How Bay Area members voted on taxes/spending

Congress on Friday cleared a year-end spending and tax deal with a strong bipartisan support, despite grumbling from both parties over what was included in the agreement and what got left out, the Washington Post reports.

The House passed the $1.1 trillion spending portion of the deal on a 316-113 vote early Friday morning, with 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats supporting the measure, after passing the $622 billion tax section of the agreement Thursday on a 318-109 vote.

The Senate soon after passed both parts of the agreement on a 65-33 vote, with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in support and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., not voting. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law.

From the Bay Area, representatives Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, all opposed the tax section of the deal Thursday, while Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, voted for it.

DeSaulnier said the tax-extender section isn’t paid for and will increase the deficit. “This package largely benefits corporations at the expense of working families and undermines programs like Pell grants, Headstart, job training and health research,” he said. “I could not support a package that mortgages our children’s future, reduces our payments on the nation’s debt and robs from the Social Security Trust Fund.”

All Bay Area House members except Lofgren supported the omnibus spending deal Friday morning.

“I was unable to vote for the Omnibus spending bill today because it included an extraneous provision purported to facilitate cybersecurity information sharing that – in effect – will function as a surveillance tool,” Lofgren said, noting Congress has debated cybersecurity for the past year and she voted for an earlier bill that would address concerns while protecting Americans’ private digital information.

“Information sharing requires measures to protect Americans’ privacy. It should also be debated in regular order. But this so-called ‘cybersecurity legislation’ was inserted into a must-pass Omnibus at the 11th hour, without debate,” she said. “The protective measures that such a bill should have – including those I believe the Constitution requires – were removed. While the Omnibus had both pros and cons, my obligation to protect constitutional rights isn’t negotiable. I made clear to House Leadership and the White House that I could not support the Omnibus with this cyber surveillance measure included. I have enclosed several letters crafted in the last two days outlining my concerns related to the bill.”


Dems urge creation of gun-violence committee

For the “Fat Chance” file: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked outgoing Speaker John Boehner on Friday to create a Select Committee on Gun Violence, one day after a man armed with five handguns and a rifle killed nine and wounded nine more at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College.

House Republicans have steadfastly resisted all calls for more stringent gun controls in the wake of other mass shootings in recent years. And with Boehner on his way out this month and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, trying to shore up his conservative bona fides as a successor, it’s hard to see Pelosi’s plan as anything other than a total nonstarter.

Besides the six firearms recovered at the massacre’s scene, investigators found seven more firearms – two handguns, four rifles and a shotgun – at the slain gunman’s home, said a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman. All the guns were legally obtained, obtained by the shooter or family members over the last three years through a federal firearms dealer, she said.

“Prayers for the victims, families, students, & faculty at Umpqua Community College, & the community of Roseburg, Oregon,” Boehner tweeted Thursday.

In her letter to Boehner, Pelosi, D-San Francisco, also said the select committee she proposes should have to report its recommendations to the House within 60 days, “in time for a vote before the third anniversary of the Newtown shooting this year.” She also urged Boehner to see that the House hears and passes a bipartisan bill – heretofore ignored by most Republicans – to require background checks for all firearm sales.

“The epidemic of gun violence in our country challenges the conscience of our nation. Mass shootings and gun violence are inflicting daily tragedy on communities across America,” Pelosi wrote. “As of today, nearly 10,000 Americans have been killed by guns in 2015 – more than 30 gun violence deaths a day. Yesterday’s terrible attack at Umpqua Community College in Oregon marked the 45th school shooting this year alone.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, House Democrats’ point man on gun-violence issues and co-author of the languishing background-check bill, wrote to Boehner on Friday, too.

“Every single time a mass shooting happens we go through the same routine. Thoughts and prayers are sent. Statements are made. Stories are written. And nothing changes,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a news release. “Yesterday it was nine people at a community college. A month ago it was a news reporter and cameraman in Virginia. Two months before that it was a prayer group in Charleston. Mass gun violence has become as commonplace as it is tragic.”

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Congressional Republicans have done nothing over and over again and, predictably, the results have been the same: more innocent lives lost, more families forever changed, and more mass gun violence,” he added. “Republicans have a majority in Congress, and a White House and Democratic Caucus willing to work with them. All they need to do is get off their hands and act. Let’s have this time be different. This time, let’s actually pull together and do something to make our country safer.”


FEMA approves grant for fighting Valley Fire

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved California’s request for a fire-management assistance declaration for the Valley Fire that’s ravaging parts of Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, Rep. Mike Thompson announced Monday morning.

The FEMA grant program allows for the “mitigation, management, and control” of fires burning on publicly or privately owned forest or grasslands which threaten such destruction as would constitute a major disaster.

“The Valley Fire is spreading rapidly and has proven to be especially dangerous. It has already devastated nearly 100 square miles and is just five percent contained. Assistance from every level of government is needed as we respond to this major disaster,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a news release.

