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.”


CA17: New pay-to-play claims against Honda

Rep. Mike Honda gave preferential treatment to campaign donors, according to a report published Wednesday by San Jose Inside.

honda.jpgThe alternate weekly says an anonymous source provided Honda’s “1,000 Cranes” database – a list of donors who’ve given at least $1,000 each, and the basis of accusations that Honda, D-San Jose, engaged in pay-to-play politics. The list’s existence was disclosed in an Office of Congressional Ethics report which became public in September.

The OCE report had revealed that the list, which Honda said was a personal effort he shared only with a campaign official, actually was discussed at an official staff retreat in 2012. Notes from that retreat obtained by investigators say “to work, it will require MH to use his personal touch … also will likely be transactional — i.e. help me with this visa for my grandma.”

Honda remains under investigation by the House Ethics Committee regarding whether interactions between his office and his campaign violated House rules or federal law, even as he tries to fend off a second electoral challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna.

San Jose Inside’s report says Honda’s list actually consisted of contact information for 281 people and groups who’d supported his re-election bids in 2010 and 2012. Reporter Josh Koehn then listed several instances in which people on that list seemed to be cozy with Honda, ranging from the lawmaker wishing his biggest 2010 donor a happy birthday on the House floor, to an s unsuccessful Honda bill backed by two of the “cranes.” It also notes that the only bill introduced by Honda that’s been directly signed into law – to name a San Jose post office after Gordon Chan in 2009 – was followed by substantial donations by Chan’s widow in 2010 and 2012.

Most if not all members of Congress keep lists of big donors, and most if not all take money before or after saying or doing something complimentary or beneficial to the donor. It can be unsettling or unseemly, but it’s only illegal if there’s a direct, proven quid pro quo – hard evidence that the lawmaker demanded money in return for favors, or that a donor offered money for a specific official action and the lawmaker accepted. So far, there’s no such evidence for Honda.

“It seems to me there are some links missing in the chain,” said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University professor emeritus of political science who has followed the district closely. “I’m not so sure that this alone tells us anything terrible is amiss.”

“People contribute to people running for office – that’s as old as anything we know about politics – and people in positions of power introduce legislation or commendations for people who help them get elected,” he said. “But this doesn’t say a whole lot more than that. And how many times did Congressman Honda propose legislation or offer commendations for people who didn’t contribute $1,000 or more?”

Hari Sevugan, spokesman for Khanna’s campaign, said Wednesday that “the evidence of Mike Honda engaging in multiple pay-to-play relationships with his top donors is deeply disturbing and raises more questions than answers.”

“But what we know for sure are his priorities,” Sevugan continued. “We’ve now learned of five instances of Mike Honda doing special favors for his top contributors. All while he’s passed just one bill in his 15 years in Congress. To name a post office. After the family member of a contributor. That says it all.”

Michael Beckendorf, Honda’s campaign manager, said the list on which the San Jose Inside report was based is “nothing more than a list of donors that anyone could obtain from public record.”

“We can only wonder what nickname Ro Khanna gives his list of ultra conservative millionaire and billionaire backers,” Beckendorf added. “It’s no wonder Khanna opposes raising taxes on the richest two percent and puts corporations and the wealthy ahead of the middle class. Congressman Honda is the only candidate in this race who has a record of standing up for working class Americans and delivering for Silicon Valley.”

Meanwhile, the campaign grinds slowly onward.

Honda announced endorsements this week from Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison, Newark Mayor Alan Nagy, Sunnyvale Mayor Jim Griffith, and Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, whose cities account for a majority of the 17th Congressional District’s registered voters.

In a news release, Harrison praised Honda’s support of the Warm Springs BART Station and advocacy in revitalizing Fremont’s high-tech manufacturing industry, while Nagy said Honda is dedicated to “expanding opportunities for people of all backgrounds.” Griffith said Honda has been “an active and visible leader in Sunnyvale” who understands the region and its residents, and Matthews said Honda has fought to fund crucial Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority projects as well as to prevent closure of the post office at Franklin Mall.

