Part of the Bay Area News Group

Speier offers bill to allow alcohol via U.S. Mail

A Bay Area congresswoman wants to lift the ban on shipping alcohol through the U.S. Mail.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said she’s joined by 24 original cosponsors in introducing the bipartisan USPS Shipping Equity Act, which would change the Prohibition-era law preventing shipping of beer, wine, distilled spirits and other alcoholic drinks to consumers by mail.

Jackie Speier“Prohibition is history, and this ban should be too,” Speier said in a news release “It’s ridiculous that we’re allowing UPS, FedEx, and other companies to ship spirits, wine, and beer to consumers, while banning the U.S. Postal Service from doing the exact same thing. As more states allow direct to consumer delivery, we need to lift this dated ban on so-called ‘spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors,’ to give consumers more shipping choices when they check out.”

Speier said the ban puts the Postal Service at a competitive disadvantage and limits shipping options for manufacturers and customers. Her H.R. 3412 would let the Postal Service ship alcoholic beverages directly from licensed producers and retailers to consumers over the age of 21. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would provide the Postal Service with an additional $50 million per year.

This bill is endorsed by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, WineAmerica, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, the National Association of Postmasters of the United States, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Speier & Sanchez seek equality for female athletes

Two California congresswomen introduced a resolution Wednesday urging the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to provide the same pay for female soccer athletes as it does for male athletes.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Lakewood, were joined by 33 original cosponsors, while U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the resolution in the Senate.

The USA Women’s Soccer team clinched its third World Cup victory July 5 – the most-viewed soccer series in U.S. history, attracting more viewers than the NBA finals, the World Series and the men’s World Cup, the lawmakers note. Yet women’s soccer players still make 40 times less than their male counterparts, and the USA Women’s World Cup team received four times less for winning than the men’s World Cup team was paid for losing in the 2014 tournament’s first elimination round.

“Whether you’re a soccer mom or a starter on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, women in our country deserve equal pay,” Speier said in a news release. “I’m proud to introduce this resolution demanding that FIFA ensure our champion women’s team is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This is the 21st century and we need to stop shortchanging women’s sports worldwide.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

CA17: Honda and Khanna are busy as bees

Rep. Mike Honda and his Democratic challenger, Ro Khanna, are keeping busy at keeping themselves in the public eye this week.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, hosted a public town hall Tuesday in San Jose with Ted Osius, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. This month marks the 20th anniversary of normal diplomatic relations between the two nations, and San Jose – and the 17th Congressional District – have significant Vietnamese populations.

Honda also was among 72 House and Senate Democrats who wrote to President Barack Obama on Monday urging him to fight for expanded Social Security benefits.

“We have a duty, as a civil society, to take care of our vulnerable populations, including older Americans. They have worked a lifetime to earn these benefits and we must make sure that there is sufficient support for our seniors,” Honda said in a news release Tuesday. “Would you be accepting if I told you your grandparents… or even you, or your parents will be forced into poverty? Even as we face challenges today, we also know we are facing a looming crisis that needs to be handled now – over half of today’s working Americans are not expected to have sufficient resources once they retire.”

And Honda issued a news release noting he met this week with state officers of DECA, a student organization focused on career and technical education for high school and college students. Among them were Albert Zeng of Monte Vista High School, DECA’s state president; Zuhayer Quazi of Mission San Jose High School, the vice president of public relations; and Jacinta Cheng of Mission San Jose High School, the group’s Silicon Valley vice president.

“Speaking with these motivated young people showed me the amount of potential we have here in Silicon Valley,” Honda said in his news release. “They surprised me with their astute questions related to specific legislation about technical education. The combination of their civic engagement and interest in technical education points to a very bright future for Silicon Valley.”

These certainly aren’t the only constituents with whom Honda meets, but you might recall that one of the angry constituents Khanna showcased at a news conference last August was a teenager who complained Honda hadn’t had the time to talk with her during a D.C. visit.

Ro KhannaMeanwhile, Khanna – a former Obama administration Commerce Department appointee from Fremont – on Tuesday helped inaugurate his new employer’s Water Innovation Center in Santa Clara.

Khanna in January became vice president of strategic initiatives for Smart Utility Systems. The company, which already had offices in Irvine and in Noida, India, creates software to help water districts and utilities increase conservation efforts, better manage resources and make operations more efficient, from usage monitoring and leak detection to customer engagement and workforce management.

The company said its new Santa Clara facility “will provide a hub in Silicon Valley to help maintain the company’s leadership in the evolving utilities landscape.” Tuesday’s event included the unveiling of a new low-cost water reduction program for utilities, and a new mobile app that will let consumers partner with utilities to identify water waste and increase conservation.

Posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

Pelosi cites California as need for highway fund

California’s crumbling roads are a prime example of why Congress must pass long-term legislation to reauthorize and reinvigorate the Highway and Transit Trust Fund, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday.

Nancy Pelosi“With scant days left until the Highway Trust Fund expires in the middle of the summer construction season, Republicans have wasted this entire week tying themselves in knots to protect the Confederate Battle Flag,” Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a news release.

“Our nation’s infrastructure needs are too serious for another Republican manufactured crisis, or another meager, short-term extension,” she said. “We must have a long-term bill to invest in our roads, transit and bridges, and protect the good-paying jobs of hundreds of thousands of construction workers across the country.”

Pelosi cited Department of Transportation data showing that 68 percent of the Golden State’s roads are in mediocre or poor condition. This forces drivers to spend almost $13.9 billion a year – an average of $586 per motorist – on otherwise unnecessary automotive repairs, creating costs for commuters and businesses moving their goods to market. And almost 28 percent of California’s bridges also structurally deficient, too.

“Americans are tired of the potholes, the traffic delays, and the danger of our crumbling roads and bridges,” Pelosi said. “Hard-working American families deserve a long-term Highway bill that invests in world-class infrastructure and creates good-paying jobs.”

Posted on Friday, July 10th, 2015
Under: Nancy Pelosi, Transportation, U.S. House | No Comments »

Of Cuba, embassies and Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee was among those quick to praise President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba will be opening reciprocal embassies soon – but she renewed her insistence that she’s not angling to be ambassador.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement calling the opening of embassies “another important step forward as we work to normalize relations after more than 50 years of failed policy. She urged Congress to follow the president’s lead by supporting H.R. 664, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, and H.R. 403, the Free Trade With Cuba Act. “It’s past time to end the failed embargo, lift the travel ban and fully normalize relations between our two countries.”

Lee has been a longtime advocate of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, and the Chronicle’s political gossip column alleged in January that Lee had a “gentlewoman’s agreement” with President Obama to name her as the U.S. ambassador to Cuba. She promptly replied with a statement saying she wouldn’t seek such a nomination, but rather would “continue the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and the fight for our shared progressive values in Congress.”

Of course, “seeking” a nomination and being willing to accept one aren’t necessarily the same thing, so I asked her office Wednesday if she would accept it if it’s offered.

Her response, delivered by email through a spokesman: “I appreciate the faith that my constituents have invested in me, as their Member of Congress. I plan to continue working, in Congress, to lift the travel ban, end the embargo and advance the many important issues that affect my constituents’ daily lives.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Reactions to SCOTUS’ Obamacare ruling

The Bay Area’s voices in Congress are predictably ebullient about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act.

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

“This is a tremendous victory for improved health care and clearly validates the Affordable Care Act. This means that 6.4 million Americans in 34 states will continue to have access to health insurance subsidies. I could not be more pleased.”

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

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the millions of Americans who now have affordable health care – many of them for the first time in their lives – because of Obamacare.

“It is long past time for Republicans to end their efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act and join us in fulfilling the promise of quality, affordable health care for all.”

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the health of our country. Despite the best efforts of congressional Republicans, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land, a fact reaffirmed by this decision. It’s also working. Thanks to the ACA more than 16 million Americans have gained coverage and the nation’s uninsured rate is at its lowest level ever.

