. tomorrow in Gentrytown Park on Monterey Drive.

    Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and the U.S. Patent and Trade Office will co-host a workshop on promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 2, in the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Building 400 in Los Altos Hills. Later Saturday, he’ll stop by a Covered California healthcare insurance exchange enrollment fair that’s running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cherrywood Elementary School, 2550 Greengate Drive in San Jose. And at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, he’ll be speaking on how federal budget sequestration has affected housing vouchers in a program hosted by the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County at the Rivertown Apartments, 1340 Hope Dr. in Santa Clara.

    Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, will speak on immigration reform during the North Bay Organizing Project’s annual meeting, which is open to the public and runs from 4 to 5:30 p.m. this Sunday, Nov. 3 at the Sonoma Academy, 2500 Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa. He’ll also hold a town hall meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, at the northern end of his district in the Middletown Community Center, 21256 Washington St. in Middletown, Lake County. And Thompson will give the opening remarks at an informational forum on the nation’s new health insurance law, sponsored by the American Association of University Women, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6 at Benicia First Baptist Church, 1055 Southampton Road.

    Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will hold a coffee and conversation session at 10:15 a.m. next Saturday, Nov. 9 in Hive Café, 2139 MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland; due to limited space, constituents can RSVP by emailing LeeCA.events@mail.house.gov or by calling 510-763-0370. Lee also will hold a town hall at 10 a.m. the following Saturday, Nov. 16, in the council chambers at Alameda City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Ave.

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    Q3 fundraising reports: CA15, CA7 and many more

    As third-quarter Federal Election Commission reports trickle in on today’s deadline, it looks as if freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell still doesn’t have much to worry about money-wise from his Democratic challenger.

    Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, raised $277,928 and spent $69,599 in the third quarter, leaving him with $614,262 cash on hand and $7,639 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30. State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, raised $36,502 and spent $9,269 in the third quarter, leaving her with $143,417 cash on hand and no outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

    The 15th Congressional District – about 90 percent in Alameda County, and the rest in Contra Costa County – is registered 48.4 percent Democrat, 22.2 percent Republican and 20.7 percent no-party-preference.

    I reported last week on what’s expected to be a fiercer Democrat-on-Democrat House showdown between Rep. Mike Honda and challenger Ro Khanna, where Khanna continues to outstrip the incumbent in fundraising.

    Elsewhere, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton – often a target of the National Republican Congressional Committee – raised $140,310 and spent $66,407, leaving him with $243,445 cash on hand and $3,704 in outstanding debts. He’ll be challenged next year by Republican Steve Anthony Colangelo of Stockton, a prominent member of the local business community who owns “the leading event supply company in the Central Valley for weddings, graduation parties and other important community and family events.” Colangelo’s third-quarter report is not yet available as of now.

    In a more distant but potentially tighter race, two Republicans vying to take a crack at freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, are putting a lot of their own money into their campaigns.

    Former Rep. Doug Ose, a Republican from Sacramento, announced early last month that he’ll challenge Bera. Ose reported Tuesday that he raised $238,150 and lent his campaign $250,000 from his own pocket while spending $15,681 in the third quarter, leaving him with $256,243 cash on hand and $61,839 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

    (UPDATE @ 8:45 P.M.: Nick Mirman, a spokesman for Ose’s campaign, e-mailed me this evening to say that the $250,000 that appeared in Ose’s latest report as a loan from the candidate “reflects forgiving campaign debt from the 2008 race … Again, he has not contributed $250,000 to his 2014 race.”)

    Elizabeth Emken – U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Republican challenger in 2012, who since has moved from Danville to Fair Oaks for this race – reported raising $63,395 and loaning her campaign another $35,000 (for a total of $285,000 in personal loans so far this year) while spending $49,855 in the third quarter. That left her with $336,895 cash on hand but a whopping $293,255 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

    Bera raised $456,396 and spent $68,268 in the third quarter, leaving him with $898,748 cash on hand but $345,490 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

    Among the Bay-Area-House-Democrats-with-little-to-worry-about, third-quarter reports show:

      Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, raised $111,505 and spent $104,658, leaving her with $51,582 cash on hand and no outstanding debts
      Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, raised $65,421 and spent $34,519, leaving him with $349,073 cash on hand and $930 in outstanding debts
      Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, raised $196,000 and spent $77,595, leaving her with $477,678 cash on hand and no outstanding debts
      Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, raised $224,310 and spent $58,431, leaving her with $795,550 cash on hand and no outstanding debts
      Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, raised $127,190 and spent $71,987, leaving her with $1,103,324 cash on hand and $2,774 in outstanding debts.
      Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, raised $88,536 and spent $42,056, leaving him with $150,851 cash on hand and no outstanding debts.
      Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, raised $165,713 and spent $135,266, leaving him with $1,466,930 cash on hand and $6,172 in outstanding debts.