And Ron Cohen, a Fremont accountant and Republican candidate in this race, filed a complaint Sunday claiming that a mailer Honda sent at taxpayers’ expense as “franked mail” was actually a campaign communication.

“Rather than a specific discussion in his own words of this views and beliefs on legislative matters, the vast majority of the piece I received is a series of quotations of reports by news outlets and related pictures … which I would argue are campaign-like promotional statements,” Cohen wrote to the OCE.


Honda, Lee, Farr vote against Visa Waiver reform

The House voted 407-19 Tuesday to tighten the Visa Waiver Program that lets people from certain countries travel to the United States without first obtaining a visa – a reaction to fear of terrorism, particularly given the roles of French and Belgian nationals in last month’s Paris attacks.

But three Northern California members – Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel – were among the few who voted against HR 158.

The bill would require visas for anyone who’s been in Iraq or Syria in the previous five years; exceptions are made for official government visits and military service. Countries in the visa waiver program would also be required to share counterterror information with the U.S. or face expulsion from the program. All travelers would be checked against Interpol databases, and visa waiver countries would be required to issue “e-passports” with biometric information.

Sam FarrFarr this evening said the bill “casts too wide a net to be effective. Throwing anyone who travels to Syria or Iraq into the same category as suspected terrorists won’t help us catch the bad guys but it will harm humanitarian efforts there. Investing in better human intel is how we will stop them, not by disrupting tourist travel to the United States.”

Honda went into more detail, noting that although he strongly supports the need for increased security in the Visa Waiver Program, he voted against this bill “because it unjustly targets individuals based on their nationality.”

He said the program, used by 20 million people per year from 38 countries, is far less secure than the two-year screening process to which refugees are subjected, and needs to be improved. He said he supports some parts of this bill, including requiring all travelers to be checked against INTERPOL databases, using fraud-resistant e-passports with biometric information to protect against false identities, and strengthening background check procedures and information-sharing.

honda.jpg“I cannot, however, vote for a bill that categorically bars access to the Visa Waiver Program for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Iran and people who have traveled in the last 5 years to Iraq and Syria, including humanitarian workers,” Honda said. “Under this bill, a French citizen of Syrian descent who has never been to Syria would still fall into this blanket category. Since the Visa Waiver Program functions on reciprocity, I am also concerned that this bill will trigger restrictions from other countries on travel for Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese, and Iranian Americans.”

“I reject the stereotype that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists and I strongly oppose the targeting of people from these specific countries,” he continued. “I know what it is be singled out as a threat and potential enemy due to nationality, despite a lack of evidence and despite being an American citizen. We can and must protect Americans without compromising American values. It is time to refuse wartime hysteria and prejudice based on nationality, and instead show true political leadership.”

UPDATE @ 12:14 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Lee said she shares “the concerns of the ACLU, AILA, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and others that this bill would allow for the discrimination of individuals based on their nationality. We cannot let fear drive us to create bad policies. Congress can and should carefully examine the visa waiver program and I will work to support changes which do not open the door for blanket discrimination.”


California politicos react to San Bernardino killings

California’s elected officials are sounding off on Wednesday’s mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, in which 14 people reportedly were killed and more wounded.

Gov. Jerry Brown cancelled the Capitol Christmas tree lighting ceremony that had been scheduled for Wednesday night. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families and everyone affected by the brutal attack,” he said in an emailed statement. “California will spare no effort in bringing these killers to justice.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“Today, yet another American community is reeling from the horror of gun violence. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of San Bernardino. As the families of the victims grieve and the survivors focus on healing, the entire American family mourns.

“Gun violence is a crisis of epidemic proportions in our nation. Congress has a moral responsibility to vote on common sense measures to prevent the daily agony of gun violence in communities across America. Enough is enough.”

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

“Today we add San Bernardino to the long list of communities that have fallen victim to a mass shooting, and my heart is with the victims and their families.

“Details in San Bernardino are still murky, but what we do know is that these deadly shootings aren’t slowing down. Just a week after a deadly attack in Colorado Springs, we’re prepared to mourn more victims today.

“The Washington Post reported this week that in the first 334 days of 2015, there were 351 mass shootings. That’s an average of more than one deadly rampage for every day this year.

