This past week in Washington, March 23 – March 27, was a welcome change from the partisan bickering and ideology that has, up until this week, characterized the floor debates and bills passed in the House of Representatives.
Throughout the Week
I hosted numerous constituent meetings and conducted an interview with Huffington Post Live to discuss campaign finance reform and my proposed Constitutional amendment, H.J. Res. 31. I had the honor of attending a dinner with Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen, and asked her how compensation for corporate CEOs could best be reined in with the purpose of reducing the vast disparity of wealth in this country. I also had the opportunity to meet scientists from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and Fermilab and neuroscientists from around the country, giving a short speech to the Society for Neuroscience breakfast. Our nation needs to continue our commitment to lead the world in science and innovation, and I will continue to work towards these investments here in Congress.
I am proud of two water bills I proposed this week to help protect our families, small businesses and our farmers from the impacts of droughts. One bill would enable local water agencies to raise funds to begin construction to capture and save water. The other would make sure the water we drink is kept safe during drought conditions. These bills are bipartisan and would benefit Northern and Southern California alike.
There were a number of substantial bills passed in the House under a suspension of rules – meaning no amendments were allowed but required 2/3 votes to pass – that did indeed pass with broad bipartisan support, such as H.R. 360, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2015, and H. Res. 162, calling on the President to provide Ukraine with military assistance.
But more importantly, a very significant bill was passed with broad bipartisan support that permanently fixes Medicare reimbursements for doctors, and also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 2 years. The physician payments issue, or so-called “Doc fix,” has been a difficult issue for Congress for the past 15 years because there was no way to pay for it. This year, with a bipartisan consensus, a pay-for was found in requiring higher Medicare premiums for wealthier seniors. Although there is some concern that this might open up the door to reduce Medicare, Democrats believed the risk was small enough and the benefit great enough that it passed overwhelmingly.
The House considered several budget proposals ranging from very progressive to very conservative. I supported the Van Hollen budget, which included forward-thinking policies to invest in our infrastructure and improve our economy. The more mainstream Republican budget, which passed along party lines, would continue with the same Republican path of reducing taxes for the wealthy in the hope that it will stimulate growth and reduce the deficit. Unfortunately, this approach, which has been tried several times since 1980, actually increases the wealth of the wealthy and harms the poor and middle class. Moreover, it has failed to be successful in growing a robust economy. In fact, it has increased the deficit and our national debt. I’m always taken aback that so many of my Republican colleagues still believe this approach will work despite its repeated failures.
Committee work continues to be productive and somewhat bipartisan. The Veterans Subcommittee in Economic Opportunity marked up several bills, including my bill which will give surviving spouses of service-connected disabled veterans who own small businesses a 3-year extension of the disabled veteran owned business status in the event of their veteran spouse’s death so they can have sufficient time to transition the business.
The Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) held a second hearing on regulation of coal ash, as well as a markup, during which I spoke up in strong support of an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps that would ensure the health and safety of residents by setting a floor to any state regulations since the bill allows states to set their own standards. The amendment failed in a recorded vote, and I was therefore unable to support the underlying bill. The bill did pass the subcommittee.
The Telecommunications Subcommittee of E&C held a very interesting hearing on “Next Steps for Spectrum Policy.” Spectrum refers to the parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that are used for telecommunications such as radio, television, cell phones, and Wi-Fi. The FCC had recently held a very successful auction of small portions of the spectrum, which netted almost $45 billion, and the discussion at the hearing centered on how to open up parts of the spectrum to telecommunications companies to meet the growing spectrum need. I was happy to have the opportunity to listen and participate in the discussion.