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The House side of the U.S. Capitol. Sept. 12, 2018. Photo by Humberto Sanchez

The House last week voted to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 and to repeal the so-called Cadillac tax on employer provided health care after agreeing to dismiss a proposal to impeach President Donald Trump and condemning his tweets against four Democratic congresswomen as racist.

The House votes came as the Senate approved four tax treaties with Spain, Switzerland, Japan and Luxembourg. The chamber also confirmed four nominations, including two judges and the ambassadors to Slovenia and Jamaica. 

Democratic Sen. Cortez Masto said she was disappointed with Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to prioritize Senate action on nominations and tax treaties, which set negotiated tax rates or provide exemptions from taxes on income generated in the U.S. The treaties also stipulate rates and exemptions for U.S. citizens for income generated in those foreign countries.

“[W]hat Mitch has decided are a priority … are not the issues, unfortunately, that we know the people in Nevada are struggling with: health care, the cost of prescription drugs, wages and so many things that we should be tackling,” she said in a brief interview Wednesday.. 

The four treaties were approved with more than 90 votes, including with support from Cortez Masto and Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen. 

Cortez Masto did not vote on Thursday because she went back to Nevada for the funeral of retired Las Vegas Police Captain Larry Burns, who narrowly lost the 2014 race for Clark County sheriff to Joe Lombardo. Burns was 61 and a 27-year police veteran. He died unexpectedly on July 11.

“Paul and I are deeply saddened to learn of Captain Larry Burns’ passing,” she said in a release. “Larry was a friend and beloved figure in Las Vegas for nearly 40 years. He dedicated his life to serving and protecting our community for twenty-seven years and was the longest-serving SWAT commander in Metro history.”

Minimum wage

In the House, Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford all celebrated passage of the bill gradually boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current $7.25 an hour; the proposal would also tie future increases in the federal minimum wage to median wage growth to ensure the value of minimum wage does not once again erode over time.

The bill passed 231 to 199 with only three Republicans voting for it. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said he opposed the measure over concerns about the burden it would place on businesses, the potential loss of jobs for workers and the likelihood of increased prices as business seek to pass on the cost to consumers

“It sounds to me like when you say ‘everybody is going to make $15 bucks an hour,’ you’re picking winners and losers,” Amodei said. “What do business people do in response to that? First of all, they’re going to raise prices.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 17 million workers making less than $15 an hour would see an increase in pay, as would 10 million earning just over $15. But 1.3 million other workers could become jobless. 

“Quite frankly, you’re putting the monkey on the back of those business people,” Amodei continued, adding that the bill is a “one-size-fits-all” solution “from Washington, D.C.”

The Republican congressman also pointed to the bill Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Democratic-controlled Legislature enacted in June, which only raised the state minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next five years.

“This is 25 percent higher than what Nevada’s Democratic governor signed into law,” Amodei said. “It sounds like they did some thinking, decided what they thought would be good for … the state and they didn’t mess with tips.”

The federal legislation would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage, currently $2.13 an hour. Employers are responsible for making up the difference if tips do not pay the employee the full minimum wage.

“You want to do something for minimum wage? Okay, I’m not opposed to that,” Amodei said, adding that “this isn’t it.”

If approved by the Senate and signed by the president, the increase would be the first since 2009. But with so little Republican support in the House, the measure is unlikely to be taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate, something underscored by Amodei and Titus.

“Workers in Las Vegas and across the country deserve a raise,” Titus said in a release. “Too many workers struggle to pay rent and put food on the table. One job should be enough to make ends meet in this country. It is disgraceful that Senate Republicans are working with Donald Trump to keep paychecks low for most workers while giving tax cuts to the rich.”

A study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute cited by Nevada’s House Democrats said that the measure would raise the wages of more than 500,000 workers in the state, including 184,500 in the 1st Congressional District, 126,800 in the 3rd Congressional District, and 127,500 in the 4th Congressional District.

Cadillac tax

All members of the delegation voted in support of repealing the Cadillac tax, a 40 percent excise tax under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on employer plans exceeding $10,200 in premiums a year for individuals and $27,500 for families. The measure passed 419 to 6.

“For many working families, necessary medical treatment remains tragically unaffordable due to exorbitant out of pocket costs and deductibles,” Horsford said in a release. “If this so-called Cadillac Tax isn’t repealed, this crisis of affordability for medical care will only worsen.” 

“The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it has delivered for millions of Americans,” he continued. “The ACA exists to protect the American people against the rising price of health care, and repealing this tax allows it to continue helping families access the care they need.”

The tax, which had been delayed twice and is not scheduled to go into effect until 2022, would reduce the value of employer-sponsored health plans, reduce benefits, and increase their workers’ share of the cost, Horsford said. In Nevada, it would hit the state’s 167,000 casino employees, 29,000 mining and mining-related workers, as well as nurses, school teachers, local government employees, and factory workers.

The tax was designed to help curb the cost of health care throughout the system by incentivizing employers to spend less on health care. The rationale was that the tax would lead to employers providing less generous health care plans. Prior to the ACA, the government had not taxed employer-sponsored health care and it was an area where employers tended to spend readily resulting in generous plans, with little or no copays and deductibles. Those covered by the plans tend to frequently use them and thus drive up costs throughout the system.

The tax was unpopular with business groups because they would be on the hook to pay it, but it was also opposed by unions, which often negotiate for better health care benefits rather than wage increases on behalf of their members, and whose members were also going to indirectly bear the brunt of the tax. 

“I’ve been a supporter since the very beginning,” Titus said of repealing the tax. “Republicans like it because it goes after the ACA, we like it because it hits labor unions and people that have good health care.”  

Trump impeachment

The House also voted to dismiss an effort to impeach Trump, which was not supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Offered by Texas Democrat Al Green, the resolution was tabled, a procedure essentially killing the measure, 332 to 95.

All of the delegation voted in support of table the resolution except for Titus, who was among the 95 Democrats who voted to move the resolution forward. 

A spokesman for her office said that she voted to advance the measure because she had wanted the resolution to be referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which was under consideration by Democratic leaders, but who ultimately allowed for a vote on tabling the resolution.

She also voted against two previous motions to table Green’s efforts to impeach the president in 2017 and 2018.

That vote came after the House voted to condemn Trump’s tweets calling for four freshman Democratic Congresswomen of color “go back” to their countries of origin. The vote passed 240 to 187 with Titus, Lee and Horsford voting in favor and Amodei opposing it.

Amodei issued a statement after speaking with The Nevada Independent about his policy of not getting involved with the fights within and about social media.

“I have been consistent in my refusal to enter social media battles which are based largely on personalities,” he said 

He noted that he did not weigh in when Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib said of Trump in January that “we’re going to impeach the motherf$%&er,” and in February when Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar said on Twitter that her fellow lawmakers’ support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” and subsequent comments, which offended members on both sides of the aisle. 

“I didn’t do it when people were arguably critical of the Jewish faith or referred to the sitting President as a ‘MF-er’, and my refusal has been applied equally regardless of who the source of communication is,” he continued. “My energies and use of congressional resources will continue to focus on people’s health care, people’s immigration statuses, veterans, jobs, the economy, our troops, natural resources, and infrastructure, to name a few. Everyone have a nice day.”

Horsford and Lee similarly echoed their desires to focus on policy. 

“While the President may use his bigoted and xenophobic Tweets as a way to distract from the work we came to Capitol Hill to do, I pledge to stay focused on the work you sent me to Washington to fight for,” Horsford wrote on Twitter.

Lee also took to Twitter to say, “I’m in Congress for my district, not DC. I’m in Congress to serve my constituents. I’m in Congress for our students, teachers, veterans, and families. I’m in Congress to work WITH every colleague, FOR every American. Nothing’s going to distract me.”

Miscellany

Lee helped launch the Veterans Education Caucus last week with Virginia Republican Denver Riggleman, designed to highlight the experiences of America’s student veterans and create a space for members to collaborate in a bipartisan fashion on policies and solutions to improve the lives of student veterans and enhance their educational and economic opportunities. 

“The Veterans Education Caucus brings together two of my highest priorities in Congress, improving our education system and honoring and supporting our veterans,” Lee said in a release. “This bipartisan caucus is about working together for our student vets because Congressman Riggleman and I both agree that there should be nothing partisan about improving the lives of our veterans.”  

The group held a panel discussion with student veterans from Virginia and Las Vegas, in addition to the Student Veterans of America, to highlight the experiences of student veterans and open a dialogue about the challenges they face.

The House passed a bill by voice vote on Monday to allow the State Department to offer cash rewards to those who provide useful information related to international wildlife trafficking cases. The bill was introduced in January by Titus and Florida Republican Vern Buchanan.

“Today Congress took a major step to put the world on notice that international wildlife trafficking will be treated as a serious crime,” Titus said in a statement. “This heinous practice decimates endangered species and generates billions of dollars for transnational criminal networks.” 

Last week, Horsford also announced $2.6 million in funding from the Federal Communications Commission for California Internet and Valley Communications Association, which provides Internet services in his district. 

“Access to high-speed Internet helps to close the digital divide between different parts of our state,” Horsford said. “My district encompasses a large portion of rural Nevada and I’m thrilled to announce this funding to increase Internet connectivity to my constituents. Access to high-speed Internet has become as essential to community economic growth as electricity and roads. All Nevadans stand to benefit economically from high-speed Internet.”

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO
Legislation co-sponsored
S. 2134 – A bill to extend the transfer of Electronic Travel Authorization System fees from the Travel Promotion Fund to the Corporation for Travel Promotion (Brand USA) through fiscal year 2027.
S. 2113 – A bill to protect the health and safety of children in immigration detention, and for other purposes.
SEN. JACKY ROSEN
Legislation sponsored:
S. 2154 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Defense to carry out a program to enhance the preparation of students in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps for careers in computer science and cybersecurity, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 2179 – A bill to amend the Older Americans Act of 1965 to provide social service agencies with the resources to provide services to meet the urgent needs of Holocaust survivors to age in place with dignity, comfort, security, and quality of life.
S. 2133 – A bill to establish an interagency working group for coordination and development of Federal research protection, and for other purposes.
S. 2131 – A bill to amend the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 to increase access to capital for small business concerns that are manufacturers.
S. 2113 – A bill to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, J. Christopher Stevens, and Sean Smith, in recognition of their contributions to the Nation.
REP. DINA TITUS
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 3851 – To extend funding for Brand USA through fiscal year 2027, and for other purposes.
H.R. 3783 – To amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.
REP. MARK AMODEI
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 3794 – To promote the development of renewable energy on public lands, and for other purposes.
REP. SUSIE LEE
Legislation sponsored:
H.R. 3810 – To modify the penalties for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1993.
H.R. 3761 – To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit institutions of higher education from denying students access to transcripts because of loan default.
REP. STEVEN HORSFORD
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 3778 – To amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize certain grants (for youth suicide early intervention and prevention strategies) to be used for school personnel in elementary and secondary schools and students in secondary schools to receive student suicide awareness and prevention training, and for other purposes.

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