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Lee urges Boehner to hold floor vote on Libya

Second-guessing on both sides of the aisle of President Barack Obama’s decision to use military force in Libya might be creating some strange bedfellows in Congress.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, last night led four colleagues – Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles; and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. – in sending a letter urging House Speaker John Boehner, D-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to hold a debate and floor vote on the President’s authority to continue using military force in Libya.

The lawmakers noted the Constitution invests Congress with the responsibility to declare war, and that Congress has a responsibility to oversee and provide for such commitments.

“While we firmly believe that a robust debate and up-or-down floor vote should have occurred in advance of U.S. military action in Libya, it is without question that such measures are still urgently required,” they wrote. “Beyond defending Congressional authority in these matters, these deliberations are essential to ensuring that we as a country fully debate and understand the strategic goals, costs, and long-term consequences of military action in Libya.”

They went on to note that the Defense Department estimated the first week’s cost of our military involvement in Libya at $600 million, with ongoing costs of as much as $100 million per week. “At a time of severe economic distress here at home, as well as in recognition of the continued strain on our military service members already engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these concerns are especially worthy of congressional deliberation,” they wrote.

Posted on Thursday, March 31st, 2011
Under: Barbara Lee, John Boehner, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 12 Comments »

House votes to axe federal refinance program

Despite railing from Democrats including a few from the East Bay, the House today voted to scrap the Federal Housing Administration Refinance Program, which aims to help homeowners who are “underwater” – owing more on their mortgage than their home is worth – refinance. The vote was 256-171.

Authorized under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the FHA program has used only $50 million of the more than $8 billion set aside for it, and Republicans think the money should be redirected to pay down the federal budget deficit. Democrats agreed the program has underperformed but said it should be fixed rather than abolished, as there’s still enormous need for it.

The bill now goes to the Democrat-dominated U.S. Senate, which probably won’t even take it up, and the White House earlier this week threatened a veto.

Here’s what Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said today on the House floor:

“I’m proud to represent much of San Joaquin County, which is the jewel of California’s Central Valley. Our Valley is a great place to live and work, but unfortunately we’ve been hit very hard by the economic downturn. The Valley has been ground zero for the foreclosure crisis.

“Over the past few years, thousands of families in San Joaquin County and throughout the Valley have lost their homes. I’ve hosted foreclosure assistance workshops; I’ve met with hardworking people who were misled by lenders who are struggling to stay on top of their mortgages. I’ve seen grown men cry because they couldn’t keep a roof over their children, I’ve talked to veterans who served their country only to return home to notices of default, and I’ve met seniors on the brink of homelessness.

“The administration’s foreclosure prevention initiatives have fallen short in the Valley. Simply put, the administration’s programs haven’t effectively served the people underwater on their mortgage, and the administration hasn’t been tough enough on the big banks. I call on President Obama and his cabinet to develop more effective efforts to stem the tide of foreclosures.

“But despite these shortcomings, the bill the House Republicans are offering today is absolutely the wrong approach. It’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead of canceling foreclosure relief programs at their beginning stages like they’re proposing, we should be strengthening them so they’re more effective. Mortgage counselors from my district advise and plead to improve our efforts, to get tough on big banks and provide meaningful relief to families. Stabilizing the housing market is critical to economic recovery and creating jobs.

“For those reasons, I oppose H.R. 830, and I yield back the balance of my time.”

See Rep. John Garamendi’s statement – in four parts – after the jump…
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Posted on Thursday, March 10th, 2011
Under: housing, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, John Garamendi, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Jerry McNerneyMcNerney takes aim at gangs: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said he reintroduced legislation yesterday to create a National Gang Activity Database that will let law enforcement officials nationwide track and share information about gang members and their activities. The Justice Department-administered database created under his National Safe Streets Gang Crime Prevention Act of 2011, H.R. 928, would share data on gangs, gang members, firearms, criminal activities, vehicles, and other useful information so investigators can track movement of gangs and members throughout a region and coordinate law enforcement’s response. He first introduced a version of this in 2007. The new bill goes first to the House Judiciary Committee.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee highlights MS: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said she has introduced two bills to highlight multiple sclerosis – one, a resolution supporting the goals and ideals of Multiple Sclerosis Week, March 14-20; and the other, the Adult Day Achievement Center Enhancement Act, supporting adult day programs that serve younger adults suffering from a disability as a result of a neurological disease or condition such as MS, Parkinson’s disease or a traumatic brain injury. “Adult day programs provide a critical source of support, and my bill would ensure that these vital programs are strengthened while ensuring that the needs of young adults and veterans are taken care of,” Lee said, noting more than 400,000 people are estimated to be living with multiple sclerosis, nearly 1 million people live with Parkinson’s disease, and about 1.4 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries every year.

