Part of the Bay Area News Group

Is the Bay Area’s House policy clout fading?

For the first time in a long, long time, the Bay Area is without any committee chairs or ranking members in the House.

Of course, the region still is home to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. But with the retirement of Rep. George Miller, the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat and former chairman, the region’s policy influence seems blunted. It’s a far cry from 2007, when Miller chaired his committee, the late Rep. Tom Lantos chaired Foreign Affairs, and Pelosi was Speaker.

As I wrote yesterday, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, lost her bid – despite Pelosi’s strong support – to leapfrog a more senior member and become the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking member. And though Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, announced earlier this month that he would seek to become Transportation and Infrastructure’s ranking member, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., won that vote Wednesday.

“Peter has been my friend throughout my time here and that will continue,” Garamendi said after the vote. “Peter and I share a strong commitment to a ‘Make It In America’ agenda and trade policies that protect the environment, workers’ rights, and middle-class families. Working together, we can lead our party in addressing a range of transportation and infrastructure challenges, including water infrastructure, surface transportation, FAA, and Amtrak authorizations.”

That’s not to say the Bay Area will be without a voice. Several Bay Area members are likely to remain the ranking members on key subcommittees (like Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security).

And Pelosi appointed two local congressmen – Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, and Mike Thompson, D-Napa – to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which helps set the caucus’ policy agenda and nominates Democratic members for committee assignments. (They replace Pelosi’s local appointments from the 113th Congress, Miller and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.)

“As a member of the next generation of our caucus, I look forward to working in a collaborative way to promote the policies that will lift up all Americans,” Swalwell said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will continue serving on that Democratic committee, having won re-election as a regional representative.

Posted on Thursday, November 20th, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, John Garamendi, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

My Commonwealth Club chat w/ Rep. George Miller

Please join us this Wednesday evening, Oct. 8 in Lafayette for my public conversation with Rep. George Miller – who is retiring at the end of this year after 40 years in the House – hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California.

George MillerFord was president; former U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell, former presidential Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman had just been convicted in the Watergate cover-up; and a gallon of gas cost about 57 cents in January 1975 when Miller, D-Martinez, first was sworn in at the tender age of 29.

Now 69, Miller has chaired, and is still ranking Democrat of, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; has been a key advisor to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; and consistently has been among the House’s most liberal voices. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and retired immigration judge Tue Phan of Danville, a Republican, are vying to succeed him in the 11th Congressional District.

“Join The Commonwealth Club to celebrate this long time public servant as Congressman Miller reflects on four decades in office, what he expects to see from Congress in the coming years, the race for his seat, and more,” the club invites.

Check-in starts at 6 p.m. and the program starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Lafayette Library, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd. in Lafayette. Tickets cost $12 for club members, $22 for non-members and $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online.

Posted on Monday, October 6th, 2014
Under: George Miller, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Congressional Soccer Caucus turns eyes to Qatar

Rep. George Miller helped introduce a resolution Thursday calling for better protection for migrant workers in Qatar who are building that tiny Middle Eastern emirate’s facilities for the 2022 World Cup.

Miller, D-Martinez, who co-chairs the Congressional Soccer Caucus…

Wait, what?

Yes, there is a Congressional Soccer Caucus. It has three other co-chairs plus 23 members.

“The mission of the Congressional Soccer Caucus is to encourage legislation, activities and events that promote soccer and issues affecting the greater soccer community, toward encouraging healthy and active lifestyles among America’s youth,” according to the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s website. The foundation “serves as the public advocacy arm for the game and provides information and support for the Caucus.”

Who knew? I did not. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

qatar2022Lawmakers contend Qatar’s migrant workforce faces horrible conditions, including 12-to-16 hour working days in triple-digit heat, indentured servitude by unscrupulous labor contractors, and squalid, overcrowded labor camps. More than 500,000 additional immigrant workers, primarily from Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, are expected to arrive in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Recent reports warn that as many as 4,000 migrant construction workers could die from the unsafe living and working conditions by the time that tournament kicks off.

“After America’s exciting showing in the 2014 World Cup and as soccer fans around the world look forward to future world cups, we must ensure that the workers who make these events possible have safe working conditions,” Miller said in a news release. “The current conditions Qatar’s migrant workforce face are simply unacceptable. The Qatari government, FIFA, the United Nations, and the International Labour Organization have all recognized that conditions need to improve but have taken no meaningful action. We’ve introduced this resolution in hopes of ending the abuse of migrant labor in Qatar.”

