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Boxer spars with nuclear agency on oversight

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer is sparring with the Nuclear Regulatory Committee over congressional access to the agency’s information.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., wrote a letter to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane on Tuesday, urging her to withdraw its new policy that the senator says will inhibit congressional oversight.

“As an ‘independent agency,’ the NRC is independent from the Executive Branch – not from congressional oversight,” Boxer wrote. “It is the NRC’s responsibility to keep Congress apprised of its activities, as well as to follow the law and use its authorities responsibly and in the public’s interest.”

Yet the NRC “unilaterally devised a drastic change of policy behind closed doors” without notifying her committee, and implemented it without consulting Congress or the public, Boxer wrote.

“This policy is a radical departure from previous NRC document policies and creates significant hurdles and delays that can be used to withhold information entirely from the chairs and ranking members of oversight committees,” Boxer wrote. “It also allows the NRC to broadly deny information to individual members of Congress, even when the information is related to matters affecting their home states.”

The NRC’s claims that the new policy is justified by its need to protect against public release of sensitive materials isn’t supported by case law or by Justice Department guidelines, the senator wrote.

“I call on the NRC to cease its efforts to circumvent Congress’ oversight authority and create a policy that is a model of transparency and respects Congress’ responsibility to oversee the NRC,” Boxer wrote.

Posted on Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, energy, U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »

More reactions to Obama’s health insurance delay

We’ll be posting a full story about reactions to President Obama’s plan to delay cancellation of some individual health insurance plans that don’t meet standards set by the nation’s new law, but here are a few pols for whom we didn’t have space in that article.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the president’s proposal a “good step” that’s “very helpful in the implementation of the law.” She also spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about Republicans’ constant opposition to this law.

“This is typical of Republicans through the generations. Every time we’ve tried to expand health care, they’ve opposed it and opposed it and tried to derail it,” she said, adding that the new insurance law can be fixed “but that’s not good enough for my Republican friends. They just want to tear it down, just like they wanted to tear down Medicare.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in an email that he supports the president’s fix, which “continues to provide more choices without undermining the strengths of the new health care law. Implementing any new law creates a few bumps. We should be look for minor tweaks that strengthen the law rather than return to the old system that left millions of Americans without quality coverage.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, issued a statement calling Obama’s proposal “a step in the right direction towards fixing issues with the health care law. This was a promise that was made and it is a promise that should be kept.”

“I’ve said from the beginning that the health care reform law isn’t perfect,” Thompson said. “But instead of engaging in partisan bickering and playing blame games, I want to work to make health care reform better. … If we quit the partisan games, we can build on the reforms made in Obamacare, work out the imperfections, and make sure every American can get quality, affordable health insurance. That is a goal worth fighting for.”

Posted on Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, healthcare reform, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 27 Comments »

Boxer introduces cargo pilot fatigue safety bill

Cargo plane pilots would have to be sufficiently rested and alert before they fly, under a bill introduced in the Senate today by Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Alabama UPS plane crash, August 2013 (AP Photo)Boxer, D-Calif., joined with Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to introduce the “Safe Skies Act,” which would require that cargo pilots adhere to the same standards as passenger plane pilots. “We must close this dangerous loophole to ensure that cargo pilots are well-rested before they fly,” Boxer said.

After a passenger jet crashed outside Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009, Congress passed a bill by Boxer and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, directing the Department of Transportation to write new rules addressing pilot fatigue. Those new rules, which will take effect in January, require that passenger plane pilots be limited to flying either eight or nine hours, depending on the start time. Airlines must give pilots a minimum of 10 rest hours, with the opportunity for at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

But cargo pilots were omitted from the new rules, and still could be on duty for up to 16 hours a day. The Air Line Pilots Association, the Independent Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations support the Safe Skies Act.

