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Indy DC Download: Amodei explains votes against baby formula shortage, gas price gouging bills

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressGovernment
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Good morning, and welcome to the Indy DC Download newsletter, a weekly look at what's going on in the nation's capital as it relates to Nevada.

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Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), Nevada’s sole GOP House member, opposed a Democrat-drafted measure that would provide $28 million to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to shore up safeguards in detecting substandard infant formula and helping avert future shortages.

The House approved the bill on a 231 to 192 vote, with only 12 Republicans voting in favor with all Democrats. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it has little chance of winning the 10 GOP votes needed to clear the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. 

In an interview Thursday, Amodei said the measure has more to do with sending a political message to Democratic base voters than legislating to solve a problem. The spending also comes on top of trillions spent under the guise of stopping the spread of COVID-19, which he has argued was poorly targeted and wasteful.

“It’s a backdoor into more COVID [spending] or it’s a backdoor into funding something that won’t pass the scrutiny test,” Amodei said.

While he was skeptical that addressing the formula shortage requires more federal spending, he said that rules at the FDA may need to be changed to help speed up relief. 

“Congress didn't create that problem,” Amodei said. “And I'm not picking on the administration because they’re Democrats. But it's like, ‘Hey, you guys administer all this stuff.’”

“This isn't something that needs more money, it needs you people to run the FDA in some sort of a responsive manner,” Amodei continued.

He supported separate legislation, passed 414-9, that would allow those participating in the FDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — commonly known as WIC — to purchase infant formula from more than one manufacturer. The Senate approved the measure Thursday by unanimous consent. 

WIC, which purchases about half of all baby formula sold in the U.S., is available to low-income families with children up to five years old. But each state contracts with a single formula manufacturer and WIC participants are limited to buying from that provider.

The shortage stems from the February shuttering of a factory in Michigan owned by Abbott Nutrition, the nation's largest baby formula manufacturer. The move followed concerns about bacterial contamination at Abbott's Sturgis, Michigan, facility after four infants fell ill and two died. The plant could reopen next week, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told the Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who authored the legislation providing $28 million to the FDA, argued the funds would help inspect formula shipments from overseas. She has also been critical of the FDA for not acting sooner.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) all signed on to letters to President Joe Biden urging him to make the issue a priority.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Titus said her office has received many calls about the baby formula shortage. She added that it is a situation crying out for an all-of-government solution.

“It’s so symbolic of what's needed,” Titus said. “When you can't feed babies, it doesn’t get any worse than that.”

On Wednesday, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure that manufacturers are first to acquire the necessary ingredients to make formula. Biden also will allow the use of Department of Defense-contracted commercial aircraft to pick up overseas infant formula to restock the nation's shelves.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Monday seeking answers to questions regarding the shortage. Their questions included whether the agency has the tools to anticipate supply-chain-related shortages of formula and other difficult-to-substitute nutritional supplements.

Gas prices and domestic terrorism

The House approved the price gouging measure on a 217 to 207 vote. The chamber passed the terrorism bill on a 222 to 203 vote, with only one GOP member, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) voted for the anti-terrorism legislation. No Republicans supported the price gouging bill. 

The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act would allow the president to issue an energy emergency declaration during which it would make it illegal to raise gasoline and home energy fuel prices in an “excessive or exploitative manner.” The measure also would give the Federal Trade Commission more tools to crack down on price gouging and prioritize enforcement of companies with sales of over $500 million a year. 

The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act would establish offices at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dedicated to investigating, preventing, and prosecuting domestic terrorism.

Approval of the terror bill came after a deadly shooting at a Buffalo, New York grocery store. None of the measures are expected to advance in the Senate due to a lack of GOP support.

Similar to the baby formula funding measure, Amodei opposed the bills over concerns that the bills were meant to push the Democrats’ agenda rather than find bipartisan solutions.

“Anybody who’s been around knows that titles have everything to do with marketing and little to do with content,” Amodei said. “The challenge with a lot of this stuff and the problems has been that they're all loaded with agenda stuff.” 