H.Res. 862, of which Miller is lead sponsor, resolution calls on the Qatari government to make changes to their legal system to better protect migrant workers; urges the United States to prioritize the rights of migrant workers in their relations with Qatar; encourages American businesses to honor international human rights standards by holding their contractors and subcontractors accountable for labor violations; and asks FIFA to continue to advocate for fair labor practices in Qatar. The European Parliament already has passed a similar resolution.

Among the resolution’s 17 cosponsors (all Democrats) is fellow Soccer Caucus member Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, who attended the University of Maryland initially on – you guessed it – a soccer scholarship.

Posted on Thursday, July 24th, 2014
Under: Eric Swalwell, George Miller, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Miller, Dems offer ‘Schedules That Work Act’

Rep. George Miller helped introduce a bill Tuesday that supporters say would give hourly workers greater scheduling flexibility and certainty, and stem some employers’ abusive scheduling practices.

George MillerMiller, D-Martinez, the ranking Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, said H.R. 5159, the Schedules That Work Act, “is about protecting basic dignity: the dignity of work and the dignity of the individual.”

“Workers need scheduling predictability so they can arrange for child care, pick up kids from school, or take an elderly parent to the doctor,” he said. “The Schedules That Work Act ensures that employers and employees have mutual respect for time dedicated to the workplace.”

Miller introduced the bill with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; they were joined at a Capitol Hill news conference by representatives from the National Women’s Law Center and two hourly workers. The bill already has 27 co-sponsors, and U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are introducing a companion bill.

The lawmakers say workers in some of the economy’s fastest-growing but lowest-paying industries — including the retail, food service, and janitorial work — face erratic and irregular work schedules, making it hard to earn a decent living while meeting family responsibilities.

This bill, they say, would protect all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule, and would create a balanced process for employers to consider requests. Workers making such requests due to caregiving duties, a health condition, education or training courses or a second job would have to be granted the schedule change unless the employer has a bona fide business reason for denying it.

The bill would require paying retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early. It also would provide that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance; though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than 24 hours’ notice.

And the bill would require an extra hour of pay for workers who are scheduled to work split shifts, or non-consecutive shifts within a single day.

“Low-wage workers in America are too often being jerked around,” DeLauro said. “These women — and they are usually women — cannot plan ahead, or make arrangements to see that theirs kids and family are being taken care of. This bill would protect low-wage workers from abuse and help ensure they can look after their families. Congress needs to ensure that people putting in a hard day’s work get a fair day’s pay and the ability to care for their loved ones.”

Posted on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
Under: George Miller, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »

Bipartisan praise for workforce bill

Once in a while, Congress actually gets something done. (And how sad it is to have to start a news item this way.)

House Speaker John Boehner joined with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders Friday to sign H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a bipartisan jobs bill. The bill now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.

Boehner, Pelosi & Miller 7-11-2014“This is a very good job training and retraining bill that will help many people in America have better access to the kind of skills that are needed in today’s workforce,” said Boehner, R-Ohio. “What this bill does is consolidate a number of job training programs and provide flexibility at the local level.”

“This is a great opportunity for us to show that we can get things done, that we can listen to the American people, and work together on their behalf, because their priorities, frankly, are our priorities,” he added.

H.R. 803 streamlines the workforce development system by consolidating and eliminating programs, applying the same outcome standards to the remaining programs, creating smaller and more efficient state and local workforce development boards, giving states flexibility to address their own specific needs, aligning programs with economic development and education initiatives, and more.

Pelosi called the bill “a recognition that the American people are very talented. It’s a recognition that the private sector stands ready to work with the workforce to provide the training.”

American workers have many skills, but “need specific training to be a match, to meet the needs that the Speaker talked about, about those job vacancies. So this is really important in making sure we have a workforce for the 21st century – skilled and trained to meet the needs of the private sector and the entrepreneurial spirit of America.”

Rep. George Miller was at the signing too, as ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He posted a Facebook item saying it was “great to be part of a rare bi-partisan group that put together a bill to modernize job training programs to help workers get the skills that are in demand.”

“Of course, Congress also needs to spend time creating jobs rebuilding America, but this training bill is a very important step that I support,” added Miller, D-Martinez.

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014
Under: George Miller, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 44 Comments »

George Miller to receive two awards this month

Rep. George Miller, retiring at the end of this year after 40 years in the House, will pick up awards later this month as part of a victory lap that could last through the end of his 20th term.