Reps. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Timothy Bishop, D-N.Y, had introduced a House version of this bill early this year, but it has sat dormant in a subcommittee ever since. They and retired airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger of Danville – renowned for his emergency landing of a jetliner in the Hudson River in 2009 – joined Boxer and Klobuchar at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol today.

“When a large plane flies over your house in the middle of the night, it doesn’t matter whether it’s carrying cargo or passengers, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican,” Sullenberger said. “The danger is all the same if the pilots are fatigued.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Senate passes ENDA; House Dems clamor for vote

The U.S. Senate voted 64-32 Thursday to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination in hiring and employment by private, nonreligious employers with 15 or more employees.

“Today’s historic vote sends a strong signal that there is no room for discrimination in any workplace in America,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Here’s what she said on the Senate floor Wednesday in urging her colleagues to support the bill:

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., made a similar floor speech Wednesday.

“People have families; they have spouses; they have children; they need to put food on the table. They have college expenses for their children, student loans to pay, and unforeseen medical expenses. They may have elderly parents that they care for and who need their assistance. All of this requires a job,” she said. “Should a person be denied that basic aspect of life, should a person’s spouse or children or parents be hurt, simply because that person is gay or lesbian or transgender? For me, the answer is simple. It is no.”

Now House Democrats are clamoring for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to let ENDA come up for a vote in that chamber. Boehner has said the law “will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs,” but the factual basis for that seems shaky.

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

“The Senate has done its part to advance the American values of fairness and equality for LGBT Americans; now, the House must follow suit. Members on both sides of the aisle have signed onto this legislation, yet the House Republican leadership continues to stand in the way of progress. After spending $2.3 million in taxpayer funds on a losing battle to deny equality to LGBT families in our courts, House Republicans find themselves on the wrong side of history once again.

“Earlier this year, in its decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, the Supreme Court upheld the words etched into its walls: ‘equal justice under law.’ Now, it’s time for House Republicans to join Democrats in that same cause. It’s time to bring ENDA up for a vote, pass this long overdue bill, and make this measure the law of the land.”

And from Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat:

“Now that the Senate has acted, and for the sake of millions of fellow Americans living in states where they can still be fired for who they are or whom they love, it is the responsibility of the House to take up this bill as soon as possible.

“I am disappointed that some in the House Republican leadership are not eager to bring this bill to the floor. So we can expect hurdles in our way. But those hurdles are surmountable. The House can, should, and must bring this bill to the finish line and fulfill our nation’s promise of equal opportunity for all.”

Posted on Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, George Miller, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »

Boxer helps float bill to curb debt-limit battles

The president could raise the nation’s debt ceiling unless Congress votes to nix it, under a bill introduced today by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and two other Senate Democrats.

Boxer, D-Calif.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, say the “Pay Our Bills Act” would reduce the chances of the debt ceiling being used as a political weapon to leverage votes on unrelated issues, as just happened this month as House Republicans tried to tie raising the ceiling and ending the government shutdown they caused to defunding the nation’s health insurance law.

Barbara Boxer“We know from recent history that even the threat of not paying our bills does serious damage to our economy,” Boxer said in a news release. “It’s time for us to put in place a straightforward process to avoid a catastrophic default on our nation’s debt. The Pay Our Bills Act gives both houses of Congress and the President a say, but sends a strong message of certainty to the markets, to our families and to the world.”

Right now, Congress must vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling – the limit beyond which the nation can no longer borrow to pay costs it already has incurred. Under this bill, the president could propose an increase and Congress would have 15 days in which to vote on a resolution of disapproval. The president could veto that resolution like any other legislation, but so too could Congress could override that veto with a two-thirds majority vote as with any other legislation.

As a practical matter in the current political landscape, such a resolution of disapproval would pass the Republican-led House easily but would be dead on arrival in the Democrat-led Senate – and without disapproval from both chambers, the president would be free to do as he sees fit. And that means this Pay Our Bills Act will be dead on arrival in the House.

The plan is based on a Republican idea – the “McConnell Rule” first proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in 2011.

But McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor today, said his 2011 proposal was never meant to be permanent, or unaccompanied by spending cuts like those accomplished through the ongoing budget sequestration. He called the Democrats’ bill an “outrageous… plan to permanently hand the President a credit card without spending limits, and without lifting a finger to address the national debt.”

Schumer “is not going to find any dance partners on this side of the aisle,” McConnell said. “Because handing the President a permanent blank check, increasing the size of government, and trying to overturn the most significant bipartisan accomplishment of the Obama years – well, that’s just a non-starter.”

Posted on Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

What they’re saying on the shutdown/debt deal

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“The House has fought with everything it has to convince the president of the United States to engage in bipartisan negotiations aimed at addressing our country’s debt and providing fairness for the American people under ObamaCare. That fight will continue. But blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us. In addition to the risk of default, doing so would open the door for the Democratic majority in Washington to raise taxes again on the American people and undo the spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act without replacing them with better spending cuts. With our nation’s economy still struggling under years of the president’s policies, raising taxes is not a viable option. Our drive to stop the train wreck that is the president’s health care law will continue. We will rely on aggressive oversight that highlights the law’s massive flaws and smart, targeted strikes that split the legislative coalition the president has relied upon to force his health care law on the American people.”

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

Barbara Boxer“Bipartisanship in the Senate is leading America out of a painful, partisan, self-inflicted crisis. Relief doesn’t begin to describe my feelings at this moment in history as the Senate came together not a moment too soon.

“During the 16-day government shutdown I worked to show through my committee chairmanship and as a Senator of the largest state in the country just how painful the shutdown has been to millions of Americans, and how we should never again go through another government shutdown or even a flirtation with a devastating default.

“There are many issues that divide Republicans and Democrats, but the one thing I trust this outcome ensures is that we will always keep the government open, pay our bills and work together.”

From Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose:

honda.jpg“I am pleased that cooler heads in the Senate have prevailed with a bipartisan deal that allows the federal government to reopen, albeit temporarily, and removes the specter of reaching the debt ceiling until February.

“Obstructionist Tea Party Republicans held the government and the American people hostage for sixteen days and threatened the full faith and credit of the United States, all in a misguided, failed effort to deny millions of Americans access to healthcare. This process has done lasting damage to the public’s trust in Congress, as governing should not involve lurching from one manufactured crisis to the next in the hopes of extracting concessions in exchange for not destroying the economy.

“Today’s agreement sets a winter deadline that some may use to take us to the brink yet again. I believe we must permanently reform this process, and will be working to build support among my colleagues for my legislation, H.R. 233, that will end the brinksmanship and threat of default by creating a smooth process for raising the debt limit. This is the kind of structural change we need for economic stability in the future.”

Posted on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, John Boehner, Mike Honda, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Bera probes Hagel on Syria; Boxer votes to attack

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made the Obama administration’s case for bombing Syria to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The committee has no Bay Area members; Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, is the only member from Northern California, and here’s how he began questioning Hagel:

“It is of critical importance that we are having this discussion. I applaud the President for including Congress in this debate. I agree that we have to show resolve and we have to show that we are committed to our allies, but my constituents and I still need to be convinced, not that atrocities occurred — we all are unanimous in our condemnation of what Assad has done — but we need to know exactly what our goals are and our objectives, because this is increasingly a complex situation.

“And to that extent, let me ask Secretary Hagel a question. When I was home in Sacramento County this past weekend people were stopping me in the grocery store, my neighbors were pulling me aside on the street. I think all of my colleagues have been inundated with phone calls, emails, and almost unanimously, people don’t want us to strike Syria. They’re fatigued. And I answer to these people. These are the people that I represent. My question, Secretary Hagel, is what can I tell my constituents about why these strikes are in our national security interest, why these strikes matter to these folks that are struggling every day? How do I effectively communicate what the plan is?”