“USA Today reported that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System ran more than 185,000 checks for gun purchases the day after Thanksgiving. That doesn’t even count the sales that took place online or at gun shows, where no checks are necessary.

“When a convicted felon can walk into a gun show and buy an assault rifle, that’s a problem. When an individual with a known mental illness can buy an assault rifle online, that’s a problem. When a terrorist who can’t board an airplane can buy an assault rifle in a gun store, that’s a problem.
“Congress also has a problem—a debilitating fear of upsetting the gun lobby. Congress refuses even to require background checks on all firearms purchases, an action supported by the vast majority of Americans.

“Each time I see breaking news of yet another mass shooting, I feel it in the pit of my stomach. Congress can’t stop every shooting, but we can help reduce their frequency. I remain hopeful that enough of my colleagues will join me to make that a reality.”

More, after the jump…
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Boxer urges end to Planned Parenthood panel

In the wake of the mass shooting that claimed three lives Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer on Monday urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to disband the new committee targeting the health organization.

Former Speaker John Boehner created the “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” in October to probe Planned Parenthood. Boxer, D-Calif., calls it a “witch hunt” against an organization that provides vital healthcare services but hasn’t broken the law.

Some Democrats have faulted the hot rhetoric slung by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates against Planned Parenthood in recent months for inciting the kind of violence that occurred Friday in Colorado.

“We should not and cannot continue this politically-motivated committee targeting Planned Parenthood, which is already costing taxpayers and helping to create a dangerous climate for legal health care in America,” Boxer wrote Monday to Ryan, R-Wisc. “Since 1977, there have been 11 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 arsons against abortion clinics and providers.”

“It is time to stop the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood, stop the demonizing rhetoric and disband this committee immediately,” she wrote.

Read the full text of Boxer’s letter, after the jump…
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Today’s congressional odds and ends

HONDA’S INTERNATIONAL COALITION: Rep. Mike Honda joined five other lawmakers from around the world Monday in launching an International Parliamentary Coalition for Victims of Sexual Slavery.

Honda’s office said the coalition’s purpose will be to promote international cooperation in raising awareness about modern-day slavery and human-rights violations committed to force residents in conflicts zones and places struck by natural disasters into sexual slavery.

honda.jpg“Victims of sexual slavery are not collateral damage,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in a news release. “Sexual slavery, whether in times of conflict or natural disasters, is not a cultural phenomenon. It is violence against women. And this must change. We must hold everyone accountable. Eliminating violence against women is going to require a major change in our humanity. We can start by not treating this as an afterthought or a sidebar issue. Ending violence against women must be front and center.”

Besides Honda, the coalition’s founding co-chairs are Canadian Senator Yonah Martin; New Zealand Member of Parliament Melissa Lee; South Korean Representative Jasmine Lee; British Member of Parliament Fiona Bruce; and Canadian Advisory Council Chairwoman Joy Smith.

Honda earlier this year introduced HR 500, to establish an advisory council led by survivors of human trafficking to advise lawmakers on policies and initiatives. It became part of S.178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which President Obama signed into law in May.

FIGHTING FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Three California House members want the Justice Department to stop prosecuting California medical marijuana dispensaries that are following tougher new state laws.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging her to reconsider action against dispensaries like the Berkeley Patients Group and Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, “given the comprehensive and stringent regulations signed into law by CA Governor Jerry Brown last month.”

“As you know, the package of bills signed into law creates an enforceable framework for governing virtually every aspect of the medicinal cannabis industry – from licensing and taxation to quality control, shipping, packaging and pesticide standards,” they wrote.

Yet the Justice Department “continues to threaten individuals and businesses acting within the scope of states law on the medicinal use of marijuana despite formal guidance on exercising prosecutorial discretion and recent changes to federal law,” they continued. “It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries. … The will of the both voters at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country should be respected”

SPEIER GRILLED ON ISIS: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who sits on both the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, took some tough questions from MSNBC this week about how Congress, the Obama administration, the military, and presidential candidates have dealt with the so-called Islamic State.