Spanish misinformation in social media

Cortez Masto joined 22 of her House and Senate colleagues in sending letters to the heads of WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal to express concerns about the rise of Spanish-language misinformation and disinformation targeted at Latino communities.

Misinformation, or simply false information, like a rumor, is typically differentiated from disinformation, which is purposefully deceptive.

The letters raise concerns about how easily the apps can spread misinformation and disinformation to large groups without indication that the information is suspect. In the case of Telegram, the app allows for groups of up to 200,000 users. WhatsApp limits groups to 256 users and Signal limits groups to 1,000 users.

“By increasing access to reliable fact-checking across languages, hiring and adequately investing in staff who have the necessary cultural context, and implementing other tools to slow the spread of viral mis/disinformation, Telegram can address this problem without compromising the integrity of private encrypted communication,” one letter said.

The lawmakers asked the companies to outline what steps, if any, they are taking to prevent or address the spread of Spanish-language misinformation and/or disinformation. They hope to hear back from the companies by June 13. 

The questions include whether Telegram and Signal can indicate when a link has been forwarded many times before reaching them, so users can better detect the spread of misinformation. They also asked if there is a limit on forwarding links.

WhatsApp is particularly popular with Spanish speakers. More than half of the Latino population in the United States uses the app, compared to less than one-fifth for all other non-Spanish-speaking populations. 

United against foreign testing requirement 

The Nevada congressional delegation wrote a letter urging the Biden administration to end a COVID-19 testing requirement for fully-vaccinated foreign travelers. Currently, travelers from other countries must show proof of a negative COVID test to enter the U.S, regardless of vaccine status.

Amodei pointed to other countries that have relaxed similar restrictions and the fact that Nevada relies on foreign and domestic travelers to power its travel and leisure-based economy.

“I mean, when you look at other people around the world and especially when you're from Nevada, where  international travel is important as well as domestic, it's like ‘Hey, we don't want to be ignorant of anybody's health protection, but I don't think you need to do this to make it part of that.’”

The U.S. Travel Association said that the inbound pre-departure testing requirement is having a devastating impact on travelers' likelihood of visiting the United States this summer, and remains a barrier to economic recovery. 

Restaurants aid fails

A bill to provide $40 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. The measure failed 52 to 43.

Cortez Masto voted for the measure, but Rosen missed the vote to attend her daughter's graduation from law school. Her office said Rosen would have voted for the measure, but the bill was still below the 60 vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.

The House passed a similar bill last month. Created under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) in 2021 to help restaurants recover from the pandemic-related lockdowns, the restaurant fund initially provided $28.6 billion. Still, a large number of applicants meant that amount was quickly tapped.

About 177,000 eligible restaurants applied for grants but did not receive them due to a lack of funding.

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.4287 – A bill to permit COPS grants to be used for the purpose of increasing the compensation and hiring of law enforcement officer, and for other purposes.

S.4274 –A bill to improve the Federal effort to reduce wildland fire risks, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.4234 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to make improvements to the redistribution of residency slots under the Medicare program after a hospital closes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.4275 – A bill to authorize the Secretary of Education to award grants to eligible entities to carry out educational programs that include the history of peoples of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the setting and founding of America, the social, economic, and political environments that led to the development of discriminatory laws targeting Asians and Pacific Islanders and their relation to current events, and the impact and contributions of Asian Americans to the development and enhancement of American life, United States history, literature, the economy, politics, body of laws, and culture, and for other purposes.

S.4274 –A bill to improve the Federal effort to reduce wildland fire risks, and for other purposes.

S.4255 – A bill to authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 7789 – PAW Act

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7814 – To amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize grants to health care providers to enhance the physical and cyber security of their facilities, personnel, and patients.

H.R. 7792 – Water Data Act

H.R. 7791 – Access to Baby Formula Act of 2022

H.R. 7787 – HENRY Act

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7792 – Water Data Act

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7814 – To amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize grants to health care providers to enhance the physical and cyber security of their facilities, personnel, and patients.

H.R. 7791 – Access to Baby Formula Act of 2022

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