On George Miller’s last day, Pelosi pays tribute

Assuming Congress passes the “CRomnibus” spending bill tonight to avert a government shutdown, today will be Rep. George Miller’s last day on the House floor. He’ll spend the next few weeks in the district, and when the new Congress is sworn in Jan. 3, Miller, D-Martinez, will be officially retired after 40 years in the House.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, paid tribute Thursday to Miller and to another Californian retiring after four decades of service, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles.

“Thank you to the leader of our California Democratic delegation, Zoe Lofgren. Thank you for bringing us together this evening for a very bittersweet circumstance. That is to say: how proud we are to honor the leadership of two great giants of the Congress, Henry Waxman and George Miller; how sad we are that they are leaving us. I come to the floor, Mr. Speaker, today to join in celebrating two of the most accomplished Members of this great body.

“And when I say most accomplished, I’m not just speaking in the context of the present Congress. I’m talking about two of the most accomplished Members of this great body of all time. A pair of Californians with 80 years between them – 80 years of service in the House – retiring with an unparalleled record, certainly an unsurpassed record of legislative achievements to their name, Congressman Henry Waxman and Congressman George Miller.

“I’m proud to do that as a Californian, and I thank our Chairwoman, Zoe Lofgren, again for this opportunity. As they depart for new endeavors at the end of this session, which is in about 48 hours, each of them leaves a legacy of leadership that is felt in the lives of everyday Americans. And that’s so important. In doing so, they’re both pioneers.

Henry_Waxman“For four decades, Henry Waxman’s name has been synonymous with responsible action, extraordinary legislative skill, passionate public service, and bold leadership on behalf of the people of Los Angeles, who he represents, and the American people. Time and again, Henry has been the first to appreciate the seriousness of the challenges before us, and the first to bring forward solutions to solve them. Time does not allow, and other Members will mention so many accomplishments, but I just want to focus on from the start, this is what I saw up close and early: from the start, in the early dark days of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, Henry Waxman fought to invest in AIDS research, support treatment and care and prevention and pass the landmark Ryan White Care Act.

“Long before the rest of our nation awakened to the gathering storm of climate change, early on, Congressman Waxman worked to create bold new protections for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth we call home. From the first days of his long career, he recognized the urgency of delivering quality, affordable health care to all. And together with some of our other colleagues, it was with his leadership as Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee that we honored that commitment with the Affordable Care Act.

“Also working on the Affordable Care Act from his committee – the Education and Labor Committee – Chairman George Miller has left an indelible mark on the laws and the Members of this august body. George has been the model of a serious and substantive legislator, a champion for working people who has had his hand in some of the most innovative and important legislation of our time. Members over and over – some already have, others will – talk about his legislative accomplishment. I just will name some. I mentioned the Affordable Care Act; Lilly Ledbetter, the first bill signed by President Obama, to end discrimination in the workplace; the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the last bill passed by a Democratic majority; ending discrimination for women in the workplace and men and women in the military; Earned Income Tax Credit.

George Miller“There’s one thing I want to mention, and this is PAYGO. Because again, this is something I saw firsthand. George Miller put together the initiative for Pay-As-You-Go so that we were not increasing the deficit as we made investments for our future. It was 1982; we were at a mid-term convention of the Democrats in Philadelphia. George Miller had the resolution to pass PAYGO, very fiscally sound and responsible. The resolution passed. It was so revolutionary that they never had a mid-term convention again because he was really there not to make speeches but to make change. But in any event he made that change. It didn’t become effective, really, until several years later when President Clinton became President of the United States and we went on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. So whatever we were doing, we were not increasing the deficit. He’s been a deficit hawk, a very progressive deficit hawk, in the lead on that subject.

“So when he was doing the earned income tax cut, Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, ENDA – we haven’t passed it yet but George advanced it in the House any number of times, – early childhood education, lifetime learning – I keep coming back to the children. I have said that when people ask me what are the three most important issues facing the Congress, I say the same thing: Our children, our children, our children; their health, their education, the economic security of their families, the air they breathe, environment which they live a world of peace in which they can reach their fulfillment.

“No one in the Congress has done more for our children, our children, our children then George Miller, George Miller, George Miller. So not only his focus on the children but having them live in a world that takes them outside our country. So forceful was he for advocacy for children in other countries, for fairness and opportunity and social justice, that he became a subject of the Salvadoran death squads. They tried to search him down in the United States because he was such a fierce champion for fairness in their country as well.

“And so, here we are. Two great, very committed people. If you ask them what the secret of their success would be and how they’ve achieved so much, they will be modest – well, sometimes. But what they will both tell you separately is that, the guidance they give the rest of us: Just stick with it; just keep on working; just make sure that the other side – whoever that might be – knows you’re not going to go away, because you have a goal that is responsible; you have an urgency for the people and you will make sure that you make the difference.

“And in many ways we all live in a nation shaped, defined and strengthened by George Miller and Henry Waxman: their keen vision, abiding determination, courageous leadership have put them in the ranks of the greatest legislators in our history. When they leave this House, we can be certain that they will continue to use their extraordinary knowledge and talent in new venues and new ways to serve America’s children and families.

”As we acknowledge them and express our appreciation to them, we also have to acknowledge their spouses. Janet Waxman and Cynthia Miller have contributed 80 years of being spouses to Members of Congress – that’s really almost like 80 years each; that’s like twice as long as serving as to be a Congressional spouse, all the sacrifices that involved.

“Tonight we say a heartfelt thank you not only to George and Henry and voice our gratitude to them, but to the Waxman and Miller families for sharing these great men with our great nation. With that I yield back to the distinguished leader of our delegation. Thank you.”


Anna Eshoo wants top spot on Energy & Commerce

A Silicon Valley congresswoman is making a play to become ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, even though other Democrats of more or equal seniority might want the job too.

And though Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, probably feared little in seeking re-election a twelfth term this year, her Republican opponent announced Sunday that she’s dropping out of the race.

Eshoo issued a news release Monday noting Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, now the ranking Democrat on Energy and Commerce, announced last week that he’ll retire at the end of this year after 40 years in Congress.

“Since then I have received the encouragement of members of the Committee and the Caucus to seek this position,” Eshoo said. “Today, I am announcing my decision to seek the top slot at Energy and Commerce. I do so with great enthusiasm because it is the ‘Committee of the Future’ and the most dynamic by its jurisdictions. It is key to shaping America’s future, just as my Silicon Valley congressional district is.”

Eshoo, 71, said she’ll be talking with colleagues in coming weeks “to share my vision and hear theirs.”

“We have the depth and the talent to shape policies that will build a strong economy for every American, with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to advanced research, communications, technology, health care, energy and the environment,” she said. “It is because of this far-reaching opportunity to put America in the best position to compete globally I seek this position.”

But another Energy and Commerce Committee member – Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. – has been in Congress since 1955 and has chaired the panel before. Now 87, Dingell lost the chairmanship to Waxman in a Democratic caucus vote. Already the longest-serving congressman in U.S. history, he hasn’t said yet whether he’s running for a 31st term in 2014 and wants the chairmanship back.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. – who like Eshoo was elected to the House in 1992 – definitely wants the post as well.

“For over 20 years, I have remained deeply committed to advancing the goals of our great committee on which I have had the honor of serving as the chair or ranking member of three of our six subcommittees,” Pallone said in a news release issued Monday. “As the person tasked with developing the Democratic Caucus’ message on the House Floor, I believe I would be the most effective voice to lead the committee toward a successful future.”

Pallone is playing up his bipartisanship. The committee “will be as active as it has ever been as we address some of the nation’s most pressing issues, which is why having a leader with strong relationships on both sides of the aisle will be crucial to moving forward a meaningful agenda that will improve the health, safety and prosperity of Americans,” he said. “Even in the often divided climate of the last several years, I have worked to find common ground with my colleagues to get things done because I believe that our government can still do good things that will help Americans and make our nation even stronger.

Meanwhile, Wilson Farrar, a Republican from Portola Valley who has been campaigning to unseat Eshoo, sent an e-mail to supporters Sunday announcing that “something quite wonderful precludes me from continuing my campaign for a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives. It is with happiness and some regret that I have chosen to pursue another path.”

FarrarShe thanked supporters for their “kindness, encouragement, enthusiasm, and philosophical support, which I will treasure always. Truth, Liberty, Justice. Go get ‘em! My heart and spirit are with you!”

Farrar said all campaign contributions will be returned. A report filed to the Federal Election Commission last week showed Farrar raised $1,615 in 2013’s quarter, leaving her campaign with $2,670 cash on hand but a $2,000 debt – money she loaned the campaign from her own pocket.

Eshoo raised almost $178,000 in 2013’s final quarter, leaving her campaign with about $494,700 cash on hand and about $3,276 in debts at the year’s end. No other candidates have raised any money in the 18th Congressional District.


Mike Honda signs up to interact with petitioners

Rep. Mike Honda is one of the first members of Congress to adopt a new tool that lets lawmakers respond directly to people who’ve signed Change.org online petitions targeting them.

Change.org on Wednesday launched its “Decision Makers” utility, through which any elected official who is being petitioned can sign up for a verified profile where those petitions are aggregated in one public place. Notifications of responses from decision makers are sent via email to petition signers, who are encouraged to comment and continue the conversation on the petition page.

Honda’s page shows there are 125 open petitions to him with 10 or more signers.

“I have always worked to make my office as accessible to constituents as possible, and this system is a hyper-transparent way to see what issues Americans are really talking about,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in the company’s news release. “It’s tools like this that help us do what we came here to do — make government more accountable to the people who sent us here. I’m proud to be an early adopter of Change.org for Decision Makers, and hope to see other members take part as well.”

Others who’ve already signed up include U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.; and Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.

San Francisco-based Change.org is the world’s largest and fastest-growing online petition platform, with 45 million users in 196 countries and growing by 3 million users every month. It plans to roll out a similar tool for business leaders and figures in other sectors.

“For elected officials and business leaders who want to build lasting, productive relationships with their constituents and customers, this product provides a huge opportunity to engage, and it’s exciting to see elected officials recognize that right off the bat,” President and Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Dulski said in the release.


Anna Eshoo urges probe of Navy Yard radio failure

Rep. Anna Eshoo wants to know why first responders who rushed to the Washington Navy Yard during last Monday’s massacre had radio failures that left them using personal cell phones and runners to communicate.

Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, joined with committee ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, in writing today to Lawrence Strickling, the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for communications and information, and Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn to urge an investigation.

“If these reports are accurate, this will not be the first time communications difficulties impaired first responders during an emergency,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, there have been numerous communications system failures during recent natural disasters and national emergencies, most notably the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.”

Congress last year enacted legislation creating FirstNet, which is tasked with overseeing the construction of a nationwide, high-speed, interoperable broadband network dedicated to public safety. Eshoo and Waxman today asked that an inquiry into last week’s snafu also focus on how FirstNet might prevent similar communications breakdowns in the future; they requested an update by Oct. 21.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Blue Shield, Boehner and ballooning deficits

A trio of California House members expressed concern today about Blue Shield of California’s announcement of a significant increase – averaging 30 to 35 percent – in health insurance premiums for many of its policyholders, a hike the Democratic lawmakers say will force many Californians to choose between health insurance and daily necessities such as food and rent or mortgage payments.

(Yep, that would be the same Blue Shield of California that gave $15,000 to outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s officeholder account late last week, days before he left office; it also gave $10,000 Monday to the California Republican Party and $3,568.83 to Democratic state Senate candidate Ted Lieu.)

Reps. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, said the increase underscores the danger of repealing last year’s health care reforms, as House Republicans have vowed to do.

“Thanks to health reform, for the first time these rate increases are completely transparent and posted on healthcare.gov,” Stark said in their news release. “With the increased resources from the health reform law, California can work with Blue Shield to mitigate these increases and protect consumers. Unfortunately Republicans want to immediately repeal these protections, and future reforms that will prevent rate increases like this in the future.”

Miller said Blue Shield’s announcement “just shows that the status quo is not working for California’s families.”

“And Republican repeal of health reform will only put big insurance companies in even greater control of Americans’ health care,” he continued. “The Affordable Care Act, when fully implemented, will ensure real competition and accountability so that families already stretched thin by health insurance costs can find relief. Repealing the health reform law poses a real danger to middle class families.”

The Dems noted Blue Shield clearly stated its proposed increases “cover a period of more than one year and have almost nothing to do with the federal health reform law. These rates reflect trends that were building long before health reform.” The insurer also noted health reform actually will help get costs under control in the future through initiatives that make health care more efficient, the lawmakers said.

(UPDATE @ 3:50 P.M.: Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, a former state Insurance Commissioner, got in on the act, too. “Today’s egregious rate hike by Blue Shield of California is further proof that we can’t trust the insurance industry to stand with consumers,” he said. “As we climb out of a deep recession, the insurance companies are kicking us back down. Fortunately, for rate increases over 10 percent, the 2010 health care reform allows the Federal government to review, question, and disclose facts to the public about the increase.”

“When Congress passed the Patient’s Bill of Rights last year, we instituted important reforms that are helping to rein in the worst abuses of the insurance industry. Next Wednesday, House Republicans will attempt to repeal these vital consumer protections,” he continued. “Even with the strong consumer protections found in the Patient’s Bill of Rights, insurers like Blue Shield are still exploiting patients for financial gain. This is an argument for more consumer protections, not less. House Republicans want to replace the Patient’s Bill of Rights with the Insurance Industry’s Right to Discriminate. Let’s not start the New Year by exposing consumers to new risks.”)

For more on today’s healthcare follies, follow me after the jump…
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McNerney lands an Energy & Commerce seat

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is crowing that he has officially secured a seat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which deals not only with those namesake issues but also has input on health care and consumer affairs and protection. McNerney, a wind energy engineer by trade, said he’s “thrilled.”

“I’m anxious to delve into some of the committee’s issues, including the development of a new national energy policy that focuses on the use and production of renewable energy and addressing the need for affordable and accessible healthcare for all Americans,” he said in his news release.

McNerney in his first term had served on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming; the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; the Veterans Affairs Committee; and the Science and Technology Committee.

Spokesman Andy Stone said McNerney will probably have to relinquish one of those seats, given the fact that he already needed a waiver to let him serve on four committees at once.

His new appointment became official today after a vote in the Steering and Policy Committee and then a ratifying vote by the entire Democratic Caucus. The vote and ratification also cemented last month’s palace coup staged by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, to replace Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., as Energy and Commerce’s chairman — a change which seems to be taking the panel in a much more liberal direction. Waxman is seen as more aligned with President-elect Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, on issues such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental concerns; Dingell, the panel’s top Democrat for close to three decades, was a staunch supporter of Detroit automakers and other big industries such as electric utilities.

So, an interesting place for McNerney to be, at an interesting time.