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D.C. Download: Nevada delegation secures more than $180 million in earmarked project funding

Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
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Steven Horsford, left, candidate for Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District, and Susie Lee, candidate for Nevada’s Third Congressional District, dance while Salt-N-Pepa performs the song "Shoop" duringg a rally for Democratic candidate

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy D.C. Download newsletter, a weekly look at what's going on in the nation's capital as it relates to Nevada. I’m Gabby Birenbaum, the Indy’s new D.C. Correspondent and D.C. Download author. I’m going to be covering Nevada’s congressional delegation, so if there are any suggestions you have for how to improve the newsletter, segments you’d like to see, or policies you’re interested in learning more about, send me an email!

If a colleague or associate emailed this newsletter to you, please click here to sign up and receive your own copy of Indy D.C. Download in your inbox.

They finally did it – Congress passed its annual appropriations bill, a week late and $1.7 trillion full. 

The omnibus contained a number of the Nevada delegation’s legislative priorities, including a new dedicated federal position to coordinate policy for the travel and tourism industry, new guidelines for crisis care, and billions for Native communities. 

And Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) had a busy week as part of the Ways & Means Committee, which officially voted to release former President Donald Trump’s tax returns. With the spending bill passed, the 117th Congress can officially disband – and both lawmakers and your D.C. Download writer can go home.

Earmarks across Nevada

Nevada will receive about $182.5 million in federal project funding through earmarks from its six members of Congress, sending funds to everything from several Nevada universities to highway and transit projects to sewer line extensions.

Earmarks, or set-asides of federal funding for district projects that legislators can secure in appropriations bills, are a time-honored tradition in the Capitol that have recently made a comeback. The practice was terminated in 2011 after some notable stories of government waste in earmarked projects, but was reinstated by Democratic leadership in 2021. 

Successfully getting earmarks into bills provides strong campaign material and district ties for lawmakers, making them a popular practice on the Hill and often foretelling long careers for those who bring home the most bacon.

Ninety-three Nevada projects will be funded by the appropriations bill. Nevada’s two senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, were by far the best fundraisers, hauling in nearly $78 million for 38 projects across the state just on their own. They also helped secure an additional 32 projects in joint applications with all four of Nevada’s House members.

Their best-funded solo projects included more than $8.4 million for reconstruction at Perkins Field Airport in the Moapa Valley, $7 million for dormitory planning and design at Nellis Air Force Base, $5 million for infrastructure improvements including the Complete Streets project in downtown Ely, and $3.75 million for a fire station in Storey County.

In the House, Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) – who sits on the influential Appropriations Committee – steered the largest haul towards her Southern Nevada district, bringing nearly $34.4 million for 17 projects – eight of which were jointly applied for with Cortez Masto and Rosen. Her biggest projects include more than $11.7 million for facilities, equipment and a high-performance computer for UNLV, $5 million for the Nevada Department of Transportation to work on the Henderson Interchange, and $3 million for a septic conversion program at the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Right behind her was her fellow Appropriations member Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), who secured about $32.25 million for 15 projects in Northern Nevada.

Despite his earmark success, Amodei, like most House Republicans, voted against the bill. 

“What should be a 'clean bill' – is instead a $1.8 trillion-dollar, 4,155-page bill laden with partisan initiatives,” Amodei said in a statement, blasting Senate Republicans who voted for it. “I cannot in good conscience look people in the eyes and say everything is just dandy with the bill put forward by Democrats in Congress.”

But his opposition to the process did not stop him from pursuing his own earmarks, including several environmental and transportation initiatives, such as more than $4 million for a wastewater treatment plant in Fallon and nearly $12 million for road improvement projects in Churchill County, Washoe County and at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Horsford (D-NV) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) do not have spots on the Appropriations Committee, but they still steered about $21.8 million and $15.6 million to their Las Vegas-based districts, respectively. Horsford secured more than $6.5 million for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lake Mead / Las Vegas Wash Program, $3 million for facilities and equipment at the Grover C. Dils Medical Center, and more than $5 million for water line replacements for the Virgin Valley and Moapa Valley Water Districts. 

He also earmarked funds for several community organizations in his district, including WestCare, Nevada, which provides behavioral health services and addiction treatment, the Tonopah Child Development Center in Nye County, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada.

Titus’ earmarks were mostly for transportation and law enforcement projects. For transit infrastructure, she secured over $5.5 million for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada for solar lighting at transit stops and a pedestrian collision avoidance system and $3 million for the Stewart Avenue Complete Streets project to install protected bike lanes and make the sidewalk more accessible, among other transformations. On the justice side, Titus got about $1 million for the Henderson Police Department’s training facility, and more than $1.5 million for the Clark County district attorney’s case management system.

To see a full spreadsheet of the Nevada delegation’s earmarks, click here.

Cortez Masto’s mental health provisions make spending bill

Cortez Masto has made mental health care and crisis care a focus of her legislative output over the past two years, and this week, several of her provisions passed through the omnibus spending bill.

Parts of Cortez Masto’s Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act and PEERS Act will become law after the overall bill passed the Senate and the House this week. Both serve to increase coverage and capacity of crisis care – psychotherapy services delivered outside of a physician’s office – and provide guidelines for its use.

“I’ve made improving mental health care a priority during my time in the Senate, and this legislation is a continuation of that critical work,” she said in a statement to The Indy. “Thanks to the provisions I secured, Nevada will be able to continue expanding behavioral health crisis services for those in need, especially low-income families and seniors."

The mental health provisions aim to broaden what Medicare and Medicaid can cover as it relates to mental health crises, building on prior work the Senate had enacted. Both are the insurers the federal government runs.

According to 2020 guidelines from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), emergency services providers should follow a specific continuum of care as it relates to callers to behavioral health crisis hotlines. For cases that are not settled at the phone level, care proceeds to a mobile crisis response unit – often first responders — and then to a crisis stabilization unit, which involves a short-term stay. If still unsettled, the case proceeds to an inpatient psychiatric unit or a crisis residential facility.

Cortez Masto’s work aims to stand each of those services up in states by establishing standards of care, in order to provide enough uniformity that Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurers could provide coverage at each stage. Due to an expansion of the Mental Health Block Grant in the American Rescue Plan, many states successfully expanded these mental health services, in accordance with those guidelines. 

Now, the new provisions in the omnibus spending bill provides greater funding for Medicare and Medicaid when billing for these services, and greater technical assistance to states that have expanded or will expand Medicaid to cover crisis care. 

Provisions of Cortez Masto’s PEERS Act, which ensures peer support specialists are covered by Medicare and offers guidelines for how providers should bill for them, and the Virtual Peer Support Act, which offers grant funding to organizations that train these peer support providers, such as NAMI Nevada, also made the bill.

The aims behind the guidelines are twofold – to better funnel patients in crisis to mental health professionals and certified peer support specialists, rather than police officers, for example, and to increase coverage of these services.

(Interested in Sen. Cortez Masto’s work to improve mental health care in Nevada? This is a story I’ll be pursuing in more detail next year, and I’m open to any thoughts on what’s working and not working among Nevada’s mental health care providers and insurers.)

Outside of mental health care, Cortez Masto, Rosen and Titus had several priorities included in the final bill. Those provisions include:

  • A $225 million federal pilot program to provide grants to affordable manufactured home communities (Cortez Masto)
  • Extension of Medicare coverage for telehealth services (Cortez Masto)
  • Travel and Tourism Act (Rosen, Titus)
  • Savings Access for Escaping and Rebuilding Act (Cortez Masto), which allows domestic violence survivors to withdraw money from retirement funds in emergencies
  • Continued funding for Lake Tahoe Restoration Act (Rosen)
  • Strengthening Cybersecurity for Medical Devices Act, which requires updated guidelines for medical devices to prevent hacking (Rosen)
  • Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act, a pilot program to provide grants for the development of climate-friendly airport and airplane technology, including vertiports and electric charging stations (Titus)

Beyond Cortez Masto and Rosen’s priorities, here are a few of the other provisions that they, and Nevada’s three House Democrats, voted for:

  • $45 billion in new funding for Ukraine
  • A $25 million budget increase for the National Labor Relations Board – a union priority
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which mandates businesses provide accommodations for pregnant workers and bans job discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, and the PUMP Act, which requires employers to allow breastfeeding employees time and space to pump
  • $800 million to the Department of Homeland Security for emergency services for migrants
  • Electoral Count Act reform
  • A $21.7 billion increase for veterans’ health care
  • Requires most businesses to enroll employees in 401(k) programs
  • Medicaid changes, including moving up the deadline from July 2023 to April for states to end pandemic-era eligibility requirements (a Republican priority) in exchange for allowing states to extend coverage to new mothers for up to 12 months and prohibiting states from kicking children off of Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 12 months (a Democrat priority)

Horsford votes to make Trump’s tax returns public

As one of just 42 members of the influential House Ways & Means Committee, Horsford was among the first group of lawmakers to see documents that Democrats have been clamoring for for years – Trump’s tax returns.

For years, Ways & Means Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) has attempted to gain access to the documents that Trump, in contrast to other presidential candidates across U.S. history, refused to release and went to court to protect. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the committee’s right to review the returns. 

Upon gaining access to the documents, which include Trump’s tax returns from 2015 to 2020, the committee voted on party lines Tuesday – 24 to 16 – to publicly release them. 

The committee also published a report detailing the failure of the presidential audit program, an Internal Revenue Service policy designed to review sitting presidents’ tax returns. The committee found that Trump was only audited once, in 2019, and that it was never completed – despite a mandate to do so every year. 

Ways & Means Democrats fought in court to gain access to the tax returns under the premise of investigating the audit program, so their findings further justified the need to see the returns.

“This vote in the Ways and Means Committee was about the rule of law and making sure it is applied evenly and fairly to ALL Americans, without regard to position, power, or income level,” Horsford said in a statement. “The public must have confidence that our tax laws apply evenly and justly to all. Sadly, it appears that over the years, the IRS’ ability to abide by this mandate was weakened and subjected lower income earners to more audits than the more financially sophisticated tax returns of the wealthiest in the nation.”

The fight over the tax returns has been fiercely partisan, with Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) calling the proceeding a “political weapon” that undermines privacy protections. 

This is not the first time the Ways & Means Committee has investigated the tax returns of individuals under the statute they used in this case – they looked into then-President Richard Nixon’s tax returns in the 1970s, and House Republicans released tax information as recently as 2014 as part of an investigation into potential anti-conservative bias at the IRS.

While the full tax returns are not yet available because they require significant redactions, the committee’s report revealed the former president reported enormous losses in some years, significantly reducing his tax bill. Despite paying $1.1 million in 2018 and 2019, Trump paid just $750 in 2017 – and paid no taxes at all in 2020. 

Moving forward, Trump’s pattern of carrying his operating losses forward to avoid tax bills and questionable charitable giving will be under intense scrutiny.

For Horsford, the American public had the right to see the former president’s returns given his position.

“This is not about one President, but about the Office of the President,” he said. 

Around the Capitol

  • The President signed the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act, officially expanding the Fallon Range Training Complex.
  • The President also signed Rosen’s Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act.
  • Cortez Masto gave a floor speech about the need for an immigration deal that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, like Rosen did last week, expressing exasperation at the state of immigration negotiations.
  • The appropriations bill included a number of provisions for Native communities, including over $12 billion for Native health programs, $1.4 billion for the Bureau of Indian Education, $937 million for the Indian Housing Block Grant program, and $4 million for the Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program. "I'm proud to have helped secure advance funding for the Indian Health Services so that the IHS can have critical certainty in providing essential health care,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “I’ll continue working in the Senate to make sure that Tribes in Nevada have crucial resources in fulfillment of our treaty obligations.”
  • Cortez Masto’s legislation to extend the authorization for a program to maintain terminal lakes in Nevada passed.
  • A package of bills sponsored by Cortez Masto to tackle human trafficking, including funding to train law enforcement officers on child trafficking cases and authorizing research into the role of social media in facilitating trafficking, passed both chambers of Congress.
  • Rosen announced Nevada will receive over $5.7 million in federal grants to bolster high-speed Internet access through provisions she contributed to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.
  • The Department of Interior announced the Southern Nevada Water Authority will receive about $1.75 million for a septic system conversion incentive program, also through funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

Notable and Quotable

“Nevadans are frustrated! Time and again over the last two decades, they’ve seen Congress work towards much needed legislation on immigration, only for reasonable, bipartisan agreements to fall apart because someone is playing politics.”

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, in a floor speech on the need for new congressional immigration policy and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers

The Week Ahead

That’s all she wrote for the 117th Congress! Check back in the first week of January, which will kick off with the Republican House speaker fight to end all speaker fights. 

Legislative Tracker

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S. 5328 – A bill to amend the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 to extend terminal lakes assistance.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.Amdt.6616 to S.Amdt.6552 – An Act to amend section 1115 of title 31, United States Code, to amend the description of how performance goals are achieved, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. 5310 – A bill to ensure that mental and behavioral health education and training grants awarded under section 756(a)(4) of the Public Health Service Act may be used for training to increase skills and capacity to meet the needs of children and adolescents who have experienced trauma.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 5357 – A bill to provide compensation for United States victims of Libyan state-sponsored terrorism, and for other purposes

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 9640 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for examination and disclosure with respect to presidential income tax returns.

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