Friday, February 8, 2019

Wasserman-Schultz Leads Bi-Partisan Push to Monitor Russian Influence in Venezuela

Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and a bi-partisan coalition of South Florida lawmakers have filed legislation that would require the United States Department of State to step up monitoring and provide Congress with threat assessments and strategies to curb Russian military influence in Venezuela.

“The growing military relationship between Nicolas Maduro and Vladimir Putin will severely obstruct any effort to restore real democracy in Venezuela,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz said. “This kind of military alliance poses an imminent threat to our allies in the region, namely Colombia, and will only strengthen the foothold of Maduro’s brutal regime.”

The Russian-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act was also co-sponsored by Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, (FL-25), Donna Shalala (FL-27), and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26). It would require the State Department to quickly supply Congress with threat assessments and strategies to deal with Russian-Venezuelan cooperation. It also requires an assessment of risks posed by any Kremlin acquisition of CITGO’s United States energy infrastructure holdings.

Russian and Venezuelan military entanglements have increased in recent years. Joint forces took part in a 10-hour exercise across the Caribbean in December, which included Tu–160 nuclear-capable bombers. Kremlin-linked military contractors have reportedly been deployed there recently. The Maduro regime has also turned to the Russian Federation, one of its strongest political allies, for financial support during its current economic crisis.

Maduro’s regime has come under intense international pressure as the humanitarian, economic and political crisis worsens there. Growing food and medicine shortages, along with political crackdowns, have set off intense protests. It has also triggered wide-spread international recognition of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as the nation’s interim president.

“We must not allow Russia to provide Maduro with the defense and military resources that he will use to further repress and brutalize the Venezuelan people, or engage in anti-American activities at our doorstep. Russia’s actions in Venezuela threaten our national security and bolster the Venezuelan people’s oppressors,” Rep. Diaz-Balart said. “I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation that will require greater oversight and attention to the deepening partnership between Putin and the Maduro regime.”

“The United States, the European Union, Venezuela’s own neighbors, and most importantly, the people of Venezuela are clear: we stand united with Interim President Guaidó and his legitimate government as they lead Venezuela towards democracy with new free and fair elections,” Rep. Shalala said. “The South Florida delegation has come together to introduce bills that grant TPS status to Venezuelans, ban arms exports, and authorize humanitarian aid to Venezuelans. I am proud that we have come together once more to take a stand for freedom and democracy with the introduction of this bipartisan legislation responding to the increasingly troublesome defense relationship between the Maduro regime and Russia.”

“The Venezuelan people cannot restore stability and democracy to their country without humanitarian aid, but neither can they restore them with the specter of Russian forces looming behind them, propping up Maduro’s illegitimate regime,” Rep. Mucarsel-Powell said. “That is why I think this bill is such a crucial part of the effort our delegation is making to address the many facets of aid the Venezuelan people need to rebuild their democracy.

Torres, Engel Introduce Bill to Block Trump Administration Proposal to Deregulate Firearm Exports

Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the Prevent Crime and Terrorism Act to block the Trump Administration’s proposal to transfer firearm export regulation from the U.S. State Department to the U.S. Commerce Department. Experts have noted that the new regulations would weaken congressional oversight of firearms exports, and would allow licenses to be approved with less scrutiny. The legislation has been endorsed by Giffords, Amnesty International USA, Global Exchange, and the Violence Policy Center.

“We should be doing everything we can to make sure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands,” said Torres. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration is doing just the opposite—making it easier for terrorists, drug cartels, and dictators to buy deadly weapons. If this dangerous proposal goes forward, we are going to see more instability in strategically important regions such as Central America. I’m proud to work with Chairman Engel to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“The Trump Administration’s proposal means it will be easier to export grenade launchers, flame throwers, and undetectable plastic guns overseas with almost no oversight or accountability,” said Chairman Engel. “We need proper congressional oversight, so we can step in and make sure these weapons aren’t sent to bad actors, including terrorists, drug cartels, human rights abusers or violent criminals. I commend Rep. Torres for her continuing leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with her as the Foreign Affairs Committee examines this matter in the weeks and months ahead.”

The Prevent Crime and Terrorism Act would prohibit the President from removing any items from the United States Munitions List, ensuring continued State Department oversight.

Torres and Engel were joined in introducing the bill by original co-sponsors Representatives David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Robin L. Kelly (D-IL), Alan S. Lowenthal (D-CA), and Jim McGovern (D-MA).


Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Representative Dina Titus (D-NV, 1st) joined with Representative Pete King (R-NY, 2nd) to introduce H.R. 1042, the Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act.

The bipartisan legislation, formerly titled the Animal Emergency Planning Act, would require entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act, such as zoos, commercial animal dealers, and research facilities to have contingency plans in place to safely evacuate and care for animals in an emergency or disaster situation.