George MillerThe California League of Conservation Voters will present Miller, D-Martinez, with its “Byron Sher Lifetime Achievement Award” during the group’s 2014 Northern California Environmental Leadership Awards ceremony on Thursday, June 26 in San Francisco.

The group notes that Miller “has been a leading advocate in Congress on the environment, education, labor, and the economy since he was first elected in 1975. From 1991 to 1994 he chaired the House Natural Resources Committee, overseeing the environment, energy, and public lands, and served as that committee’s Senior Democrat until 2000, taking what worked in California to the national level.”

Then, the Contra Costa County Democratic Party will honor Miller at its inaugural Roosevelt Awards Dinner on Friday, June 27 in Concord.

State Sen. Mark DeSaunlier, D-Concord, and retired immigration judge Tue Phan of Danville will compete in November to succeed Miller in the 11th Congressional District. DeSaulnier won 59 percent of the vote in June 3’s primary election while Phan got 28 percent; four other candidates were eliminated.

Posted on Wednesday, June 18th, 2014
Under: George Miller, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Neel Kashkari praises teacher-tenure ruling

A Los Angeles judge’s ruling Tuesday that California’s teacher tenure, layoff and dismissal laws are unconstitutional is “an important first step in transforming our schools,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari said.

“I applaud today’s ruling by Judge Treu, which recognizes that every student in California has a Constitutional right to a quality education but that their rights are being violated by failing schools,” Kashkari said in a statement issued soon after the ruling.

“California ranks 46th in the nation in education, and it will take the joint efforts of parents, teachers and political leaders to make the bold changes our kids deserve,” he said. “Today’s ruling is an important first step in transforming our schools; if we are to close the achievement gap, reduce income inequality and rebuild the middle class, then we must continue to pursue bold education reform. I have made transforming our schools a centerpiece of my campaign for Governor and I am encouraged by today’s development.”

UPDATE @ 12:40 P.M.: Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s senior Democrat, also applauded the ruling:

“Judge Treu’s ruling affirms the simple and undeniable premise that every child, regardless of background or zip code, has the right to a high-quality education and an effective teacher. It is not only Californians who should celebrate today’s decision, but families in every state and school district across the country.

“For years, our nation’s courts have been the arbiter of equity in education. Like Brown v. Board, Serrano, Butt, and the many other landmark educational equality cases before it, Vergara will help refocus our education system on the needs of students.

“Unfortunately, school districts nationwide have policies in place that mirror those challenged in Vergara—policies that constrain the ability of schools to put the very best teachers in front the children that need them most. This is simply indefensible. Today’s ruling puts every school with similar policies on notice.

“I call upon all stakeholders in my home state—elected officials, community and school leaders, and teachers—to be bold and do what is right for kids. This is an historic opportunity and a defining moment for California, one that we must not squander. The Vergara decision underscores the state’s responsibility to protect the rights of children to constitutionally mandated equal educational opportunities. We owe it to the six million students in California’s public education system to be thoughtful and deliberate, and to put their needs first as we move forward.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
Under: education, George Miller, Neel Kashkari, U.S. House | 21 Comments »

USA Freedom Act vote splits Bay Area reps

The Bay Area’s House delegation was somewhat split – and along surprising lines – as the House voted 303-121 on Thursday to pass a bill supporters say would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The USA Freedom Act, HR 3361, was amended after it arrived on the House floor, and some former supporters believed it had been watered down too much; for example, a requirement for an independent public advocate on the secret intelligence court that oversees the NSA was dropped from the bill.

Voting for the bill were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton.

From Thompson:

“Our government has a responsibility to protect people’s civil liberties and our national security, and this legislation does both. It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability of our intelligence community, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”

Voting against the bill were representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

From Lofgren:

“Across the country, many people were surprised to learn that the privacy rights they believed were protected under the 4th Amendment did not apply to NSA surveillance of their communications.

“I originally cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act when it was introduced last yearbecause it was a small step toward reform and transparency. Unfortunately the bill was changed in key ways after committee action and will no longer provide the protections I sought.

“I voted against it today because it falls short of the Fourth Amendment protections Americans deserve.

“There is strong bipartisan concern that this bill makes it legal for the NSA to continue mass surveillance of U.S. citizens. Many civil liberties groups and leading tech companies share these concerns and felt compelled to withdraw their support.

“Without much needed improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress risks a continuation of mass surveillance in this extension of the Patriot Act.”