Watch their full exchange here:

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 – and not along party lines – on Wednesday to approve a resolution authorizing limited military force against Syria. The resolution is significantly narrow than that which the president had proposed: It would limit hostilities to 90 days, allow military action only within Syria’s borders and prohibit putting any U.S. troops on Syrian soil.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – who had said Tuesday that she would “support a targeted effort but not a blank check to respond to Syria’s unspeakable deeds to gas its own people to death” – voted for the resolution by proxy today; she was absent due to the imminent start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, at sundown tonight.

Posted on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
Under: Ami Bera, Barbara Boxer, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 5 Comments »

Where they stand on the Syria resolution

We reached out today to the Bay Area’s House delegation and California’s U.S. Senators to see where they stand on President Obama’s draft resolution to authorize U.S. military action against the Assad regime in Syria.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Tuesday she definitely intends to support military action against Syria. “I will vote to support the president. The final text of the resolution is, as of yet, unknown, so I reserve the right to amend — for example, language to respond to a Syrian reprisal if necessary.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, said at today’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing that she’ll support some sort of military-force resolution, but perhaps not the one Obama has proposed. “I believe America’s morality, America’s reputation and America’s credibility are on the line,” she said. “And I will support a targeted effort but not a blank check to respond to Syria’s unspeakable deeds to gas its own people to death.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, definitely will oppose an attack on Syria, because prolonged involvement in another nation’s civil war “would leave us weak strategically while simultaneously increasing the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said in a statement issued Saturday. “Without the full support of our allies and a firm case that our national security is at risk, I cannot in good conscience vote now to commit our troops to war.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also has made up her mind to oppose an attack. “We must respond to the heinous use of chemical weapons, but the danger of a military strike and its unintended consequences, including the possibility of further loss of life and the danger of escalated violence in the region, demand that we work with the international community and consider all the alternatives,” she said Tuesday.

Other local House members said it’s too early to decide.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said Tuesday that Obama’s draft resolution “is overly broad and therefore unacceptable as a starting point in this important debate.” It must be rewritten so Congress can consider only “a narrow and effective military strike to degrade the ability of the Assad government to use chemical weapons against its own citizens and to send a message to all nations that the United States and other countries will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, also said Tuesday that the resolution is too broad for him to support as is. “I will consider a limited U.S. military response. However, I want to make clear that I stand in strong opposition to putting troops on the ground,” he said. “Any resolution to authorize force must have clear language limiting the scope and duration of American involvement.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, is still monitoring the situation, spokesman Austin Vevurka said Tuesday. “He does not take the decision to authorize the use military force lightly and will not commit to voting one way or the other until he knows exactly what the authorization bill will look like, and has reviewed all the intelligence,” Vevurka said, adding Thompson wants an international coalition as part of any military response.

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said Tuesday that she’s “skeptical but studying the question,” a day after she and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, jointly wrote a letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice seeking more information. They asked Rice to specify the exact goal of a U.S. attack; what the United States would do if Syria used such weapons again even after a U.S. attack, or if Syria retaliated against Israel, Turkey or Lebanon; which allies will join the U.S. in such an attack; and what an attack’s implications would be for U.S.-Russian relations.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he won’t “support any U.S. military action that is unilateral or largely unilateral or any actions that draws us into the complicated sectarian civil war in Syria. But if Assad is indeed responsible for these brutal chemical weapons attacks, I will support building a multilateral international coalition to hold him accountable and deter further chemical weapons attacks.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, wrote to her House colleagues Tuesday telling them it’s up to them to decide. “It is in our national interest to respond to the Syrian government’s unspeakable use of chemical weapons,” she wrote, but “the shape and content of the final resolution will depend on what (House) members can support.”

“I look forward to working together on this challenge in the coming days,” she wrote. “For many, ignoring Bashar Al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons is a luxury humanity simply cannot afford.”