Miller v. Boehner on jobs report: Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, reacted to news that the economy created 222,000 private-sector jobs in February and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent by saying “our nation’s job market continues to improve, though we still have lots of work ahead of us. This progress is more reason why Congress must reject Republicans’ pink-slip legislative agenda, which analysts agree threatens economic growth and hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs.” But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that although it’s “welcome news,” unemployment remains “far above where the Obama Administration promised it would be when it forced our children to pay for the ‘stimulus’ fiasco, which accelerated a government spending binge that continues to block our nation’s path to prosperity.” Boehner called the improvement seen in this report “a credit to the hard work of the American people and their success in stopping the tax hikes that were due to hit our economy on January 1. Removing the uncertainty caused by those looming tax hikes provided much-needed relief for private-sector job creators in America. Now we must build on it by eliminating the job-crushing uncertainty being caused by excessive spending, borrowing, and regulating in Washington.”

Posted on Friday, March 4th, 2011
Under: Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

Boehner-backed fighter spending shot down

Maybe Speaker John Boehner has found a way to unite the parties in his fractious House: by getting them to team up against $3 billion in defense spending that he supported for his home state of Ohio, even though the Pentagon doesn’t even want it.

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., yesterday offered an amendment to the House Republicans’ budget plan, HR 1, that would zero out spending on the develop a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports, the Pentagon is satisfied with the engine it has, made by Pratt & Whitney, and it doesn’t want the second engine, made by General Electric and others. Eliminating the second engine would save $450 million this year and some $3 billion over 10 years, a cut President Barack Obama supports and for which Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been advocating for years.

Rooney discussed the spending on the House floor yesterday:

Reps. John Larson, D-Conn.; Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; and Tim Griffin, R-Ark., co-authored the amendment with Rooney. As ABC News notes, the main F-35 fighter engine is built by Pratt & Whitney in Larson’s home state of Connecticut; as the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald reports, Pingree’s district hosts a Pratt & Whitney plant that would gain jobs if that company was the sole contractor for the engine.

But, per Milbank, a GE plant that develops the second engine employs 7,000 people in Evendale, Ohio, near Boehner’s district, and so he has pushed to keep the funding.

Ultimately, the House today voted 233-198 to cut the spending, with no party lines in sight: 110 Republicans and 123 Democrats carried the day on this one. The only Bay Area member to vote against Rooney’s amendment was Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

UPDATE @ 0900 THURSDAY: McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh just sent me this statement:

“As someone with years of experience in engineering, Congressman McNerney has a strong appreciation for the benefits of competition between manufacturers as well as the value of an alternate design in a project of this magnitude. Also, according to analysis by the Government Accountability Office, competition between multiple manufactures will likely yield savings in the long-run as well as reduce the risk of dependence on a single design produced by one manufacturer.”

Rooney had addressed this argument Wednesday in a news release:

By this argument, if two engine sources are better than one, then three or four or even ten would be better than two. Just like we cannot afford ten engines, we cannot afford two. Competition does not mean buying two of everything. If that were the case, every aircraft would have multiple source engines.

Secretary Gates has said, “Even after factoring in this unneeded finding, DoD’s cost Analysis and Program Evaluation (CAPE) estimates that the engine still requires a further investment of $2.9 billion to make this program truly competitive by FY17.

“The $2.9 billion cost is real and certain but the benefits of a second engine are not. CAPE has concluded that a second engine might provide savings if both engine vendors respond to competitive pressure and drive prices lower and the second engine supplier matches the F135′s vendor prices for the duration of the competition. The navy has stated they will only buy one engine to avoid having to maintain two different engines aboard a ship. While DoD favors competition where possible, in this case there would not be true competition between the engine vendors. Therefore, it is DoD’s strong judgment that these real costs outweigh the theoretical benefit.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

Congressional reactions to the State of the Union

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

Barbara Boxer“President Obama’s speech tonight was inspiring, unifying and visionary.

“He addressed two major issues facing our nation – job creation and deficit reduction. And he rightly continued his call for civility in our discourse.

“Throughout his speech, he drew on the American tradition of rising to challenges through our ability to innovate and work hard.