Posted on Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

CA11: Parsing Mark DeSaulnier on high-speed rail

Lupe Schoenberger from Mark DeSaulnier’s congressional campaign called this morning to dispute my story’s assertion that DeSaulnier wants to cut off federal funding for high-speed rail.

She said he supports such funding but he believes the project needs to be radically reworked so that it starts in densely populated areas with rider safety upgrades and track improvements and then spreads into the Central Valley, rather than vice versa.

Here’s video and a transcript of what DeSaulnier said when asked at our editorial board meeting a few weeks ago whether he supports federal funding for California’s high-speed rail, starting at approximately 38:35:

“No, not as it’s currently construed. As you know I was one of four Democrats who voted against authorizing our bond moneys to match the federal funds. As chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, I’ve been very involved in this, I’m currently meeting with the plaintiffs in the state lawsuit, I’ve tried to engage the governor and the administration to see if we can fix what is very seriously broken.

“It’s a huge boondoggle, in my view; it’s going to suck the air out of the state budget. I’ve met, I’ve been in multiple meetings with Secretary LaHood leading up to this, and Secretary Lahood – the ranking person, the Secretary of Transportation during most of the Obama Administration – told me that they were going to come up with a third of the money for the overall program which is now $68 billion, but we’ve been told by experts it will probably be two to three times that. The federal government doesn’t have the funding for it. Representative Denham, a former colleague of mine in the senate, a Republican, has moved to take the money back – we’re in danger of having to pay money back for an isolated facility that will never give real function to the state of California.

“So I’m very engaged in it, I believe in a world-class passenger rail system over the next 30 to 50 years in California, but we’re doing it the exact opposite of every other industrialized country. Japan has the best model, I’ve talked with them…”

It seems clear that DeSaulnier does oppose federal funding for this high-speed rail project, the one California is actually implementing, though he might support such funding for some other version that he agrees with.

DeSaulnier in 2012 advocated an alternate high-speed rail plan that focused first on big commuter rail upgrades in greater Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but the Legislature rejected it as experts said adopting such a plan probably would lead to the federal government diverting its funding to other states. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had to use significant muscle to get enough votes to win final approval for the existing plan after DeSaulnier and a few other Democrats vowed to oppose it.

DeSaulnier said in February 2013 that he was “still looking for Plan B” on high-speed rail, and he and other senators also questioned whether the state could build the bullet train without neglecting other, badly needed transportation work, such as highway reconstruction.

Other candidates seeking to succeed Rep. George Miller in the 11th Congressional District are Democrats Tony Daysog, Ki Ingersol and Cheryl Sudduth; Republican Tue Phan; and independent Jason Ramey.

Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
Under: Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Activists seek ‘Robin Hood tax’ upon Wall Street

Activists organized in part by the California Nurses Association rallied Friday at congressional offices in 22 cities – including four in Northern California – to call for a tax on Wall Street speculation to relieve economic inequality and address basic needs.

The Oakland-based union scheduled the events for Friday because it’s the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his death was amid a campaign for economic justice that included anti-poverty and worker-rights issues.

Supporters of HR 1579 – authored by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and cosponsored by local lawmakers including Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield – sometimes call it the “Robin Hood tax.”

The bill would levy a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades and smaller amounts on transactions of bonds and derivatives. Its goal to reduce harmful financial market speculation; discourage high-volume, high-speed trading; and slow down proliferation of complex derivatives while raising hundreds of billions of dollars per year for jobs, health care, education, the fights against HIV/AIDS and climate change, and more.

Several dozen countries have similar taxes, and the United States had one until 1966. Business leaders including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Pollin, and Larry Summers have recommended adopting a financial transaction tax, and after Wall Street’s crash 1987, such a tax was endorsed by President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, carried a similar bill in 2010.

There’s no chance the Republican-led House will ever advance this bill.

Still, Northern California activists rallied Friday at the offices of congressmen George Miller in Concord, Mike Honda in San Jose, Ami Bera in Rancho Cordova and Jeff Denham in Modesto – three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.

“My patients are trying to heal from an illness or surgery and when they go home they are forced to make a decision between buying medication or food,” California Nurses Association co-president Malinda Markowitz, an RN at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said in a news release. “That’s why I want Rep. Mike Honda to support the people of this community by supporting the Robin Hood Tax.”

The nurses’ union notes King once said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014
Under: Ami Bera, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jared Huffman, Jeff Denham, John Garamendi, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, Sam Farr, taxes, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »