As August begins, it’s a good time for a mid-summer update on what’s happening in Congress and where things appear to be headed for the final months of this legislative session.
You may recall that President Obama has called for 2014 to be a “Year of Action.” Unfortunately, it has been a year of missed opportunities and partisan posturing in Congress. It’s frustrating that with so many people still out of work, with California experiencing severe drought and wildfires, with a seemingly endless string of tragedies involving gun violence, and with a broken immigration system and a humanitarian crisis at the border, we’ve been denied the chance to vote on bipartisan measures that would help in each of these areas.
The House leadership has instead chosen the path of partisan conflict and distraction by wasting millions on yet another politicized inquiry into the Benghazi tragedy and using your tax dollars to sue President Obama for using his executive authority to get things done.
AUGUST RECESS IS A BAD IDEA
Worse, the House is about to adjourn for “August recess,” as if our work is done.
I’ve asked House leadership to extend the session to address our country’s critical priorities by voting on bipartisan bills to raise the minimum wage and extend long-term unemployment benefits for job seekers; a wildfire funding bill that would reform the way firefighting costs are calculated so that more resources could be dedicated to preventing wildfires; a bill to enact common sense background checks to prevent violent felons, mentally ill people, and people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns; and comprehensive immigration reform. (For a complete list of my sponsored and co-sponsored legislation, click HERE).
A FEW AREAS OF PROGRESS
While Congress should be accomplishing much more, there have been some modest legislative achievements and forward progress over the past few months that you should know about:
In the area of transportation funding, Congress is still working on a bipartisan bill to keep the Highway Trust Fund fully funded into next year, an important step toward averting a major crisis. I recently held a North Bay Transportation Summit to discuss what would happen if Congress allowed this fund, which supports transportation projects across the United States, to go broke this fall. The consensus was clear: failure to act by Congress would lead to massive disruptions and delays in major projects such as the Sonoma/Marin Narrows widening and would have a devastating impact on public transit.
While the short-term fix being negotiated with the Senate is better than nothing, Congress must provide a long-term funding solution for our roads, bridges, and public transportation systems. That’s why I’m supporting legislation to keep the Trust Fund solvent long enough for Congress to craft a serious bill that meets our transportation infrastructure needs, creates jobs, and won’t require annual stop-gap measures to prevent the Trust Fund from running out of money.
Career Technical Education
Earlier this month, the House passed an important bill to make critical investments in America’s workforce: in training, workforce development, and job placement. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is a bipartisan agreement between the House and Senate that modernizes federal workforce development programs, helps workers develop skills, and assists businesses in finding the skilled employees they need to compete. This new law will help to bridge the “skills gap” separating workers and the jobs of the future.
A Win for Veterans
This week the House voted to address the immediate crisis of veterans forced onto unacceptably-long health care waiting lists. This compromise bill makes critical reforms to the VA and will allow the VA to hire more doctors, nurses, and medical personnel to give our veterans the care they deserve. This bill is similar to the bill the House passed in early June, with some improvements. For example, it will allow North Coast veterans who live 40+ miles from a VA facility to get their health care outside of the VA. It also gives the VA Secretary the power to immediately remove incompetent senior executives based on poor job performance, ensuring that the disgraceful situation at the VA hospital in Arizona will not happen again. This bill will now go to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
Trespass Marijuana Grows
Sometimes a bill doesn’t have to make it to the President’s desk to make a difference. Such was the case with my PLANT Act, which targeted the extreme environmental damage that is being caused by illegal trespass marijuana operations on public and private lands. This bipartisan bill would increase criminal penalties to help address the environmental and public safety problems posed by rampant trespass marijuana grows throughout the North Coast. The bill got the attention of the United States Sentencing Commission, which proceeded to adopt these higher standards effective this fall. These stiffer penalties will be an important tool for law enforcement officials to protect our environment and public safety. In a hopeful sign, a coordinated federal, tribal, state and local crackdown began last week near the Yurok reservation in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. Toward that end, I recently wrote to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag asking her to prioritize cracking down on illegal trespass marijuana growers, rather than low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law.
The 113th Congress has very little time – especially with this August recess – to address a mountain of unfinished work. In addition to the bills mentioned above, Congress must act to re-authorize the Export-Import Bank. This should be non-controversial—the Export-Import Bank helps American manufacturers export American-made goods, which supports more than 200,000 American workers. Moreover, the Bank operates at no cost to taxpayers, paying for itself with the fees it collects. While there are some problems with the Export-Import Bank, these can be fixed and Congress should be able to pass a bipartisan reauthorization bill.
Despite Congress’ frustrating lack of productivity so far this year, I will keep pushing to get things done in the weeks ahead. This newsletter discusses the priorities I think Congress should be addressing. As always, I welcome your feedback, ideas and suggestions, and can be contacted via email, phone, Twitter, or Facebook.
Wishing you and your family a safe and enjoyable summer.
Congressman Jared Huffman