“Many thanks to FEMA for quickly approving federal funds to help our first responders contain and eliminate the fire, and to help our district recover from the damage it has caused,” he said. “The brave men and women of CAL FIRE, and all emergency responders, are in my thoughts and prayers as they selflessly work to protect our communities.”

The Valley Fire has scorched more than 61,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained. More than 400 structures have been destroyed and more than 13,000 people have been forced to evacuate as 1,400 firefighters have been deployed.

The FEMA grant will cover 75 percent of the costs for various fire suppression, safety and recovery needs, including equipment and supplies; evacuations, shelters, traffic control and arson investigation; field camps, meals, comfort and safety items for firefighters; and more.


Go talk to your congressman

With only two weeks left in Congress’ summer recess, there are still a few chances to see and be heard by your lawmaker.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, has several events coming up. First, I’ll moderate a Commonwealth Club of California discussion with him at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25 in the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd. Tickets cost $12 for club members, $20 for non-members or $7 for students, and are available online.

DeSaulnier also is continuing his series of free, public town-hall meetings as well. The remaining three are scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 26 in the Harding Elementary School auditorium, 7230 Fairmount Avenue in El Cerrito; Wednesday, Sept. 2 in the Orinda Library Auditorium, 26 Orinda Way; and Thursday, Sept. 3 in the Clayton Library’s Hoyer Hall, 6125 Clayton Road. All three will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, will host a town hall forum on Social Security at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25 in the Florence Douglas Senior Center, 333 Amador St. in Vallejo. Special guests will include Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and Sandy Goodman, District Manager of the Vallejo Social Security Administration field office.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, will host a California drought solutions forum from 10 to noon Tuesday, Aug. 25, in the San Joaquin County Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center, 2101 E. Earhart Ave. in Stockton. Open to the public, the forum will feature experts and voices that include farmers, water technology innovators, policy makers, federal and state government, academia, and others.


Where Bay Area lawmakers stand on the Iran deal

As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues rolling out Democratic supporters one by one, almost half of the Bay Area’s House delegation has not yet committed to support or oppose the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have said they’ll vote for the agreement, as have Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

Most recently on the bandwagon are Swalwell and Farr, both Wednesday, and then Speier on Friday. Speier said in her statement that this is “one of the most important votes I will ever cast.

Jackie Speier“To come to this decision I attended scores of hearings, classified briefings, and met with U.S. allies, my Republican and Democratic colleagues, foreign policy experts, nongovernmental groups, the military and intelligence communities, and my constituents. I also met with the President for over two hours to discuss this deal,” she said.

“As President Kennedy once urged, we must pursue ‘a more practical, more attainable peace, based… on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned.’ This deal, like those Kennedy pursued with the Soviet Union, is a first step away from catastrophe,” Speier said. “So as he said, ‘Let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable.’ ”

No Bay Area members of Congress have come out against the deal, but five still aren’t ready to say where they stand: Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

“It’s my first big, consequential foreign policy vote, so I wanted to avail myself to learn as much as I could,” DeSaulnier said Friday, adding that while he sees no need to rush the decision during this month-long recess, “I’m leaning very much to support the president’s agreement.”

Mark DeSaulnierHe said has met both with President Obama in Washington, and then with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent trip to Israel with other Democratic House freshmen. “I promised both sides I would listen to them.”

And he said he’s reserving final judgment until after he completes five town-hall meetings he has scheduled for constituents over the next few weeks. In fact, he’s dedicating the second half of his first such meeting – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18 in the community room at Pleasant Hill Middle School, 1 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill – to this issue.

Honda spokeswoman Lauren Smith said Thursday her boss “is continuing to meet with people and get input and feedback, as well as fully considering all of the details of the deal. He will make a decision once he has collected all pertinent information.”

Lofgren’s chief of staff, Stacey Leavandosky, said Thursday her boss “is currently studying the agreement, meeting with constituents about it as well as hearing from Administration officials.”

McNerney spokesman Mike Naple said Thursday his boss “is still reviewing the agreement and hasn’t made a decision yet.”

And Huffman spokesman Paul Arden referred to his boss’s July 15 statement, in which he had said that “while I will vote based on the merits of the agreement, Iran’s credibility and trustworthiness are also considerations.”

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: Mike Honda has just announced that he supports the deal.

UPDATE @ 2:55 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: And now Jerry McNerney is on board, too.

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M. FRIDAY 8/21: Lofgren now says she will vote in favor of the deal.


Reactions to SCOTUS’ Obamacare ruling

The Bay Area’s voices in Congress are predictably ebullient about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“This is a tremendous victory for improved health care and clearly validates the Affordable Care Act. This means that 6.4 million Americans in 34 states will continue to have access to health insurance subsidies. I could not be more pleased.”