“I am hopeful that the attempts by Republicans in Congress to kill the ACA will end and we can finally move forward to do the big things our constituents sent us here to do: grow the economy, create jobs, and advance equality.”

From Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose:

“Today’s historic decision will uphold the ACA and continue to provide coverage to millions of Americans who have come to depend on the law to treat their illnesses and pay for their medications. For too many generations, the issue of health care created panic, anxiety, and dread. Marketplaces can continue to enable families and individuals who are uninsured to buy quality, affordable coverage. It is time for us to understand that the ACA is the law of the land and here to stay. Instead of working to dismantle this important law, we should be working to spread the benefits of ACA to each and every American.”

From Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena:

“Today, the Supreme Court has once again ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, upholding that all Americas, no matter where they live, can access premium tax credits for quality, affordable health care.

“Since the ACA was passed, we have spent far too much time fighting over the law, both in Congress and in the courts. This ruling should settle once-and-for-all that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land.

“With today’s decision now behind us, and the ACA standing on firm constitutional ground, we need to begin working across the aisle to build on the law’s important reforms so that all Americans can have access to quality, affordable health insurance.”

From Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton:

“All Americans should have access to quality and affordable health care when they need it, and today’s Supreme Court decision reaffirms that health care will be available to millions of people. This is an important victory that keeps health care accessible for more than 6 million people, including many lower and middle income families, who would not otherwise be able to afford insurance.

“In California, and in my district, we are seeing that the Affordable Care Act works. Hardworking families are receiving quality health care coverage through the state exchange. With this Supreme Court decision, we should move forward and look at ways to make improvements, instead of wasting time and resources to tear down a law that is providing millions of people with life-saving health care.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“This is yet another landmark victory for millions of Americans who have been able to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The Court has now ruled that the law is not only constitutional, but that it’s legal for Americans in states using the HealthCare.gov exchange to continue to benefit from federal tax credits to help pay for health insurance.

“More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage since the Affordable Care Act became law, and the nation’s rate of uninsured is at the lowest level ever. Coverage is affordable, with 85 percent of enrollees claiming tax credits. Consumers are enjoying greater competition and choice, Medicaid expansion is helping millions of low-income Americans obtain care, and young adults are getting covered.

“Today’s decision further affirms the Affordable Care Act will remain woven into the fabric of America’s health care system.”

The House Republican leadership is predictably perturbed.

From Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

“ObamaCare is fundamentally broken, increasing health care costs for millions of Americans. Today’s ruling doesn’t change that fact. Republicans will continue to listen to American families and work to protect them from the consequences of ObamaCare. And we will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it with patient-centered solutions that meet the needs of seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families.”

From House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield:

“The only thing that is more disappointingly flawed than today’s decision on what Obamacare actually meant is Obamacare itself. Obamacare remains a failed law that was forced through Congress on a partisan vote, and its consequences are being felt today. The law is increasing health care costs, reducing choice, and has led to fewer jobs, and today’s ruling doesn’t change that.

“Throughout the country, the American people are suffering because of the limits this law places on receiving high-quality care from doctors that patients choose, not the government. One thing that today’s ruling does confirm is that we must repeal and replace this fundamentally flawed law. The House will continue to work toward a patient-centered solution and to help those who have felt the hardships this law has caused.”

And California’s candidates for U.S. Senate in 2016 weighed in, too.

From former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro:

“One thing is for certain: If the Republicans in Washington haven’t believed Obamacare was right, then they should have long ago come with a single, practical alternative. Between now and the election, they better do just and convince Americans why their alternative is better. If they don’t, they will be handing the election to Hillary.”

From Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana:

“I applaud and agree with the court’s decision to rule in favor of an individual’s ability to receive tax credits from the federal health insurance exchange, a program that has supported so many Americans and their families. I’ve said this before: we are dealing with families, not concepts. Millions of families rely on the federal marketplace to purchase affordable health insurance, and I am relieved that they will be able to continue to do so.

