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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.”

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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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NRCC also to make robocalls against McNerney

Hot on the heels of news that the National Republican Congressional Committee is launching TV ads – albeit a very small buy – against Rep. Jerry McNerney, the NRCC today said that it’s also launching automated calls to 11th Congressional District constituents later this week.

Here’s the phone-call script:

Hello. I’m calling from the National Republican Congressional Committee about your Congressman Jerry McNerney’s plan for Medicare. McNerney and President Obama’s plan threatens to deny treatment for seniors in Medicare by allowing bureaucrats to interfere with their doctors. Worse, McNerney’s budget plan lets Medicare go bankrupt – that’d mean big cuts to benefits. Call Congressman McNerney at 202-225-1947 and tell him to stop endangering Medicare. Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202-479-7000.

NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said similar calls are being made in about a dozen Democratic House districts nationwide.

“While the Republican plan preserves and protects Medicare for future generations, Nancy Pelosi and Jerry McNerney are hell-bent on cutting Medicare benefits for seniors and raising taxes on Californians,” he said. “It’s become crystal clear that Jerry McNerney and House Democrats are committed to endangering healthcare for our senior citizens.”

For some debunking of this, see the piece I wrote last week about the TV ad.

When first discussing the TV ad buy last week, Houlton couldn’t name a dollar figure; I later heard it’s only $4,500, a miniscule buy of time on Fox News made even smaller by splitting it between the Sacramento and Tri-Valley markets. Today, I asked Houlton how much the automated calls are costing – though I know such calls are much cheaper than TV air time – and how they’re being targeted. I wanted to get an idea of whether the NRCC is really putting its money where its mouth is to win hearts and minds with these tactics, or rather just preaching to the already-converted while seeking some headlines.

“I know the calls are going to thousands of McNerney’s constituents,” Houlton replied via e-mail. “I don’t have the buy information for you but I do know the calls are aimed at highlighting McNerney’s record in Congress.”

McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh said today that “this misleading attack is just a smoke and mirrors attempt by republicans to distract from their own plan to end Medicare as we know it.”

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GOP to launch TV ad against McNerney Friday

The National Republican Congressional Committee will launch a three-week ad buy this Friday against Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, blasting his purported support of healthcare budgeting that the GOP says will let Medicare “go bankrupt.”

It’s clearly an effort to push back against criticisms leveled in recent weeks against House Republicans, whose budget plan calls for changing Medicare from a government-run system into a private subsidy or voucher system in which senior citizens would buy private health insurance.

Here’s the script:

Who do you trust with personal health care decisions? Your own doctor.

But if Jerry McNerney gets his way, that could change.

McNerney and President Obama’s Medicare plan empowers bureaucrats to interfere with doctors, risking seniors’ access to treatment.

Now, Obama’s budget plan lets Medicare go bankrupt: that’d mean big cuts to benefits.

Tell McNerney to stop bankrupting Medicare.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said McNerney’s 11th Congressional District is the only one in which such an ad is being launched; it’ll air in the San Francisco and Sacramento markets, but Houlton said he didn’t have information on the cost.

“While the Republican plan preserves and protects Medicare for future generations, the Democrats’ plan will lead to severe cuts in benefits for seniors and drastic tax increases in the coming years.” Houlton said. “Democrats already gutted $500 billion from Medicare when they passed the trillion dollar government takeover of healthcare, and they won’t hesitate to do it again.”

But the ad’s claims seem shaky. FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan project of Annenburg Public Policy Center, last week debunked the claim that President Obama’s budget proposal commits seniors to bureaucratically rationed health care: The new health care law states that the advisory board to which Republicans have referred “shall not include any recommendation to ration health care” and is to consist primarily of doctors, economists and other outside experts, not Washington bureaucrats.

FactCheck.org also refuted the claim that healthcare reforms recently enacted won’t improve Medicare’s finances: It does, though experts worry some cost controls won’t be fully implemented. Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget keeps in place some of those same cost controls.

And as for the Medicare-is-going-bankrupt claim, FactCheck.org tackled that one last month. Only Medicare Part A – covering inpatient hospital services and hospice care – is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be exhausted in 2020 (or in 2029, according to the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees), just as it was projected to be in 1972 and again in 1994.

“Politicians keep finding ways to postpone any insolvency,” FactCheck.org wrote. “We don’t mean to downplay Medicare’s financial challenges, but the whole system isn’t going ‘bankrupt,’ as Ryan’s claim suggests.”

McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh, to whom I provided the script this evening, called it “one more misleading and baseless attack from Washington Republicans who are themselves currently trying to end Medicare for seniors and keep tax loopholes open for huge corporations that ship American jobs overseas.”

UPDATE @ 1:02 P.M. SATURDAY: Much ado about almost nothing? A credible source tells me the NRCC is spending $4,500 on the ad campaign being broadcast on Fox News from May 20 to June 2; the total includes $1,300 for the buy in the Sacramento area and $3,200 in the Tri Valley area cable.

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NRCC launches phone calls against McNerney

The National Republican Congressional Committee today announced it’s robo-calling people in Rep. Jerry McNerney’s district to highlight his “continuing government spending spree with money borrowed from foreign countries like China.”

“While families throughout California have to cut back and live within their means, Jerry McNerney continues to support Democrat policies that spend money we don’t have and borrows money from countries like China,” NRCC Communications Director Paul Lindsay said in a news release. “These calls highlight what McNerney seems to forget, which is that there are real consequences to continuing his policies that borrow $4 billion a day to fuel his addiction to government spending. As growing debt, interest and inflation threaten the economy, McNerney’s California constituents simply want to know when he will stop burdening them with more debt.”

The call’s script is as follows:

Hello, I’m calling from the National Republican Congressional Committee with an important alert about your Congressman Jerry McNerney. Thanks to McNerney’s addiction to spending, the federal government borrows $4 billion every day. That’s given us fourteen trillion dollars in debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren. And Jerry McNerney is making it worse. He voted for another Pelosi budget that would strangle our economy with more spending, more debt and more borrowing from China. Call Congressman McNerney at 202-225-1947 and tell him to stop spending your money. Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202.479.7000.

“The Washington Republicans who are bankrolling this baseless attack are the same people behind the radical budget plan to end Medicare as we know it, slash education funding for our kids’ schools, and give more handouts to large corporations that ship American jobs overseas,” McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh replied today. “This charade is nothing more than a partisan attack at a time when we should be focused on ways to create jobs and pay down the debt. Congressman McNerney has a strong record of fiscal discipline and is committed to finding budget solutions that work, but without hurting children and seniors who count on after school programs and Medicare.”

It’s not as if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee doesn’t do likewise. The DCCC on Tuesday announced automated phone calls to constituents of 42 House Republicans – none in California – holding them “accountable for choosing to end Medicare rather than end taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil making record profits or tax breaks for the ultra rich.” That call’s script:

Hi, this is Claire from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calling about Congressman XXXXXXX’s vote to end Medicare. Everyone agrees we must cut spending and tighten our belt, but Congressman XXXXXXX has made all the wrong choices. He actually voted to end Medicare, rather than end taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil making record profits or tax breaks for the ultra rich! Seniors who pay a lifetime into Medicare deserve the benefits they’ve earned. Under the XXXXXX-Republican plan Medicare ends, benefits to seniors are less, and costs to seniors increase – in order to pay for Big Oil taxpayer giveaways and the ultra rich’s tax breaks. America is built on shared sacrifice. XXXXX is choosing to place the burden on seniors. That’s not right. Please call Congressman XXXXXX at (XXX) XXX-XXXX and tell him to keep his hands off our Medicare!

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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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