California’s House water war continues

The California House delegation’s internecine water war continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Your state and Bay Area House-race roundup

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

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

More specifically:

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

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

In the Bay Area, as usual, the only question for most Democratic incumbents (with the exception, of course, of Pete Stark) was by how enormous a margin they would dispatch their challengers. See how that all stacks up as of this hour, after the jump…
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Miller leads complaint about foreclosure aid

Rep. George Miller, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, led 18 House Democrats in complaining to the Obama Administration yesterday that not enough has been done to help distressed homeowners in the Bay Area and nationwide.

“We are writing to urge stronger and immediate actions by the Administration to help many of our constituents who are being routinely abused, lied to, and subjected to financial conflicts of interest by lenders and mortgage servicers, including those participating in federal programs,” they said in their letter to Vice President Joe Biden.

“Our constituents are running out of time. This Administration must stand up for America’s families caught in the housing crisis. The Making Home Affordable Program is simply not making sufficient progress to prevent unnecessary foreclosures. It has so far failed to ensure that mortgage servicers work with homeowners in good faith to achieve loss mitigation that works for homeowners, investors and our communities.”

With the $29 billion Home Affordable Modification Program having been pegged by the Government Accountability Office and other independent watchdogs as inefficient and in need of reform, House Republicans are targeting HAMP for elimination as part of their proposed budget cuts. Miller, D-Martinez, and his cohorts don’t support that, but rather are urging the program’s immediate improvement to crack down on mortgage servicers’ abusive practices.

Miller organized a meeting last week for more than a dozen of his colleagues with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to convey their concern over HAMP and their constituents’ mistreatment. Among the signatories of yesterday’s letter were representatives John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.


Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Jerry McNerneyMcNerney takes aim at gangs: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said he reintroduced legislation yesterday to create a National Gang Activity Database that will let law enforcement officials nationwide track and share information about gang members and their activities. The Justice Department-administered database created under his National Safe Streets Gang Crime Prevention Act of 2011, H.R. 928, would share data on gangs, gang members, firearms, criminal activities, vehicles, and other useful information so investigators can track movement of gangs and members throughout a region and coordinate law enforcement’s response. He first introduced a version of this in 2007. The new bill goes first to the House Judiciary Committee.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee highlights MS: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said she has introduced two bills to highlight multiple sclerosis – one, a resolution supporting the goals and ideals of Multiple Sclerosis Week, March 14-20; and the other, the Adult Day Achievement Center Enhancement Act, supporting adult day programs that serve younger adults suffering from a disability as a result of a neurological disease or condition such as MS, Parkinson’s disease or a traumatic brain injury. “Adult day programs provide a critical source of support, and my bill would ensure that these vital programs are strengthened while ensuring that the needs of young adults and veterans are taken care of,” Lee said, noting more than 400,000 people are estimated to be living with multiple sclerosis, nearly 1 million people live with Parkinson’s disease, and about 1.4 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries every year.

Miller v. Boehner on jobs report: Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, reacted to news that the economy created 222,000 private-sector jobs in February and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent by saying “our nation’s job market continues to improve, though we still have lots of work ahead of us. This progress is more reason why Congress must reject Republicans’ pink-slip legislative agenda, which analysts agree threatens economic growth and hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs.” But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that although it’s “welcome news,” unemployment remains “far above where the Obama Administration promised it would be when it forced our children to pay for the ‘stimulus’ fiasco, which accelerated a government spending binge that continues to block our nation’s path to prosperity.” Boehner called the improvement seen in this report “a credit to the hard work of the American people and their success in stopping the tax hikes that were due to hit our economy on January 1. Removing the uncertainty caused by those looming tax hikes provided much-needed relief for private-sector job creators in America. Now we must build on it by eliminating the job-crushing uncertainty being caused by excessive spending, borrowing, and regulating in Washington.”


Lawmakers urge banks to allow aid for jobless

Five Northern California members of Congress are pressuring mortgage servicers to work with a new federally funded program in California intended to help unemployed homeowners pay their mortgages and avoid foreclosure.

The Keep Your Home California Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program provides qualified unemployed homeowners up to $3,000 a month for up to six months to help pay their mortgage. But according to the office of Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, if the monthly mortgage exceeds $3,000, the servicers won’t accept any payment at all, even if the homeowner could send a second check to cover the difference between what is owed and what the program covers. As a result, unemployed homeowners who could avoid foreclosure proceedings thanks to this program are instead at risk of failing to pay their mortgage and landing in foreclosure.

“If this program is to have meaningful success, mortgage servicers are going to have to get on board with processing these payments,” Miller said in a news release. “Refusing to accept dual payments is unacceptable and is a disservice to the homeowners who are doing everything they can to stay in their homes while they look for work. Homeowners shouldn’t have to forfeit their homes because of bureaucratic intransigence by banks and servicers.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, another of the letter’s signers, said “it’s time that banks and servicers become part of the solution and not the problem.

“It’s ridiculous that servicers and banks are unwilling to participate in a program that will help protect the value of the very asset on which their loan is based on,” she said. “I find it deeply troubling that servicers would have borrowers default rather than simply accepting payment.”

In their letter – also signed by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz – they wrote that, “we believe refusing to accept supplementary payments from homeowners is inexcusable and we strongly urge you to remedy this problem expeditiously… It is unacceptable that servicers in California are unwilling or unable to figure out a workable resolution to this problem, particularly given that two viable options to address the issue exist.”

Those options, they say, are either to accept two checks (one from the program and one from the homeowner) or to forebear the amount of the mortgage that exceeds the $3,000 program payment.


Congressional reactions to the State of the Union

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

Barbara Boxer“President Obama’s speech tonight was inspiring, unifying and visionary.

“He addressed two major issues facing our nation – job creation and deficit reduction. And he rightly continued his call for civility in our discourse.

“Throughout his speech, he drew on the American tradition of rising to challenges through our ability to innovate and work hard.

“The President’s priorities are in line with California’s priorities. We need a clean-energy economy that will create good jobs and keep us at the forefront of the world. We need a top-notch education system that spans from Head Start to college. We need roads, bridges, high-speed rail and other infrastructure that transport people and goods efficiently in order to move our country forward.

“The President clearly stated his intention to pursue fair deficit reduction, which I support, and he also inspired us to continue working across party lines in order to meet the many challenges required of us. I look forward to working with him and my Congressional colleagues to reach these goals and make our nation stronger.”

From Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez:

“The President is absolutely right to challenge our schools to do better. Now is the time for real, substantive changes that will transform our schools and put our students on the path to success in school and in life.

“If we want to win the future, as the President said, if we want our country to prosper, then it is time we decide as a nation that our children can’t afford for us to wait any longer. It is time we decide as a nation to take a hard look at where our schools are and where we need them to be. And it is time we decide as a nation to rid ourselves of the average label we too often receive and excel, out-perform and out-compete other countries.

“If we fail to take action to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we are sentencing our students to the status quo. I’ve been fighting too long to let that happen.

“Real education reform will mean more community involvement, more parental involvement, buy in from teachers and less prescription from the federal level – all of this without losing the accountability our students need to keep them on track.

“It shouldn’t matter if a student is in a school in an urban city or a rural town, in a suburban neighborhood or on a U.S. military base – every child in this country deserves the opportunity to succeed. “We can continue to make excuses or we can realize what other countries have – that our economy will not be strong if the education of all our students is not strong.”

Read more, after the jump…
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