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Congressional Watch: Wrapping up 2015

Posted: January 15th, 2016 | Columns, Congressional Watch, Featured, News | No Comments

By Andy Cohen

On Dec. 18, Congress passed the $1.1 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, otherwise known as the omnibus spending bill that will fund and keep the U.S. government open and running until September 2016.

This was the first major legislation passed under new Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and it passed, surprisingly, without much drama.

Perhaps Ryan was given the benefit of the doubt by his more intransigent Republican colleagues, who in essence forced the retirement of former Speaker John Boehner.

congressional_watch_sidebarThe bill did not contain any of the provisions members of the House Freedom Caucus — the hard right wing faction of the Republican membership who oppose nearly everything that even smacks of compromise with Democrats or President Obama — coveted, such as the repeal of “Obamacare,” or the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Nonetheless, it passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 316 – 113.

The spending bill extends some tax breaks for middle and low-income families, renewable energy development and for some businesses. It also boosts funds for the Pentagon (military) and for Pell Grants — much needed aid to college students.

The most controversial part — which almost, but not quite, derailed the bipartisan agreement — was the ending of a decades-long ban on the export of U.S.-produced oil, a boon to domestic oil companies. But that was a compromise worth making for Democrats, who vehemently opposed the too-numerous-to-mention “poison pill” riders originally placed in the bill by Republicans.

The most important thing the spending bill does, however, is nearly guarantee that the government will not be shut down over foolish partisan squabbles during most of the 2016 election cycle — such as the aforementioned Planned Parenthood or decreasing taxes on the wealthy — at least until next September when the general presidential election will be in full throttle. That’s a good thing.

Locally, it means that our military installations — which fuel much of the local San Diego economy — will be fully funded. And of our local Congressional delegation, only Duncan Hunter (R-50) voted against the bill, effectively voting in favor of shutting down the federal government, just like during the fall of 2013.

Overall, it also means that the two sides can actually work together when it matters most … at least for now, or until the honeymoon is over for Paul Ryan.

In other news …

Scott Peters (D-52) took to the floor of Congress to admonish Congressional leadership for not allowing a bipartisan bill with 185 co-sponsors — that would expand background checks on gun purchases to include gun shows and private sales — from coming to the floor to a vote. Over the course of four days, Peters took to the floor to read the names of the victims of gun violence that he and many other co-sponsors of this bill argue might still be alive had Congress acted on some simple reforms.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Peters said from the floor of the House of Representatives. “Moments of silence are not enough. Maybe, Mr. Speaker, instead of a moment of silence the American people could get a moment of action. A moment of action that might keep their community from being next.”

In a story published by the San Diego Union Tribune, none of Peters’ opponents support the gun bills that have been introduced in Congress.

“Each of these names has something in common: They were defenseless in the minutes between the start of the shooting and when police were able to arrive,” said John Horst, a Republican candidate hoping to unseat Peters in 2016.

Horst told the Union Tribune that he would introduce a national open carry law that would allow every person legally entitled to own a gun to carry their firearms openly in a holster in all public areas.

Peters and his colleagues should be commended for their efforts to bring attention to this and other bills designed to make it more difficult for people who shouldn’t have guns to legally purchase them.

On Dec. 21, Peters awarded a La Jolla resident who served as an infantryman in World War II a medal for his combat service in the European theater.

“It was my honor to give Donald Breitenberg this long overdue recognition for his brave service,” Peters said. “Getting our San Diego World War II veterans the recognition they have earned is the very least we can do to honor our greatest generation and the sacrifices they made for our nation.”

Juan Vargas (D-51) joined a group of Congressmembers who penned a letter to the House Appropriations Committee imploring them to increase funding for refugee assistance and resettlement programs in the 2016 budget.

“Over 75 percent of those seeking refuge in the U.S. are women and children who are desperately trying to escape the danger that has removed them from their homes and continuously threatens their lives,” said Vargas in a press release. “Our screening process is rigorous and thorough; increasing funding would aid any areas where additional support is required. Providing the additional funds needed to support several refugee-related accounts would reflect our country’s moral leadership and counter ISIS’s barbaric acts.”

You might recall that in November, Scott Peters and 46 other Democrats joined with Congressional Republicans in opposition of allowing any Syrian or Iraqi refugees fleeing ISIS atrocities into the United States.

Darrell Issa (R-49) was announced as one of several international government representatives or policy makers who will be speaking at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, also known as CES, in Las Vegas in January. CES is one of the largest shows of its type in the world. A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Issa serves on the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, which has jurisdiction over patent and trademark law, information technology, and the Internet.

Issa made his fortune as CEO of Directed Electronics, the car alarm company that featured his voice on its Viper and Python car alarms, along with other electronics company investments, and has spearheaded efforts in Congress on patent reform.

—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at ac76@sbcglobal.net.

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