“The lives of animals are too precious to leave to chance,” said Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-1). “This bipartisan bill will ensure that zoos, commercial breeders, research facilities, and the like are prepared to keep their animals safe when disaster strikes. Sadly, we’ve learned that if these entities do not have a plan in place when an emergency hits, it is already too late. I’m grateful for the support of Representative King and the many animal advocacy organizations that are helping advance this important legislation.”

“For those who are responsible for the care and wellbeing of animals it is imperative that they have an emergency plan in place when a disaster strikes,” said Representative Pete King (NY-2). “I am proud to work with Rep. Titus on this legislation to ensure the safety of animals with a completely reasonable and simple plan.”

“The ASPCA has witnessed firsthand how a lack of preparation for disasters can lead to dire consequences for animals left behind,” said American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Senior Vice President of Government Relations Nancy Perry. “Those who hold a license under the Animal Welfare Act bear a special responsibility to plan ahead for hurricanes, fires, floods, or other disasters that may strike. We thank Representatives Titus and King for their efforts to address the needs of animals in the event of an emergency.”

“Labs, zoos and other USDA-regulated facilities have an obligation to protect animals in captivity from devastating natural and man-made disasters,” said Animal Welfare Institute President Cathy Liss. “These animals are at the mercy of their handlers because they have no way to escape. The PREPARED Act would ensure that no USDA-regulated facility is ever caught unprepared in a crisis — and that no animal gets left behind.”

“Disasters don't discriminate, and they threaten people and animals,” said Animal Wellness Foundation Director of Federal Affairs Holly Gann. “It's just common sense, and common decency, that commercial operations – such as commercial dog breeders and animal circuses – should have plans in place to ensure the safety of the animals in their care.”

“When disasters strike, preparation is crucial to effective response,” said Association of Zoos and Aquariums President and CEO Dan Ashe. “AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are leaders in disaster preparedness, and our 233 member facilities applaud Congresswoman Titus and her cosponsors for their leadership in introducing the PREPARED Act. It will provide needed and helpful focus in an era of changing climate and increasingly unpredictable and severe weather events.”

"Animals are too often the innocent victims when emergencies and disasters strike,” said Best Friends Animal Society Legislative Attorney Lee Greenwood. “Making sure that plans are in place to protect them is not only a common-sense solution, but it will save lives and ensure that people are prepared to act when these incidents occur. We want to thank Congresswoman Titus and Congressman King for their continued support of animal-friendly legislation that is making our country a safer and more humane place for people and pets."

“Having worked to reunite pets with their families post-Hurricane Katrina, I know the difficulties of providing care for thousands of animals after a significant disaster,” said Humane Society Legislative Fund President Sara Amundson. “So, it only makes sense that commercial operations with animals under their care should have the responsibility to plan for emergencies as required by the PREPARED Act. We commend Representatives Dina Titus and Peter King for introducing the PREPARED Act. Given the increasing frequency and intensity of weather-related emergencies, we urge Congress to swiftly adopt this common-sense reform to help improve disaster preparedness by animal dealers, laboratories, zoos, and other federally licensed facilities under the Animal Welfare Act.”


Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO, 3rd) voted to advance bills to protect veterans from financial predators and increase access to child care for veterans receiving care at Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospitals. Both bills, the Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act of 2019 (H.R. 450) and The Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act (H.R. 840), passed the House with strong bipartisan votes.

“It is absolutely disgusting that there are people out there who exploit veterans when they are most vulnerable,” said Tipton. “These crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and I am glad the House took steps to give the legal system the tools it needs to go after these criminals.”

Financial predators have increasingly targeted vulnerable veterans, particularly the elderly, to defraud them of their VA benefits. Under current law, it is illegal for an unauthorized person to charge a veteran a fee for assistance in receiving their benefits, but there are no repercussions for individuals who deliberately violate the law. H.R. 450 would establish a new federal crime for individuals who violate the law, imposing a fine, imprisonment, or both.

H.R. 840 makes permanent a pilot program that provides child care at VA hospitals to veterans who are receiving mental health or other intensive health care services and who also serve as the primary care taker of a child. The bill would require the VA to provide child care assistance to the veteran while they are receiving care either through a stipend, child care facilities at the VA, payment directly to a private child care agency, or a collaboration with a child care program at another federal department or agency.

“Veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and it is important that Congress act to make this program permanent, so it will continue to have positive impacts in the lives of veterans and their families,” Tipton added.

See Also:

Walorski Votes to Expand Veterans’ Access to VA Child Care Services

Congressman Don Young Supports Passage of Legislation Expanding Child Care Access for Veterans


By Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Nebraska, 3rd)

As most of us know by now, President Trump was the first candidate for president in 40 years not to release his tax returns prior to taking office. With full knowledge of this fact, the American people elected him president, and under federal law he is entitled to the same privacy and legal protections as any other American citizen. I therefore do not support the unilateral disclosure of the president’s tax returns by Congress or any of its members, though I would have preferred he voluntarily release them to avoid our current situation.

Democrats have promised since President Trump was first elected that, if given the opportunity, they would request his tax returns from the IRS and release them publicly. Now in the majority, my Democrat colleagues can legally attempt to do this with a majority vote in the House, though such a move would set a dangerous and inappropriate precedent.

I take this issue very seriously not only because I would have to vote on any action before the House of Representatives to disclose the president’s tax returns, but also because the House Ways and Means Committee, on which I serve, has jurisdiction over the IRS. Any request for private tax returns must originate in one of the tax committees: Senate Finance, House Ways and Means, or the Joint Committee on Taxation.

In the past, Congress has requested tax returns from the IRS on a limited basis to inform policymaking. When the IRS was discovered to have engaged in targeting of conservative non-profit groups, congressional investigators requested the returns of all known affected parties but not of specific individuals. The law is specific on public disclosure of tax returns or information about them by Congress or the executive branch, which can also request them, without a majority vote - it’s explicitly illegal.

Conspiracy theories range far and wide as to what we can expect from such disclosure, but the current debate is more about trying to embarrass the president than performing actual oversight. We have no reason to believe tax evasion is taking place for the simple reason the IRS audits the tax returns of every president and vice president annually while in office. Any explicitly illegal activity would therefore be prosecuted.

The practice of unilaterally releasing tax returns would set a dangerous precedent eroding our most basic privacy rights. Congress is rightfully vested with a great deal of power in our constitutional democracy, but this also means there is virtually no check on its power. Weaponizing the president’s tax returns against him because political parties don’t agree on policy would be undignified, dangerous, and could lead to retribution.

Spanberger Helps Introduce Legislation to Tackle Overpriced Prescription Drugs

Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger helped introduce legislation to address the prescription drug affordability crisis in Central Virginia and across the country.

According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, prices of the 20 most-commonly prescribed brand-name drugs for seniors have increased at a rate approximately 10 times higher than the average annual rate of inflation over the past five years. And although 48 million fewer prescriptions were written for these drugs between 2012 and 2017, total sales revenue from these prescriptions increased by nearly $8.5 billion during that period.

Currently, the federal government cannot negotiate prescription drug prices within Medicare Part D to help lower costs. The Spanberger-backed legislation would authorize the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers.

“The cost of prescription drugs is an overwhelming burden for far too many Americans, especially our seniors on fixed incomes, and it’s unacceptable that Medicare can’t negotiate prescription drug prices,” said Spanberger. “I’m proud to help introduce legislation that would bring competition to the market and drive down prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate. This bill will help American seniors across the country—and is a strong first step in addressing the rising costs of prescription drugs.”

The Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act would also allow the U.S. Secretary of HHS to oversee competitive licensing, should negotiation fail. This provision would authorize other manufacturers to produce a similar drug for Medicare, potentially leading to lower prices through marketplace competition.

Spanberger is an original co-sponsor of this legislation, which is led by U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35). The bill is endorsed by healthcare, labor, and retirement advocacy groups, including:

Alliance for Retired Americans,
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO),
American Federation of Teachers,
Communication Workers of America,
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME),
Center for Medicare Advocacy, and
Social Security Works

(All added to The Ponder Sources)

Earlier this week, Spanberger called on President Trump to prioritize legislative efforts that would help address the rising cost of prescription drugs for seniors in Central Virginia.

Sherrill Strengthens VA Child Care Bill

Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- This morning Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ, 11th) successfully offered three amendments to the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act of 2019. The bill makes permanent a 2010 pilot program to provide child care at VA medical centers and clinics around the country.

The Congresswoman’s amendments specifically include military sexual trauma (MST) counseling and care services in the definition of services eligible for childcare at a VA center or clinic, and bar employment in a VA child care center of individuals convicted of a sex crime, an offense involving a child victim, a violent crime, a drug felony, or other offense the Secretary of Veterans Affairs deems appropriate. It also ensures that the bill will not weaken state or local laws that enforce rigorous hiring guidelines. Congresswoman Sherrill introduced an amendment on behalf of Colin Allred of Texas that requires the VA Secretary to provide public notification on about the program, and to perform outreach to inform eligible veterans.

The amendments on MST and public notice passed the House by voice vote. The amendment on barring employment of individuals convicted of a sex crime passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 401 to 19.

Excerpts from Congresswoman Sherrill’s floor speech on barring employment of individuals convicted of a sex crime, offense involving a child victim, a violent crime, a drug felon, or other offense deemed appropriate by the VA Secretary:

“As a working mom, I know all too well how important it is to know that your children have a safe and healthy environment while away from home. Mr. Chair, ensuring our veterans have access to childcare at VA facilities is the least we can do for the men and women who have stood up to serve our country.”

“This bill means less stress for our veterans who would need to otherwise arrange for childcare to make an appointment. [Veterans In my community] have also told me that this bill will help veterans make and attend appointments because they wouldn’t have to worry about arranging childcare. This acknowledges both the needs of our veterans and creates a support network for them.”

Excerpts of Congresswoman Sherrill’s floor speech on including military sexual trauma is included in the definition of services:

“Over the summer, I spoke to veterans in my district in New Jersey about the inadequacies they see in VA services for this generation of returning service members. I heard from female service members about the need for better counseling services for victims of military sexual trauma, or MST.”

“These are the invisible wounds of war – invisible trauma that we cannot see as our service members return home. I’m particularly concerned that victims of sexual trauma, which is prevalent in military and civilian populations, are not getting the services they need.

“This amendment will ensure survivors are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve when trying to access care at the VA, without worrying about the cost or availability of childcare.”

Excerpts of Congresswoman Sherrill’s floor speech on providing public notification about the cost-free child care services provided in the bill:

“Each of us have heard from the women and men who have served and sacrificed in uniform about the challenges that come from seeking access to the benefits veterans have earned. Last year, at a veterans’ round table in Woodland Park, I heard from women veterans that it is not enough for Congress to enact a new provision and think our job is done.

“Simply put, this important childcare program will not work as intended, or have the reach it could, without informing our servicemen and women that it exists in the first place.

The pilot program to provide child care at VA medical centers and clinics has received bipartisan support in multiple congressional reauthorizations, and is incredibly popular with the veteran community. The bill will expand the program beyond the VA centers in the pilot program, and designate that all caretakers, including parents and grandparents, can access this service when seeking health services at a VA center.

Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and previously served as a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot. Congresswoman Sherrill is committed to improving services for the more than 25,000 veterans in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District.

See also: US House passes bipartisan Veterans' Access to Child Care Act of 2019

Serrano Introduces Legislation to Require Public Inspectors’ Evaluation of Local Transportation Projects

Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Jose E. Serrano (D-NY, 15th) has introduced legislation to guarantee that local transportation projects are evaluated by public inspectors rather than private companies. The Safety, Efficiency, and Accountability in Transportation Projects Through Public Inspection Act of 2019 would require public employees who are members of the community to perform inspections and other related essential public functions on all state and local transportation projects. The bill is intended to promote public safety, prevent the waste of transportation funds, and guarantee that projects are delivered in a timely manner. This legislation seeks to ensure that the public has someone who is working on their behalf, rather than companies who are more concerned about their bottom line. The bill is being cosponsored by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman André Carson, and Congressman Stephen Lynch.

“This legislation is necessary to ensure the public’s safety in the construction of local transportation projects. Community residents and the public, in general, need a representative to make sure that private transportation construction contractors are acting in a safe, responsible manner. Using private companies to oversee the work of other private companies creates potential conflicts of interest that undermine worker and public safety, increase costs, and delay project completion. This bill prevents these problems by requiring a government employee to oversee all state and local transportation projects to ensure safety and accountability,” said Congressman Serrano.

Radical "Green New Deal" Is Bad Deal for Working Families

Washington, D.C. - February 8, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA, 1st) released the following statement after Democrats released their plan for a “Green New Deal”:

“Democrats just unveiled a laughable plan to make air travel obsolete, force household electricity rates to skyrocket, and guarantee taxpayer-funded welfare to everyone 'unwilling to work,' all within 10 years. But after 10 years of Speaker Pelosi's 'Green Dream,' all we would have left to show for it is massive unemployment, lower wages, skyrocketing costs on everything from electricity to medical devices, and weakened national security.

“Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's ‘Green New Deal’ is a bad deal for working families, and America's seniors and middle-class would be left footing the bill. If Democrats abolish fossil fuels, electricity and transportation costs will skyrocket. If Democrats abolish cattle farming, food costs will skyrocket. The list of devastation goes on. Democrats call climate change ‘our World War II,’ but this plan reads more like a war on American families and American jobs.

“Instead of this ‘Green Dream’ we should continue pursuing our all-of-the-above American energy strategy that's rebuilding our economy and allowing us to help our friends around the world. In 2017, America had the greatest reduction in carbon emissions of any nation in the world. The Democrats ‘Green Dream’ would just ship millions of high-paying American jobs, like the ones in energy-producing states like my home state of Louisiana, to countries like China, who emit carbon at a much higher rate than us.”

See Also: