California’s House water war continues

The California House delegation’s internecine water war continues.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, announced Wednesday morning that H.R. 5781 – the California Drought Relief Act, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford – will be scheduled for a floor vote next week. McCarthy said:

“California is facing the worst drought in a century, which has led to barren farms and drastic water shortages in our communities. We have reached this point after years of inaction by Senate Democrats while ill-conceived policies have continued to prioritize the well-being of fish above people. Though only Mother Nature can dictate the duration of the drought, the situation demands immediate action to address government-created barriers to ensure available water flows throughout our state and not washed out to the ocean.

“After the House and Senate passed separate California water bills this year, months were spent working on a bipartisan compromise for a long-term solution. Unfortunately, the Senate was pressured to quit negotiations at the last minute.

“This crisis cannot go unanswered, and the House’s unwavering commitment to find a solution has led to the California Emergency Drought Relief Act, introduced by Congressman David Valadao. Due to the urgent nature of the water crisis, the House will vote on this legislation next week.

“The first storms of the season are currently over California, with hopefully more to come in the subsequent months. It would be reckless and irresponsible to let the water from these storms be released into the ocean rather than directed to our local communities in need. The California Emergency Drought Relief Act contains provisions from the original Senate-passed bill and from the House’s negotiations with the Senate. Absent action now, California will continue to lose the water from storms in this water year and will face another year of devastating water-crisis. While more must be done toward a long-term solution, this legislation is another critical step to provide relief to our communities suffering from the drought, which is why the House and Senate must act on this bill.”

The Fresno Bee’s write-up on the bill characterizes it as “friendly to farmers and frightening to environmentalists.” The bill’s co-sponsors include McCarthy; Devin Nunes, R-Tulare; Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Ken Calvert, R-Corona; Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville; and Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Bay- and Delta-area Democrats including Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, responded with a joint statement Wednesday afternoon:

“With just a few days left in the legislative session, the House plans to pass yet another divisive, dishonest, and potentially devastating California water bill without any public input or legislative oversight. This is unconscionable, and just the latest chapter in Republicans’reckless approach to micromanaging the state’s water during one of the worst droughts in our history.

“The idea that this bill is a ‘compromise’ is laughable. It is clear that this bill was thrown together without any input from anyone other than those who stand to benefit from its passage. This bill was not reviewed by the Natural Resources Committee, nor has it received input from federal agencies, the state, affected local water agencies, the fishing industry, tribes, or communities. Legislation this sweeping should be the subject of public hearings and input from all affected stakeholders.

“The bill makes it more difficult for state and federal agencies to make real-time water decisions, undermines state water rights priorities, misstates current law, and explicitly overrides the Endangered Species Act. These sweeping changes would place the west coast’s environment, tribes, communities, and the fishing industry in harm’s way in the next drought year.

“The drought does not stop at the edge of congressional districts, yet this bill insulates some parts of the state from the tough water decisions that will be made in the next year. We’re all in this together, and Congress should not tie water managers’ hands nor should we address drought conditions in some parts of the state at the expense of others.”


Your state and Bay Area House-race roundup

All in all, it was a dismal night for Republicans in California House races.

Of the 11 California House races deemed competitive by the renowned Cook Political Report, Democrats won seven outright and are on top in two too-close-to-call other races. Another way of slicing and dicing it: All of the three endangered Democratic incumbents in these races won re-election, but only one of the four Republicans might’ve. And of the new or open seats, Democrats won three of the four.

More specifically:

    The battles to unseat Reps. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, remain too close to call with some mail-in and provisional ballots yet to be counted, but both trail their Democratic challengers by narrow margins.
    Reps. Jerry McNerney; John Garamendi, D-Fairfield; and Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara all turned away their Republican challengers to win re-election. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, is the only Republican incumbent definitely left standing in these competitive races.

Not than anyone considered it competitive, but Democrat Jared Huffman trounced Republican Dan Roberts to succeed Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-San Rafael, in the North Bay’s newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which reaches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.

In the Bay Area, as usual, the only question for most Democratic incumbents (with the exception, of course, of Pete Stark) was by how enormous a margin they would dispatch their challengers. See how that all stacks up as of this hour, after the jump…
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California Democrats urge mortgage investigation

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, joined fellow California Democrats today and sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging federal support for an investigation into mortgage fraud.

California and Nevada attorney generals have teamed up to crack down on mortgage fraud.

Here’s what Garamendi’s office just sent out:


WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA) yesterday joined more than 30 Congressional Democrats from California in sending a letter to President Barack Obama urging the Administration to support California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ efforts to investigate and crack down on fraud in the mortgage industry. Congressman Garamendi’s district was especially hard hit by the housing crisis and Great Recession. Solano County continues to have the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate, and Contra Costa County communities like Antioch and Oakley have also been hard hit by foreclosures.

“The abuses and fraud need to be fully investigated, and I commend Attorney General Harris for taking appropriate leadership in helping homeowners,” Garamendi said. “I hope the President uses the power of his Administration to aid Harris. We need to make sure that these rip off artists are exposed for their crimes, and to whatever degree we can help working families keep their homes, we should.”

32 California Democrats signed the letter to President Obama. Text of the letter is below. A pdf of the letter, including signatories, is available here.

Dear President Obama:

California homeowners, and those throughout the country, continue to suffer as a result of the irresponsible and fraudulent actions of the mortgage industry.  We write in support of California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ continued investigation into the potential misconduct and fraud by the mortgage industry.  Her determination to provide meaningful relief for California homeowners led to her decision in October 2011 to leave the multi-state settlement negotiations with the major banks.  Attorney General Harris recently announced that she would be aligning her efforts with Nevada’s, with each state committing more resources and energy towards holding the mortgage industry accountable for their actions. 

In October 2011, California ranked second in the country, behind Nevada, in percentage of housing units that entered the foreclosure process—with nearly one in every 243 California homes entering the foreclosure process in that month alone.  We know that California has been home to a myriad of abuses as we catalogued numerous constituent cases in a letter we sent to your Administration last year urging an immediate investigation. 

We support Attorney General Harris’ recent decision to pursue an independent investigation.  We believe that any meaningful settlement must provide assistance for struggling homeowners—particularly those underwater—and should not grant banks a broad release from liability for abuses that have not been investigated and are not remedied by the settlement.  The current multi-state settlement under review would relieve the banks of further liability without fully investigating the alleged wrongdoings.  Furthermore, it would not provide meaningful relief to homeowners as it would apply to only 13% of the mortgages serviced by banks nationwide.  It would likely result in $5 billion in penalties to mortgage servicers, with the rest of the settlement coming in the form of non-cash accounting losses that servicers would have experienced anyway, as the borrowers they declined to assist went into foreclosure.  We can and we must do better for our constituents.

Attorney General Harris’ commitment to delivering a fair outcome for those who have been wronged by the mortgage industry should be commended.  We hope that you will join her and advocate for stronger terms that will have a real impact for hard-working Americans who were victimized by the mortgage industry. 



Garamendi touts Obama’s American Jobs Act

Rep. John Garamendi was on the phone with reporters just now to tout President Obama’s American Jobs Act, which he called “an extremely important, and very good and timely, proposal.”

Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said he’s increasingly excited about “the potential this has to employ people, get them back to work and get the economy moving again” and about the fact that that this “a major jobs program that is totally paid for.”

He said he was talking earlier today with Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz about the concept of growing the economy by putting people to work and simultaneously raising taxes where appropriate. The President’s plan, he said, has significant tax reductions in places likeliest to boost employment and the economy as well as tax increases where they have best chance to raise money from those who can afford it with least impact on consumer demand.

Specifically, the plan calls for $400 billion in new tax revenue by limiting itemized deductions and certain other exemptions for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $200,000 or more, or $250,000 and up for married couples. Another $40 billion would come from closing tax loopholes for the enormously profitable oil and gas sector; $18 billion would come from ending hedge fund managers’ ability to count their earnings at the capital gains rate rather than as earned income; and $3 billion on reforming the corporate jet depreciation schedule.

And what would it pay for, particularly here in California? Details, after the jump…
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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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Honda, Garamendi to co-host Twitter town hall

Two Bay Area lawmakers will be among more than a dozen House Democrats taking part in a “Twitter Town Hall” tomorrow morning, fielding questions from Twitter users about the federal budget and Republicans’ spending bill.

The event, from 9 to 10 a.m. PST Thursday, March 10, can be followed at www.dems.gov/TwitterTownHall; questions for the lawmakers can be submitted by tagging your Tweet with #AskDems or emailing them to AskDems@mail.house.gov.

“Members of Congress need to go where We the People are, and that increasingly means social media platforms like Twitter,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said in a news release. “The Internet is tearing down the gates that used to divide representatives from the public. Community-wide open conversations are now possible online. Public research helped create the Internet; it’s about time public servants utilized it to its fullest potential. With my fellow House Democrats, it’s an honor to join the conversation.”

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, is both a House Budget Committee member and co-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus New Media Working Group, which is hosting this event.

“Using new technologies, Democrats continue to push the envelope in connecting with the American public,” Honda said in his release. “In organizing this national town hall, House Democrats are reaching out to an America that is enraged with the Republican attack on working families, seniors, women, children, students and our economy. The tweeting voices are drawing a line in the sand, saying enough is enough – all in 140 characters or less.”

The purpose of Honda’s working group is to create and share new media best practices with House Democrats to promote broader, more effective contact with constituents. The group in the past year has met with industry leaders such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Google, seeking partnerships to develop such tools.