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

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the millions of Americans who now have affordable health care – many of them for the first time in their lives – because of Obamacare.

“It is long past time for Republicans to end their efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act and join us in fulfilling the promise of quality, affordable health care for all.”

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the health of our country. Despite the best efforts of congressional Republicans, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land, a fact reaffirmed by this decision. It’s also working. Thanks to the ACA more than 16 million Americans have gained coverage and the nation’s uninsured rate is at its lowest level ever.

“I am hopeful that the attempts by Republicans in Congress to kill the ACA will end and we can finally move forward to do the big things our constituents sent us here to do: grow the economy, create jobs, and advance equality.”

From Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose:

“Today’s historic decision will uphold the ACA and continue to provide coverage to millions of Americans who have come to depend on the law to treat their illnesses and pay for their medications. For too many generations, the issue of health care created panic, anxiety, and dread. Marketplaces can continue to enable families and individuals who are uninsured to buy quality, affordable coverage. It is time for us to understand that the ACA is the law of the land and here to stay. Instead of working to dismantle this important law, we should be working to spread the benefits of ACA to each and every American.”

From Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena:

“Today, the Supreme Court has once again ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, upholding that all Americas, no matter where they live, can access premium tax credits for quality, affordable health care.

“Since the ACA was passed, we have spent far too much time fighting over the law, both in Congress and in the courts. This ruling should settle once-and-for-all that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land.

“With today’s decision now behind us, and the ACA standing on firm constitutional ground, we need to begin working across the aisle to build on the law’s important reforms so that all Americans can have access to quality, affordable health insurance.”

From Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton:

“All Americans should have access to quality and affordable health care when they need it, and today’s Supreme Court decision reaffirms that health care will be available to millions of people. This is an important victory that keeps health care accessible for more than 6 million people, including many lower and middle income families, who would not otherwise be able to afford insurance.

“In California, and in my district, we are seeing that the Affordable Care Act works. Hardworking families are receiving quality health care coverage through the state exchange. With this Supreme Court decision, we should move forward and look at ways to make improvements, instead of wasting time and resources to tear down a law that is providing millions of people with life-saving health care.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“This is yet another landmark victory for millions of Americans who have been able to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The Court has now ruled that the law is not only constitutional, but that it’s legal for Americans in states using the HealthCare.gov exchange to continue to benefit from federal tax credits to help pay for health insurance.

“More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage since the Affordable Care Act became law, and the nation’s rate of uninsured is at the lowest level ever. Coverage is affordable, with 85 percent of enrollees claiming tax credits. Consumers are enjoying greater competition and choice, Medicaid expansion is helping millions of low-income Americans obtain care, and young adults are getting covered.

“Today’s decision further affirms the Affordable Care Act will remain woven into the fabric of America’s health care system.”

The House Republican leadership is predictably perturbed.

From Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

“ObamaCare is fundamentally broken, increasing health care costs for millions of Americans. Today’s ruling doesn’t change that fact. Republicans will continue to listen to American families and work to protect them from the consequences of ObamaCare. And we will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it with patient-centered solutions that meet the needs of seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families.”

From House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield:

“The only thing that is more disappointingly flawed than today’s decision on what Obamacare actually meant is Obamacare itself. Obamacare remains a failed law that was forced through Congress on a partisan vote, and its consequences are being felt today. The law is increasing health care costs, reducing choice, and has led to fewer jobs, and today’s ruling doesn’t change that.

“Throughout the country, the American people are suffering because of the limits this law places on receiving high-quality care from doctors that patients choose, not the government. One thing that today’s ruling does confirm is that we must repeal and replace this fundamentally flawed law. The House will continue to work toward a patient-centered solution and to help those who have felt the hardships this law has caused.”

And California’s candidates for U.S. Senate in 2016 weighed in, too.

From former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro:

“One thing is for certain: If the Republicans in Washington haven’t believed Obamacare was right, then they should have long ago come with a single, practical alternative. Between now and the election, they better do just and convince Americans why their alternative is better. If they don’t, they will be handing the election to Hillary.”

From Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana:

“I applaud and agree with the court’s decision to rule in favor of an individual’s ability to receive tax credits from the federal health insurance exchange, a program that has supported so many Americans and their families. I’ve said this before: we are dealing with families, not concepts. Millions of families rely on the federal marketplace to purchase affordable health insurance, and I am relieved that they will be able to continue to do so.

“With today’s Supreme Court decision behind us, it’s time for Congress to get back to work. The Affordable Care Act is settled law, and this ruling reaffirms that families are in control of their own health care.”

From California Attorney General Kamala Harris:

“The Affordable Care Act delivered access to quality, affordable health coverage to millions of Californians who otherwise would not have been able to afford insurance. Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in King v. Burwell ensures that millions of families can keep their affordable health insurance. Because of this ruling, health insurance continues to be accessible to every American, making our entire nation healthier and more prosperous.”