Important Year-End Votes
Yesterday, the House voted to pass a huge unfunded ‘tax extender’ bill that will increase the deficit by $622 billion, undermine comprehensive tax reform, reward special interests and the wealthiest taxpayers, and put serious pressure on our domestic priorities. While Democratic negotiators won some victories in the bill — such as permanent extension of the child tax credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit — the overall effect of this tax package leaves future Congresses with two choices to prevent our national debt from becoming unmanageable: we could try to overcome Republicans’ categorical opposition to tax increases; or we could continue slashing discretionary budget priorities that are under constant assault including nutrition, housing, education, infrastructure, research, and the environment. In every budget, Republicans target these vital programs for massive cuts in the name of deficit reduction, but now the double standard is revealed: when it comes to tax breaks for the mega-rich, congressional Republicans will happily spend like drunken sailors without concern for the deficit. That’s because they know future Congresses will probably have to pay for these tax giveaways by cutting social and environmental programs. I vehemently opposed this part of the budget deal because it is so shortsighted: it plays into the GOP’s long game of lavishing tax favors on the wealthiest Americans and using deficits as justification to starve programs for families and the environment.
The other final vote of the year, the Omnibus appropriations bill that funds the government through the fall of 2016, was a much closer call. When the bill was released Tuesday night and I saw that it included the controversial lifting of a 40-year ban on crude oil exports and no funding line item for the Green Climate Fund, my initial reaction was one of intense opposition. A policy concession to Big Oil that undermines efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and address climate change should never have been part of the Omnibus. And coupling it with a zero allocation to the climate fund that is critical to the success of the Paris climate accord would be unfathomable. I’ve spent the past three days fighting to try and rid the deal of the crude oil export provision, while also engaging in briefings and meetings regarding the environmental implications and technical details of the bill, and exploring additional assurances, safeguards, and strategies to address my concerns. These efforts have convinced me that on balance, I can support the Omnibus for the following reasons:
- First, because of agreements made by Senate and administration negotiators and the political reality in the House, securing a deal that excludes the oil export language was not possible. To be clear, I hate the oil export provision and am dismayed and disappointed that the Senate and administration allowed it to be part of the deal, but even if I voted “no” and persuaded House colleagues to join me, we could not secure a better outcome. The alternative would be a government shutdown or an Omnibus with even worse provisions.
- Second, my meetings with administration officials and others regarding technical details of the bill and strategies to mitigate the oil export provision have been productive. Despite the appearance of zero funding for the Green Climate Fund, the bill allows President Obama to shift $500 million from other accounts that have been strategically increased in order to fully meet the United States’ funding commitment in Paris, and that is what he will do. Full funding of the Green Climate Fund is a litmus test for my support and a major victory over climate deniers in Congress. So is the President’s Clean Power Plan, which will move forward under the Omnibus, despite unsuccessful Republican efforts to stop it. In addition, increase funding for energy efficiency and clean energy research plus a 5-year extension and expansion of expiring clean energy tax credits for solar and wind will be a huge boost to the continued rapid growth of those industries, and I’ve been assured of a bipartisan commitment to take action in early 2016 to broaden the renewable tax credits to include geothermal and other clean technologies. On balance, these provisions keep us on a path of progress and leadership on climate change and clean energy.
- Third, despite the unfortunate lifting of the crude oil export ban, I’ve determined there are things we can do to address the negative impacts of that provision. In the days ahead, I will lead a congressional letter to President Obama outlining a 5-point plan that uses existing legal authorities to reduce pressure for more domestic oil drilling, require strict standards for the refinement and transporting of American crude oil, and help prevent increased greenhouse gas emissions from the exporting of crude oil.
The final consideration in my support for the Omnibus bill is the many positive outcomes for my district and for issues I care deeply about, including important funding and policy provisions I fought to include in the bill.
We were able to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund for three years at an increased funding level, allowing major conservation projects to move forward across the country -- and across California -- over the objection of the Republican committee leadership who sought to undermine the program. This puts me and others in a position of strength to continue fighting for a long-term reauthorization with mandatory funding.
There is good news on infrastructure and dredging funding. The bill provides more than $1.2 billion from the harbor maintenance trust fund, in line with last year’s WRRDA legislation, which gives us a better chance of securing much-needed dredging money for critical needs in my district. And the $2.2 billion in transportation infrastructure funding for the New Starts and Small Starts programs is sufficient to support the $20 million in funding promised to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) to extend rail service from San Rafael to Larkspur, connecting SMART to the Golden Gate Ferry system.
On special education, I was very pleased that we secured a significant increase in funding for IDEA special education programs. I have helped lead a bipartisan coalition to increase IDEA funding since I was elected to Congress, and this bill shows that our efforts are paying off: there is $415 million in new funding for 2016 to help ensure that schools have the resources they need to provide a first-class education for every child.
We won important provisions on GMO labeling and the FDA’s approval of a genetically engineered salmon. Specifically, we kept the ‘Dark Act’ rider off the bill which means states can move forward with GMO labeling laws, and the FDA is now required to publish labeling guidelines that disclose to consumers whether salmon is genetically engineered. This is a win for consumers and a win for wild salmon populations, and strengthens our hand as we continue the fight on these issues.
And you may recall from this summer that I worked across the aisle to remove a decades-old ‘zombie earmark’ from the defense spending bill which requires several U.S. military bases in Germany to buy anthracite coal from Pennsylvania. Well, at long last and thanks to our efforts, that earmark is finally gone and our German military bases can procure cleaner, cheaper energy sources, to the chagrin of the coal industry that fought us tooth and nail over this boondoggle.
In addition to these and other positive outcomes, it’s important to note what is not in the Omnibus. Except for the oil export provision, none of the GOP’s toxic policy riders survived in this bill. Republicans tried and thankfully failed to include riders to de-fund Planned Parenthood, to gut Dodd-Frank provisions that hold big Wall Street banks accountable, to undermine the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, to block progress on climate change, and to undermine the rights of workers to form unions, among many others.
The Omnibus bill is far from perfect, but it includes some very important victories and on balance was worthy of my support.
With Best Regards,
Member of Congress