“With today’s Supreme Court decision behind us, it’s time for Congress to get back to work. The Affordable Care Act is settled law, and this ruling reaffirms that families are in control of their own health care.”

From California Attorney General Kamala Harris:

“The Affordable Care Act delivered access to quality, affordable health coverage to millions of Californians who otherwise would not have been able to afford insurance. Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in King v. Burwell ensures that millions of families can keep their affordable health insurance. Because of this ruling, health insurance continues to be accessible to every American, making our entire nation healthier and more prosperous.”

Posted on Thursday, June 25th, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Swalwell, healthcare reform, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, Kamala Harris, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 16 Comments »

Thompson renews call for background-check bill

Echoing calls from President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and many others in the wake of last week’s racist-terrorism massacre in Charleston, S.C., Rep. Mike Thompson today urged House GOP leaders to bring his bipartisan background-check bill to a vote.

Thompson, D-St. Helena, is an avid hunter and combat veteran who was tapped to be House Democrats’ point man on gun-control issues soon after the December 2012 schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn. His H.R. 1217, co-authored by Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., would expand the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads.

“Mr. Speaker, last week we witnessed an act of pure hatred and evil in Charleston, S.C.

“This is a time to mourn the victims, to pray for their families, for a community to heal, and for Congress to take action against unchecked and widespread gun violence.

“30-plus people are killed every day by someone using a gun. Mass shootings are becoming almost commonplace. And yet we continue to do nothing.

“No legislation will stop every tragedy. But passing commonsense gun laws will at least stop some.

“We need to pass background checks. It’s our first line of defense against criminals & the dangerously mentally ill getting guns.

“We don’t know what laws could have prevented the shooting in Charleston.

“But we do know that background checks stop help keep guns from dangerous people – and that saves lives.

“If the Republican leadership has a better idea to cut down on gun violence, let’s see it.

“If not, let’s bring commonsense, bipartisan reforms like my bill to expanded criminal background checks up for a vote.”

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted one year ago found 92 percent of Americans – and 92 percent of gun owners – support requiring background checks for all gun buyers. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted this past weekend found 90 percent support.

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2015
Under: gun control, Mike Thompson, U.S. House | No Comments »

Lawmakers urge $$$ disclosure, LGBT protection

Bay Area House Democrats are demanding action on disclosure of government contractors’ political contributions and on protecting LGBT people from assault in immigration detention centers.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, led 104 House members while U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., let 26 senators in urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring companies that do business with the federal government to fully disclose their political contributions.

“Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is spent and you have the power to ensure that the American people can obtain this information,” the House members wrote. “With public funds come public responsibilities, and any company receiving federal tax dollars should be required by executive order to fully disclose their political spending in a timely and accessible manner.”

Among the top 15 recipients of federal contracting dollars, a recent analysis by Public Citizen found that only 47 percent fully disclose their contributions to non-disclosing 501(c)(4) organizations. This is the fourth time since 2011 that Eshoo has led her colleagues in calling on President Obama to issue such an executive order. All Bay Area House members signed the letter except Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., signed the senate version, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., did not.

honda.jpgAlso Tuesday, Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., led 33 House members in writing a letter to the Department of Homeland Security to express concerns over the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

“Detention should almost never be used for vulnerable groups such as LGBT immigrants facing immigration proceedings,” they wrote. “Recent surveys of jails and prisons by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that non-heterosexual detainees experience sexual assault at up to 10 times the rate of heterosexual men. The situation is starker for transgender detainees. According to the BJS survey, one in three will be sexually abused within 12 months in custody.”

The lawmakers asked that DHS and ICE consider an LGBT person’s detention to be “not in the public interest” per the department’s November 2014 enforcement memo, and that they work with LGBT and civil rights groups “to develop additional community-based alternatives to detention.”

Bay Area Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were among those signing the letter.

Posted on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, campaign finance, Immigration, Mike Honda, U.S. House | No Comments »

Bay Area lawmakers OK medical device tax repeal

Three Bay Area House members were among the 46 Democrats who joined with Republicans on Thursday to approve repealing the medical-device tax enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.

As the Associated Press reports, the tax took effect two years ago and was designed to help pay for expanded coverage for millions of people. It’s levied on equipment like artificial hearts and X-ray machines but not on items used by individuals, like eye glasses. Foes of its repeal say that this and other taxes the law imposed on the health care industry were outweighed by added customers the law has created, and that repealing it means paying that $24 billion, 10-year cost with bigger federal deficits.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which passed on a 280-140 vote. Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton voted for it, while the rest of the Bay Area delegation was opposed.

“I support the Affordable Care Act and policies that improve our ability to conquer illnesses and diseases before they conquer us,” Swalwell said in a statement emailed later Thursday. “Today’s vote will help more start-up bio-innovation companies create devices that have the potential to make us healthier.”

McNerney emailed a statement saying that “medical research and technology contribute significantly to California’s economy with more than 75,000 jobs, and advancements in the field are resulting in new treatments and cures that improve the lives of people across the country.

“We should be doing everything to encourage further innovation by removing unnecessary barriers that hinder new research and job growth – especially in California, the home to more medical device companies than any other state in the nation,” he said. “As I’ve said before, this law is not perfect and we should continue to look at ways to improve it. Doing so will not only benefit medical innovation, but lower costs and improve care for individuals and families as well.”

Speier’s office said she was on a plane Thursday afternoon and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2015
Under: Eric Swalwell, healthcare reform, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, taxes, U.S. House | No Comments »

CA17: Playing it cagey on trade authority debate

In reporting my story today on Rep. Mike Honda’s declaration of candidacy for a ninth term, I tried to contrast his position on the trade package that House Democrats sank last week with that of Ro Khanna, his Democratic challenger.

But Khanna – a former Obama administration Commerce Department official – isn’t making that easy.

honda.jpgHonda last Friday joined most Democrats in voting against the trade package for which President Obama and Republican leaders had pushed hard. The “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority bill “did not include a voice for working families” and limits Congress’ power to represent labor, business and environmental interests, he said in a statement issued Friday, while the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill was underfunded, “ignores public sector workers, and is propped up on the back of continued cuts to Medicare.”

Khanna was out of town Tuesday, but I asked him and his acting campaign manager, Brian Parvizshahi, to provide me a succinct summation of how he would’ve voted on the bills.

Ro Khanna“Ro agrees with Secretary Hillary Clinton’s recent, thoughtful comments on the issue,” Parvizshahi replied by email. “He agrees with her that we need to increase TAA funding and fight for a fully funded highway bill to find a way forward.”

Yet Clinton – who supported TPA while serving as Secretary of State – has been very cagey in what she says about it now, as frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

At a campaign rally Sunday in Iowa, Clinton spoke more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim nations – than about the TPA and TAA bills that would let the Obama Administration finish negotiating it. She urged President Obama to listen to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and make changes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that reflect their concerns about protecting American jobs and wages.

“She declined to take sides on the Friday vote itself but instead allied herself with Democratic critics of the deal — without actually opposing it,” the New York Times reported.

And CNN reported Monday that Clinton in New Hampshire had once again declined to say whether she thinks Obama should have authority to fast-track the Pacific trade deal through Congress without amendments. She dismissed the fight over that legislation, known as trade promotion authority, as “a process issue.”

Of course, as president Clinton would stand in Obama’s shoes, not those of Congress. But Khanna wants to fill congressional shoes, and only 3.6 percentage points in November prevented him from being part of Friday’s roll calls. It would be nice to know, definitively, how he would have voted.

Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University professor emeritus and political expert who closely watched the 2014 Honda-Khanna showdown, said Honda seems to be poised to make a case to voters for why the trade package would have cost jobs in the 17th Congressional District. For Khanna to make a different case “would be a large contrast,” Gerston said.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 10 Comments »