Today’s congressional odds and ends

IMMIGRANT FAMILY DETENTION – Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, led 32 House Democrats in writing to President Obama about how the Homeland Security Department is detaining immigrant families, and its plan to significantly expand family detention in the months ahead. “At the current rates, within one year this Administration will have increased capacity to detain immigrant women and children by more than 4,000 percent” Lofgren said. “As the law requires, there needs to be a better assessment in place to appropriately screen and assess these women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence, torture or persecution in Central America.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

BIO-DEFENSE FUNDING – Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, joined with Rep. Mike Rogers, R-M ich., in calling for additional funding for the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and related bio-defense programs amid the ongoing Ebola epidemic. “BARDA is now leading the federal government’s efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics against Ebola,” they wrote. “While ongoing programs at the National Institutes of Health are essential for early-stage Ebola research, only BARDA has the infrastructure to actually get a vaccine or drug prepared for use in this outbreak.” Eshoo and Rogers authored the 2006 law creating BARDA; their letter went to House Appropriations Committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking members; Speaker John Bohener; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chair and ranking member; and White House Ebola “czar” Ron Klain.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)SURGEON GENERAL – Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; and Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, got 88 of their House colleagues to sign a letter calling for the confirmation of Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy, as the nation worries about Ebola. Obama nominated Murthy almost a year ago, but conservatives have blocked his confirmation mainly because he sees gun control as a public health issue. “As our nation faces public health concerns, the Senate needs to stop playing politics with Presidential nominees and confirm a Surgeon General to assist in disseminating information and to amplify the work being done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Lee said. “Dr. Murthy is an eminently qualified physician and has the support of our nation’s preeminent health and physicians groups. It’s time to confirm him.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

Mike ThompsonNAPA QUAKE DISASTER FUNDS – The Obama administration has approved individual-assistance Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds for areas in Napa and Solano counties hurt by Aug. 24’s 6.0-magnitude earthquake, senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Thompson announced Tuesday. The administration also approved Small Business Administration loans for homeowners, businesses, and nonprofit organizations; until now, only public assistance FEMA disaster funds had been approved. “The approval of this much needed assistance is an important step in our region’s recovery, and it will finally allow us to start helping folks get back on their feet,” said Thompson, D-Napa. “Individuals and families will be able to use these funds to begin the process of rebuilding and repairing homes and other personal property. And, local businesses will be able to apply for low-interest SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory and supplies.” Individuals in Napa and Solano Counties can register with FEMA online, via smartphone, or by calling 800-621-3362.


Brown, lawmakers seek disaster declaration

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday requested a presidential major disaster declaration for California, as communities in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties continue trying to recover from the South Napa earthquake on Aug. 24.

“Economic impacts of this event will be extensive. The earthquake caused significant damage throughout the region,” Brown wrote in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday. “This incident is of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments, and supplemental federal assistance is necessary.”

Such a declaration from the president would trigger the release of federal funds to help communities recover, and an executive order Brown signed Tuesday provides additional financial aid to local agencies and nonprofits so residents can replace important documents and access key services without footing added costs or other burdens.

The region’s voices in Congress, led by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, echoed Brown’s call with their own letter to President Obama. “It is clear to us and local authorities that a major disaster declaration is critical to helping our state recover and rebuild,” Thompson’s letter reads.

Also signing Thompson’s letter were senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield.

Federal relief funding might include Federal Emergency Management Agency money to help people to rebuild and repair housing, and for local communities to repair public infrastructure; and Small Business Administration loans for businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory, and supplies. Homeowners and renters may also be eligible for SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-related damages to homes or personal property.

FEMA does not provide for assistance if there is another option in place, like insurance. Those affected by the quake should contact their insurance companies first to see what benefits, if any, their plan provides.


Feinstein calls for quake early-warning system

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issued this statement Monday:

“With more than 100 injured and estimates of damage approaching $1 billion, the Napa earthquake reminds us how incredibly dangerous these temblors can be. There’s no doubt a major earthquake will hit California, the only questions are when and where.

“I believe an integrated earthquake early-warning system is essential to save lives and property. Two bills from the Senate Appropriations Committee move us toward that goal. The bill to fund the Department of the Interior includes $5 million to begin work on an early-warning system, while the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security urges FEMA to prioritize grant funds for such a system. These bills will advance this fall and I will continue to prioritize funding for this system.

“An earthquake early-warning system would provide crucial time to carry out lifesaving actions. A warning of even a handful of seconds would allow for emergency notifications to be sent; trains and traffic to be slowed or stopped; supplies of oil, gas and chemicals to be turned off; nuclear plants to be safeguarded; even elevators to be safely emptied.

“What we need is the political resolve to deploy such a system. Officials in Washington and along the West Coast should partner with the private sector to make an interoperable earthquake early-warning system a reality, and we should do so as soon as possible before a much larger earthquake strikes.”

California already has a demonstration early-warning system called the California Integrated Seismic Network, which did provide its test users in some parts of the Bay Area with up to about 10 seconds of warning before Sunday morning’s temblor hit.

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed into law SB 135 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, which requires the Office of Emergency Services to work with other agencies to expand this into a comprehensive statewide earthquake early warning system. But the bill didn’t appropriate any of the $80 million it’s estimated such a system would cost; instead, it gave the OES until Jan. 1, 2016 to find funding for the project.


Poll: 92% of voters want gun background checks

Americans overwhelmingly support requiring background checks for all gun buyers – so long as you don’t call it “gun control,” according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released Thursday.

The poll of 1,446 registered voters nationwide found 92 percent support universal background checks with only 7 percent opposed; the poll, conducted June 24-30, has a 2.6-percentage point margin of error. Among gun owners, support for universal background checks is 92 percent; among Republicans, 86 percent; and among Democrats, 98 percent, the poll found.

Also, 89 percent of U.S. voters support laws to prevent people with mental illness from buying guns; 91 percent of gun owners support this idea.

Yet when asked if they support “stricter gun control laws,” 50 percent said yes and 47 percent said no.

“Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “But when it comes to ‘stricter gun control,’ three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say ‘hands off.’”

The U.S. Senate last year rejected an amendment that would have expanded background checks to online and gun-show sales. H.R. 1565, a similar, bipartisan House measure co-authored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, has 188 cosponsors, but Republican House leaders have refused to put it to a vote.

Thompson issued a statement Thursday saying that “as a hunter, gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment,” he’s proud to count himself among the 92 percent supporting universal background checks. He said it’s time that GOP House members heed that overwhelming call “and bring our bill up for a vote – because if the Republican Majority would allow a vote, my bill would pass.”

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the new poll “reaffirms what we all already know.”

“It is almost unthinkable that, despite such overwhelming public support, Congress continues to put the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the safety of the American people and will not even vote on expanding background checks to online sales and gun shows,” he said. “It is time we come together and hold the NRA lapdogs accountable for the lives that are being lost every day because of their despicable behavior.”


California wine to be served at White House

The White House has just issued its menu and program for tomorrow’s state dinner with French President Francois Hollande, and it features a North Bay winner.

Among the wines to be served at the dinner will be a 2011 “La Proportion Doree” (“The Golden Ratio”), a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes from Sonoma County produced by St. Helena-based Morlet Family Vineyards.

Per the vineyard’s website, co-owner Luc Morlet “represents the fourth generation of a French winemaking family” from Avenay-Val d’Or in the Champagne-Ardenne region of northeastern France.

The dinner will be followed by a performance by R&B legend Mary J. Blige. See the whole menu, after the jump…
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More reactions to Obama’s health insurance delay

We’ll be posting a full story about reactions to President Obama’s plan to delay cancellation of some individual health insurance plans that don’t meet standards set by the nation’s new law, but here are a few pols for whom we didn’t have space in that article.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the president’s proposal a “good step” that’s “very helpful in the implementation of the law.” She also spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about Republicans’ constant opposition to this law.

“This is typical of Republicans through the generations. Every time we’ve tried to expand health care, they’ve opposed it and opposed it and tried to derail it,” she said, adding that the new insurance law can be fixed “but that’s not good enough for my Republican friends. They just want to tear it down, just like they wanted to tear down Medicare.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in an email that he supports the president’s fix, which “continues to provide more choices without undermining the strengths of the new health care law. Implementing any new law creates a few bumps. We should be look for minor tweaks that strengthen the law rather than return to the old system that left millions of Americans without quality coverage.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, issued a statement calling Obama’s proposal “a step in the right direction towards fixing issues with the health care law. This was a promise that was made and it is a promise that should be kept.”

“I’ve said from the beginning that the health care reform law isn’t perfect,” Thompson said. “But instead of engaging in partisan bickering and playing blame games, I want to work to make health care reform better. … If we quit the partisan games, we can build on the reforms made in Obamacare, work out the imperfections, and make sure every American can get quality, affordable health insurance. That is a goal worth fighting for.”