“The President’s priorities are in line with California’s priorities. We need a clean-energy economy that will create good jobs and keep us at the forefront of the world. We need a top-notch education system that spans from Head Start to college. We need roads, bridges, high-speed rail and other infrastructure that transport people and goods efficiently in order to move our country forward.

“The President clearly stated his intention to pursue fair deficit reduction, which I support, and he also inspired us to continue working across party lines in order to meet the many challenges required of us. I look forward to working with him and my Congressional colleagues to reach these goals and make our nation stronger.”

From Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez:

“The President is absolutely right to challenge our schools to do better. Now is the time for real, substantive changes that will transform our schools and put our students on the path to success in school and in life.

“If we want to win the future, as the President said, if we want our country to prosper, then it is time we decide as a nation that our children can’t afford for us to wait any longer. It is time we decide as a nation to take a hard look at where our schools are and where we need them to be. And it is time we decide as a nation to rid ourselves of the average label we too often receive and excel, out-perform and out-compete other countries.

“If we fail to take action to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we are sentencing our students to the status quo. I’ve been fighting too long to let that happen.

“Real education reform will mean more community involvement, more parental involvement, buy in from teachers and less prescription from the federal level – all of this without losing the accountability our students need to keep them on track.

“It shouldn’t matter if a student is in a school in an urban city or a rural town, in a suburban neighborhood or on a U.S. military base – every child in this country deserves the opportunity to succeed. “We can continue to make excuses or we can realize what other countries have – that our economy will not be strong if the education of all our students is not strong.”

Read more, after the jump…
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Posted on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, Obama presidency, Pete Stark, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 7 Comments »

House passes GOP budget rollback resolution

The House today voted 256-165 to pass H.Res. 38, a resolution directing committees to cut non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels or lower, “beginning with a down payment in the form of a continuing resolution that will fund the government at pre-‘stimulus,’ pre-bailout levels or lower for the remainder of the fiscal year,” according to House Speaker John Boehner’s office.

The vote came hours before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he’s expected to extend for another two years the three-year partial freeze of domestic programs that he suggested in 2010.

From Boehner, R-Ohio:

“I am pleased the House has committed itself to cutting Washington spending. At a time when the Treasury Secretary is begging Congress to raise the debt limit, a ‘freeze’ is simply inadequate. Rather than lock in the consequences of Washington Democrats’ job-destroying spending binge, we pledged to cut spending to pre-‘stimulus,’ pre-bailout levels and impose real spending caps. The American people have rejected the idea that we can spend and borrow our way to prosperity, as have many economists. The new majority has listened, cut Congress’s budget, and now we’re focused on keeping our pledge to cut spending to pre-‘stimulus,’ pre-bailout levels. We’ve listened, and tonight the American people will find out whether President Obama has done the same.”

Unsurprisingly, the entire Bay Area delegation voted against it (except for Mike Honda, D-San Jose, who didn’t vote). From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“The ‘budget plan’ which the Republicans propose lacks the most basic element required of a budget — numbers. In my 18 years of service in Congress and a decade in county government, I’ve never seen a budget plan with no numbers. My constituents deserve a clear strategy for reducing the deficit. The budget resolution should also be a roadmap for addressing how we can create jobs, strengthen our economy, and detailing what programs will be cut and where we will invest. These are tough decisions. They require a serious plan, not a numberless-nothing bill.”

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, responded to the GOP bill by introducing his own H.R. 413, the “Defense and Deficit Reduction Act,” to take defense spending back to 2008 levels for the next five years. From Stark:

“We can’t be serious about reducing the deficit if we’re going to wall off 60 percent of our discretionary spending from cuts. This legislation would save $182 billion, from a sector riddled with extra planes and engines that the Pentagon doesn’t want. At a time when we are spending seven times the next closest nation on our military, we must look toward defense for waste and potential savings.”

UPDATE @ 3:13 P.M.: Here’s Stark, speaking earlier today on the House floor:

Posted on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Under: Anna Eshoo, John Boehner, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Today’s rhetoric on health care reform repeal

East Bay House members have been busy speaking against the Republican bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the health care reforms enacted last year; the repeal vote is expected to come to a vote today. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, built up a full head of steam on the House floor this morning:

And Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, went into the lions’ den this morning, on “Fox and Friends:”

On the other side, here’s House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, at his news conference this morning:

UPDATE @ 12:15 P.M.: Here’s Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont:

UPDATE @ 3:11 P.M.: The repeal bill, HR 2, has passed on a 245-189 vote, with three Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with the Republican majority: Dan Boren, D-Okla.; Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.; and Mike Ross, D-Ark.

