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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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Dems amp up defense of health care reform

As Democrats gird themselves for House Republicans’ effort next week to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 – the health care reforms signed into law last March by President Barack Obama – some of the caucus’ most liberal members are staking out their own ground.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, today introduced the “Public Option Deficit Reduction Act,” which her office said would “establish a robust public option (with physician payment rates set at Medicare plus 5 percent) in the health insurance exchanges created by the health care reform legislation passed in the last Congress.”

This bill is similar to H.R. 5808, which Woolsey introduced last summer along with Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; that bill – with 129 cosponsors including all of the Bay Area’s members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton – never got a committee hearing. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated it would bring down the cost of coverage by providing lower cost competition to private insurers while saving the federal government $68 billion dollars in the first seven years, and even more afterwards.

Members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform also cited a public option (see page 42) as a viable means to control health care costs, Woolsey noted.

“This is the perfect moment for the public option,” Woolsey said in her news release. “It builds on the health care reform legislation by lowering costs and it provides a great way to bring down the deficit. If Republicans really care about the deficit, they should sign on to this bill rather than try to dismantle the health care reform law, which would add billions to the budget deficit.”

Pete StarkMeanwhile, Stark issued a typically scathing memo today blasting new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., for accusing the nonpartisan CBO of misrepresenting the cost of reforms already enacted last year.

“Why is Cantor lashing out and accusing CBO of falsifying their data? For the same reason that he refuses to wait for a CBO score before jamming a vote through. Cantor knows that CBO will show that their NoCare proposal busts the budget by adding over a trillion dollars to the deficit, and increases the number of uninsured by tens of millions,” Stark wrote. “Unfortunately, Cantor seems to be completely divorced from reality – telling reporters that he doesn’t believe that health reform actually cuts the deficit.”

“While many Republicans have argued with basic science in the climate change debate, Eric Cantor has become the first Republican to argue with basic arithmetic. As Cantor’s office finds reality frustratingly outside its grasp, it’s worth pointing out some other common misconceptions that they might need help with: Toilets swirl a different direction in the Southern hemisphere – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/toilet000; Elvis is really alive – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/elvis000; Shania Twain is Mark Twain’s great-granddaughter – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/shania000; French Fries originated in France – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/frenchfries000.”

UPDATE @ 5:10 P.M.: Woolsey’s new bill’s 46 original cosponsors include Stark; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

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Bay Area Dems push ‘public option’ health bill

Two Bay Area House members have helped introduce a bill to create a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers in the Health Insurance Exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health care reform signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

Reps. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., say the Congressional Budget Office estimates H.R. 5808 would save $68 billion from 2014 to 2020, and that the public option would have, on average, premiums 5 to 7 percent lower than private plans in the Exchanges.

“Today, Consumers Union reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield plans amassed billions in surpluses as they raised rates for millions of Americans,” Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said in a news release issued as the lawmakers held a Capitol Hill news conference today. “This is a good example of why we need a public option – to create an insurance plan that competes based on delivering quality, efficient care, not on delivering profits to shareholders. The result is more competition, better coverage, and lower premiums for millions of Americans.”

Woolsey, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that as the deficit keeps growing, “so does the need for a program that can save billions of dollars and improve health care while doing it. The robust public option offers lower-cost competition to private insurance companies. This will make insurance more affordable for those who do not have it and keep insurance affordable for those who do.”

Among the bill’s 128 original co-sponsors are Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

Absent from that list, for those keeping count, is Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, who’s generally thought to be the only Bay Area Democratic incumbent in a tough re-election race this November. However, McNerney serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be this bill’s first stop, so perhaps we’ll see where he stands on this soon enough.

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House members want clear plan on Afghanistan

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, led about two dozen House members in writing to President Barack Obama today to ask that he provide Congress with “a clear commitment and plan to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan” before the vote on the supplemental funding bill.

“It has been nearly a decade since we went to Afghanistan and we still are not sure why we are there or can define a successful mission,” she said in a news release. “This war is now the longest war in American history. We simply cannot continue to fund a war that seemingly has no end in sight. It’s past time we have a clear exit strategy and timeline for redeployment of our troops.”

The letter cites conflicting statements by members of the Administration and the military command – for example, in the same Rolling Stone article that led to Gen. Stanley McChrystal being sacked, a senior military official stationed in Afghanistan indicated military success could actually lead to more U.S. troops deployed there, not fewer: “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here.”

The letter also cites U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on ABC’s “This Week” last December as well as Gen. David Petraeus in today’s Washington Post indicating troops necessarily won’t be meaningfully withdrawn in the summer of 2011.

Among the other House members signing Lee’s letter are Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Doves say ditch the war, not just the general

The Bay Area Congressional delegation’s two biggest doves said today that President Barack Obama’s dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan (following the general’s and his aides’ critical remarks about the Administration in Rolling Stone) should be only the start.

“What is needed in Afghanistan is a change of policy not just a change of commanders,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, said in a news release. “The real message of the Rolling Stone article is that the Afghan war is an unwinnable mess. It is time to start withdrawing from Afghanistan not surging deeper into a futile conflict that is already the longest war in U.S. history.”‬‪

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said she agreed with the President’s decision to relieve McChrystal of his command.

“The President is correct – this war is bigger than any one person. Our focus should be on our strategy to bring an end to this war,” said Lee, who you’ll recall was the lone vote in Congress against the 2001 resolution authorizing the Bush Administration’s use of force against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

“Open-ended war in Afghanistan is not in our national security interest and continues to create enemies. We must fundamentally rethink our policy on Afghanistan and reorient our efforts to combat terrorism around the globe in a more effective and sustainable manner,” she said in a news release today. “We need to stop digging the hole and risking the lives of our brave young men and women. We need a clear exit strategy and a timeline to safely redeploy our troops from Afghanistan.”

UPDATE @ 10:50 A.M. MONDAY 6/28: A clarification – Lee issued her statement speaking for herself, not on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus she chairs.

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McNerney votes to nix pay raise, Lee doesn’t

The House today passed a bill, HR 5146, that would cancel an automatic $1,600 pay raise for members of Congress in Fiscal Year 2011, keeping their salaries at $174,000. The bill passed on a 402-15 vote; the U.S. Senate passed a similar measure by unanimous consent last week.

Among the 15 House members voting against the bill today were Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

“Congresswoman Lee has consistently voted in favor of cost of living increases for federal workers,” said Nicole Williams, Lee’s communications director.

All other Bay Area members voted for the bill. Even its supporters admit it’s mainly symbolic, saving about $1 million amid an estimated $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit this year – that’s about .07 percent.

But it’s the thought that counts, said Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, probably the Bay Area’s only embattled House incumbent in November’s midterm elections. He issued a statement saying he’d been among the bill’s cosponsors and consistently has worked to eliminate automatic pay raises for Congress.

“At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, it’s just not right for Members of Congress to get a pay raise,” he said. “That’s why I’ve donated my automatic pay increase to local charities and why I’m going to keep fighting to stop these unnecessary increases.”

UPDATE FROM LISA VORDERBRUEGGEN: Josh beat me to the punch on this one, but I have some additional information about McNerney that readers might find interesting.

This the second year that Congress and McNerney have voted to suspend the automatic pay raise. But in the past couple of years, McNerney contributed his pay raise to local charities. He will have donated an estimated $9,400 to groups such as Tri-Valley Haven in Livermore and Village Commmunity Resource Center in Brentwood.