I’d asked lawmakers to respond by 3 p.m. today. I’ve not yet received answers from Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

UPDATE @ 3:29 P.M.: Add Mike Honda to the list of those who apparently are leaning against a military strike on Syria. “There are many problems that could be exacerbated by an extended U.S. intervention, including the spread of violence to neighboring states, an increase in the al Qaeda presence in Syria, and the overwhelming impact refugees are having on their neighbors,” he said today. “I firmly believe that true stability in the region will only be achieved through long-term diplomatic commitment and broad international support.”

UPDATE @ 9:53 A.M. WEDNESDAY: McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith sent this statement this morning: “The Congressman continues to review the information and monitor the situation. The decision to use military force is a serious one. He will make a final decision after a House floor debate concludes and the details of the authorization bill are known. He believes that President made the right decision in seeking congressional approval.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 10 Comments »

Barbara Boxer urges Bob Filner to resign, get help

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., just issued this open letter urging former congressman and current San Diego Mayor Bob Filner – besieged by accusations of sexual harassment – to resign.

Dear Bob,

We’ve known each other for a long time, and have worked together on many issues that are important to the people of San Diego – from creating jobs to protecting the environment to helping our veterans.

So I am speaking to you now on a personal and professional level, and asking you to step down as mayor and get the help you need as a private citizen.

I have already said publicly that you should resign your office as mayor because of the shocking revelations by many women about your behavior toward them.

But now I must say this directly to you: Bob, you must resign because you have betrayed the trust of the women you have victimized, the San Diegans you represent and the people you have worked with throughout your decades in public life.

I have worked for so many years to prevent and punish sexual violence and sexual harassment, wherever they occur. As we fight in the Senate to stand up for the men and women in our military who are survivors of sexual assault, I have heard their stories, seen the anguish in their faces, listened to them talk about the pain that will always be with them. Let me be clear: The latest revelations regarding your behavior toward women recovering from sexual assault – women who desperately need our help – have shaken me to my core.

Bob, you have already hurt so many people. To avoid hurting your victims and the people of San Diego more than you already have, you should step down immediately.

Sincerely,

Barbara

Posted on Friday, August 9th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 9 Comments »

Politicians take different tones on BART strike

It’s always interesting to compare the tones that various politicians take when weighing in on labor issues.

In this case, of course, it’s the still-threatened Bay Area Rapid Transit strike. California U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein today wrote to BART management and union leaders to urge a resolution to the standoff:

“We write to strongly encourage all parties involved in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) contract negotiations to use the seven-day ‘cooling off period’ declared by Governor Brown to end the labor dispute.

“The Bay Area relies on a safe, affordable, and reliable public transportation system, and any BART service disruption has significant impacts on our region’s economy and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use the system. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the four-day BART service disruption in July cost the Bay Area at least $73 million in lost productivity.

“We urge you to resume negotiations in good faith, end the dispute, and work together to avoid any further disruptions to BART service.”

That seems pretty even-handed. But yesterday, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, D-Oakland; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, issued a statement after the inquiry board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to review the dispute held a public hearing in Oakland:

“We’re pleased today’s meeting redirected focus on the ultimate goal of finalizing a fair contract that continues to ensure a safe, dependable public transit system. The panel asked important questions, obtaining documents and testimony that revealed the true financial picture of BART, the actual wages workers earn, and the significant safety issues confronted by employees every day.

“Testimony revealed inconsistencies in information BART management made public. For example, the figure given for average BART worker pay has been $79,500. But that figure includes management pay. BART’s own documents given to the panel show train operators earn less than $63,000 and station agents earn $64,000 on average. In addition, we learned that workers have offered to significantly increase contributions to pensions and employee medical.

“These are the type of facts that need to be the focus at the bargaining table. We believe that BART riders deserve good faith negotiations to resume so that rail service can continue uninterrupted.”

No question where they stand, huh?

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Boxer, Bill Quirk, Dianne Feinstein, Labor politics, Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »