By Andy Cohen
We start the May edition with Congress’ passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the fiscal year 2016 budget to fund the military. The bill passed the House of Representatives on a 269 – 151 vote. Only eight Republicans voted against the military budget, while only 41 Democrats voted in favor, including two of San Diego’s Democratic members of Congress, Scott Peters and Susan Davis, joining Republicans Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter. Juan Vargas was the lone no vote from the region.
Democrats by and large rejected the bill for its restrictions on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and for ignoring military spending caps established in 2011 by sequestration. Republicans, Democrats argue, are willing to ignore sequestration for programs they favor, but adhere to it in lock step for programs that are Democratic priorities, such as infrastructure and health care.
“I remain opposed to the across-the-board cuts known as sequester that limit the ability of our military commanders to effectively plan for the future, and will continue pushing Congressional leaders to end this reckless policy,” Scott Peters (D-D52) said in a press release. “In the end, I supported this bill because we must give our military the resources it needs to keep our country safe, which continues to be the most important job for Congress.”
Peters also noted the importance of the military budget’s role for the San Diego region.
Additionally, Peters introduced seven amendments which were included in the defense bill, including one that required California’s continued access to military firefighting aircraft; reforms in the military’s acquisition process that allow smaller companies better opportunities to compete with large firms; and support for Department of Defense-sponsored camps for military children grieving the loss of a loved one.
Both Peters and Davis are again expected to buck their party’s leadership when the bill to approve the Trade Promotion Authority, or “fast track“ authority — giving the Obama Administration full authority to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement and allowing Congress only to approve or deny any completed agreement without offering any amendments — comes to a vote.
The actual contents of the TPP will not be made public until the agreement between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations is finalized. Local proponents of the TPP insist it will be a boon to the San Diego economy by opening up new business opportunities.
Darrell Issa (R-D49), the richest member in all of Congress, came under fire for his insistence to “CNN Money” that America’s poor are the “envy of the world,” seemingly insisting that poverty and income inequality are not a big problem in the United States.
“If you go to India or you go to any number of Third World countries, you have two problems: You have greater inequality of income and wealth. You also have less opportunity for people to rise from the have not to the have,” Issa told CNN.
Issa, who has a net worth of nearly $450 million, took umbrage with “CNN Money” reporter Cristina Alesci when she suggested “we don’t want to compare ourselves to India, we want to set the bar pretty high.”
“You’re wrong, we do have to compare ourselves to the rest of the world, we compete with the rest of the world,” replied Issa. “We’re in a global economy, and it’s extremely important that we be able to amass capital, have a trained workforce, and quite frankly, if we want to get paid more we have to be able to produce somehow better than many of those countries, including India.”
Issa ignores the fact that the productivity of American workers has risen steadily, making them among the most productive in the world, while wages remained stagnant. According to the International Business Times, the productivity of American workers rose 25 percent between 2000 and 2012, yet they saw no gains in wages.
Duncan Hunter (R-D50) continued to advocate for greater U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, insisting that the only way to drive out the ISIS forces that have taken over the Iraqi city of Ramadi is for the U.S. to take direct action.
“Somehow we need to get involved in this fight. No one else can get involved in this fight the way we can,” Hunter told “Fox News.” Hunter, himself an Iraq war veteran, continues to be one of the most hawkish members of Congress. In December 2013, Hunter suggested during an interview on CSPAN that American forces should attack Iran with nuclear weapons.
Juan Vargas (D-D51) introduced the Stop Blood Tomatoes Act of 2015 in the House of Representatives. The bill calls for increased transparency on the part of corporations with revenues over $1 billion by requiring independent audits of their supply chains to ensure that they are not selling products made by child or forced labor. The bill would also mandate that companies publish the results of the audits on their websites and be reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Vargas also lamented the Republican led challenge to DAPA — the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans — an executive order issued by President Obama that would allow undocumented parents of citizens or legal residents who have been in the country for five years or more to remain in the country without fear of deportation.
“These parents care for their children and relatives, serving as vital providers in their communities,” Vargas said in a statement. “The Executive Action would have offered relief to immigrants who currently live in the shadows, in constant fear of being separated from their families.”
Susan Davis (D-D53) defended women’s access to abortion services in response to the passage of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act along partisan lines in Congress. “I’m dismayed to see the majority bringing up yet another attack on women’s health,” Davis said in a statement.
“It is not for the government to infringe on a deeply personal decision that belongs between women and their doctors.”
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.