Congressional Watch – August 2015

Posted: August 14th, 2015 | Congressional Watch, Featured, News | No Comments

By Andy Cohen

Welcome to the August 2015 edition of the San Diego Congressional Watch. First, a bit of housekeeping: Last month I noted that Rep. Juan Vargas (D-51) skipped high profile, contentious votes on trade adjustment assistance (TAA) and trade promotion authority (TPA), a policy that once passed, frees President Obama to complete negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade pact between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

us-congressional-sealAs you will recall from last month’s edition, TPA finally passed through some legislative maneuvering and a whole lot of cooperation between congressional Republicans and Obama.

Vargas, it turns out, was unable to participate in the vote, as he was attending his daughter’s graduation.

“I remain firmly opposed to Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Unfortunately, I was forced to miss the TPA vote today in order to attend my daughter’s graduation ceremony, which was planned months in advance. From time to time my dual commitment as a father and member of Congress requires me to make hard choices.”

He gets a pass on this one. And congratulations to the Vargas family!

Vargas added his name last month to the list of members of Congress opposed to the Iran nuke deal negotiated by the Obama administration and representatives of England, France, Germany, Russia, and China.

“This deal is predicated on Iran’s compliance. In exchange for phased and reversible sanctions relief — at approximately $150 billion — the administration promised to cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb. Instead, this agreement gives Iran a rapid payday while legitimizing its path to nuclear-threshold status,” Vargas wrote in an Op-Ed in the San Diego Union Tribune, echoing the arguments of his Republican colleagues who almost uniformly oppose any deal with Iran.

In early July, Congress passed the “21st Century Cures Act,” a bill aimed at increasing funding to the National Institutes of Health for medical and scientific research, which has been grossly underfunded. According to an NBC News report, current NIH funding is 20 percent below what it was in 2003.

The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 344-77 in the House. Darrell Issa (R-49), was the lone ‘no’ vote among San Diego’s five reps.

The bill is considered good news for San Diego’s innovation economy.

Meanwhile, Issa cannot seem to let his crusade against the IRS go, insisting that the targeting of Tea Party groups is still as rampant as ever. “This is becoming an old story,” Issa told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer, “and the president … is actually trying to take back his words from 2013 when he admitted that it was illegal targeting. [Obama] wants to talk about how there is not enough money and blame a law passed before he was born that served us well, and from then until now, when it was suddenly broken.”

As the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa oversaw several investigations into the IRS’ alleged targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status under the tax code. Although many of the groups received extra scrutiny, scant few applications were ever denied. Issa’s investigations failed to uncover any wrongdoing whatsoever, and failed to prove any connection between the White House and the IRS in any kind of cover up or scheme to target conservative groups. Despite a complete lack of evidence, Issa pushes on, insisting there’s a scandal there. Somewhere.

Issa may not have produced any results from the many investigations into the Obama Administration he oversaw between 2010, when he assumed the oversight chairmanship, and 2014, when his term on the committee ended, but there is a bit of good news for Issa: His net worth grew to up to $768 million, making him the richest member of Congress.

Duncan Hunter (R-50) has placed sanctuary cities squarely in his crosshairs. Hunter has introduced his “Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act” in Congress, legislation aimed at forcing local law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of all suspects and witnesses and report them to federal immigration officials. The act would essentially make all local agencies extensions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Officials at the local level — particularly law enforcement officials — support sanctuary cities because it allows them to more effectively protect their cities. Witnesses to crimes are far less likely to cooperate with police if they are concerned about local officials inquiring about their immigration status, which will make it all the more difficult to solve even the most violent of crimes.

Hunter’s legislation, which would cut off federal funding to all sanctuary cities, comes in response to the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle on San Francisco’s Embarcadero last month at the hands of a convicted felon, Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who had been deported several times.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 12.31.16 PMSusan Davis (D-53) announced in July a $5.2 million federal grant from the Department of the Interior to expand the Sweetwater desalination facility. The grant will allow the facility to increase its production of potable water from 3,600-acre-feet per year to 8,000-acre-feet per year.

Scott Peters (D-52) took to the House floor to oppose an attempt by conservatives in Congress to rewrite California’s water policy. The GOP-led bill, subsequently passed in the House, seeks to provide more water to agricultural interests in the Central Valley. To do so, it calls on the construction of more dams and the release of more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

“This bill does not make it rain — no one can do that,” said Peters in a statement. “It simply undermines the state of California’s water policies to move water away from one set of communities and into different ones.”

Peters also pointed to the urgency of maintaining adequate water supplies in non-agricultural areas to fight the rampant wildfires that have plagued much of the state in recent years, especially in Southern California.

“Two of the deadliest wildfires in California history, the Witch and Cedar fires, occurred in San Diego and killed 17 people,” Peters noted.

—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at

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