Posted on Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
Under: George Miller, healthcare reform, John Boehner, John Garamendi, U.S. House | 6 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 »

George Miller and John Boehner play with dolls?

Boehner, Miller and a doll 1-5-2011

What’s happening here? Write your own caption in the comments while I await a response from Miller’s office.

UPDATE @ 2:14 P.M.: The doll is Flat Stanley, the children’s book character who has become the basis of an international pen-pal project for students, teachers and families, aimed at building literacy and community. Kids keep journals of where their Stanley has been, then send the paper doll and the journal to others who do the same before sending them back, often with photos of Stanley in foreign locales.

UPDATE @ 3:32 P.M.: My bad — Daniel Weiss, Miller’s chief of staff, says this is a Flat Sally, not a Flat Stanley. (Same idea; Weiss said the hair was a dead giveaway, but I told him I don’t stereotype.) Weiss said Miller toted Sally with him to the 112th Congress’ opening day at the request of his granddaughter, a grade-schooler in Lafayette.

“He’s done this before with other of his grandchildren,” Weiss said, before gamely taking this reporter’s bait about posing with Boehner. “It was a demonstration of early bi-partisanship on behalf of America’s children … The real work lies ahead, but I’m sure his granddaughter is very appreciative of this.”

Posted on Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
Under: George Miller, John Boehner, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

Financial probe panel’s GOP members go rogue

Republican members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission – a supposedly bipartisan panel that’s been probing the causes of the financial crisis that precipitated our recession – went rogue today and issued their own report (now posted at House Minority Leader John Boehner’s website), well before the entire commission is expected to issue its official report next month.

The commission, chaired by former California Treasurer and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides, has spent this past year holding hearings at sites across the country, subpoenaing documents and otherwise gathering evidence. It voted last month to delay its report from Dec. 15 until January.

The Republican commissioners – former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Atascadero; Bush economic advisor Keith Hennessey; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the top economic adviser to 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain; and Reagan White House Counsel Peter Wallison – decided not to wait, and Boehner immediately trumpeted the result.

“This eye-opening report details how government mortgage companies played a pivotal role in the financial meltdown by handing out high-risk loans to families who couldn’t afford them,” Boehner said in a statement issued this morning. “After years of being coddled and enabled by Washington politicians, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now on life support, kept afloat by taxpayers fed up with unending bailouts.”

Boehner said Congressional Republicans’ “Pledge to America” proposes “saving billions for taxpayers by ending government control of Fannie and Freddie, shrinking their portfolios, and establishing minimum capital standards. I appreciate the Republican commissioners’ efforts to get to the bottom of what happened and ensure the American people have the full story about the financial crisis. This is a report every taxpayer should read.”

But Tom McMahon, executive director of the union-backed liberal group Americans United for Change, issued a scathing reply saying the Republican commissioners’ report whitewashes Wall Street’s role in the financial collapse.

“I know the Republicans are just trying to protect their big banker buddies, but let’s give a little credit where credit is due. It was Wall Street that made bad bets with our money in the shadow banking system, which led to the lost of 8 million jobs and billions in retirement savings. No amount of revisionist history can change the enormous roll Wall Street played in this crisis,” McMahon said.

“Once again, it’s good to see these poor, helpless big banks have friends like Thomas and Holtz-Eakin on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and in Congress like Boehner and incoming House Financial Services chair Spencer Bachus,” he added. “The notion that these Republicans are still blinded by the sheen of Wall Street proves how little interest they have in getting to the real source of the economic meltdown, preferring instead to rewrite history.”

FCIC spokesman Tucker Warren e-mailed out a statement later today saying the commission’s real report will be delivered next month to the President, Congress and public, as had been announced in November.

“The report will contain facts and evidence from the Commission’s more than year-long investigation – including 19 days of public hearings, an analysis of hundreds of thousands of documents and interviews with more than 700 witnesses. The report will also include the Commission’s findings and conclusions as to the causes of the financial crisis based on this inquiry,” the statement said.

“Today some members of the Commission made public their personal views on the financial crisis. The Commission had not previously seen or had an opportunity to review what was released today. But, as it does with the views of any of its members, the Commission will review and take them into consideration.”

Posted on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
Under: economy, John Boehner, U.S. House | No Comments »