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Indy DC Download: Before going on August recess, House passes defense bill with no Yucca funds

East front of the U.S. Capitol on July 13, 2017. (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

The House, just before going on its August recess, approved a compromise defense authorization bill, which included no money for putting nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, while the Senate inched closer to passing a spending package that included funds to help people prepare their tax forms.

Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, was quick to take credit for ensuring the lack of funding in the $716 billion defense bill for building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Rep. Jacky Rosen’s campaign said that, similar to Heller, she wrote to the leaders of the committees of jurisdiction urging them not to include the funding. Her congressional office also noted that she had language included in the House version that requires the Departments of Energy and Defense study the effects of the project on military activity in the Southern Nevada.

Heller is facing Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen in a contentious general election race.

The House passed the measure Thursday, 359 to 54, with all members of the state’s delegation voting for the bill. The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week.

Members of the delegation also raised concerns about the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promptly reuniting children with their parents, who under the former White House policy of prosecuting those who illegally cross the border, had been separated. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who met with Nielsen Wednesday along with other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, that the agency was on track to meet the court-ordered deadline of Thursday to reunite families.

But Masto and Kihuen were skeptical that the deadline would be met, in part because 463 parents had been deported without their kids. “I know these parents had no counsel, had a barrier with the language,” Cortez Masto said after the meeting. “They thought, I am sure, that they were going to be reunited with their children.”

During a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Heller expressed concern that detainees who have been separated from their children were being held in Southern Nevada. The Nevada Independent learned of one parent held in custody, though there may be more. That detainee had been held in the Henderson Detention Center, which has a contract to house Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees. He has since been reunited with his 5-year-old daughter in Texas.

Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, voted in favor of legislation that provided $51.4 billion for DHS. The bill included $5 billion to construct a wall along the Southern border with Mexico and a provision that prohibits spending funds on deporting those participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Known as DACA, the program shields young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.

Health care was also on the agenda in the House last week, as Republicans look to deflect criticism of rising premiums ahead of the midterm elections. On Tuesday the chamber approved, 283 to 132, legislation that would repeal the medical device tax, which was imposed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to help offset the cost of the law, but was never implemented with Congress delaying the tax since its passage in 2010.

Rosen was one of 57 Democrats to vote for the bill, and the only Nevada Democrat to do so. She was also one of only 12 Democrats to vote for a GOP bill that would expand the use of health savings accounts, which allow people to save money, exempt from taxes, for health-care expenses.

"I have long been committed to working across the aisle to fix the Affordable Care Act, and that includes repealing the medical device tax which will promote medical innovation,” Rosen, a co-sponsor of the medical device tax repeal, said in a statement from her office.

Regarding the other bill she said, "Finding ways to lower health-care costs is one of my top priorities in Congress and the passage of this bill would help stave off premium increases. I will continue working on bipartisan solutions to make health-care coverage affordable for Nevada's working families.”

On Thursday, Rosen introduced resolution that would authorize the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives to intervene on behalf of the House to defend the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The resolution is co-sponsored by the leading Democrats on the committees of jurisdiction in addition to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has signaled that it would not defend the law in court.

Titus was also a co-sponsor of the bill repealing the medical device tax, but she voted against the measure, citing Republican efforts to derail the law, including the DOJ reluctance to defend the law. She also noted the section in the Republican tax reform law that included a provision repealing the portion of the ACA that required most individuals to sign up for health insurance or pay a fine. The provision, known as the individual mandate, was included in the tax law to offset its cost. It was a key component of the ACA that was designed to help keep premiums down by forcing healthy people into the system.

“I cannot in good conscience support this legislation now,” she said in a release, adding that she had originally supported it “as part of a good-faith effort to try and move forward on finding areas of compromise within our health care system.”

Meanwhile, in the Senate, an amendment sponsored by Heller and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown was added to a spending package that included $11.3 billion for the Internal Revenue Service.

The amendment, approved 98 to 1, would boost funding for the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance to $20 million, a $5 million increase. The program offers free tax help to people who earn $54,000 or less. During the 2016 income tax filing season, VITA programs nationwide filed more than 3.8 million federal income tax returns, according to a release from Heller’s office.

The Senate also confirmed Robert Wilkie to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday. Both Heller and Cortez Masto voted for the nominee.

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.

Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 3259 – A bill to increase the number of judgeships for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and certain district courts of the United States, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 3284 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to require certain tax-exempt organizations to include on annual returns the names and addresses of substantial contributors, and for other purposes.
S. 3280 – A bill to increase intergovernmental coordination to identify and combat human trafficking within Indian lands and of Indians.
S. 422 – Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017
S. 3255 – A bill to prohibit the President or a Federal agency from constructing, operating, or offering wholesale or retail services on broadband networks without authorization from Congress, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 6636 – To promote United States-Mongolia trade by authorizing duty-free treatment for certain imports from Mongolia, and for other purposes.
H.R. 6629 – To authorize the Attorney General to make grants to States and units of local government to implement statutes, rules, policies, or procedures to authorize courts to issue relinquishment orders with respect to individuals charged with or convicted of a crime of domestic violence, or subject to a domestic violence protective order, and for other purposes.
H.R. 6545 – To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices of prescription drugs furnished under part D of the Medicare program.
H.R. 6505 – To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices of prescription drugs furnished under part D of the Medicare program.
H.R. 6501 – To secure Federal access to scientific literature and other subscription services by requiring Federal agencies and legislative branch research arms to make recommendations on increasing agency library access to serials, and for other purposes.
H.R. 6495 – To direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to enter into a 10-year arrangement with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct and update biennially a study on the effects of State legalized marijuana programs, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 6510 – To establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 6545 – To reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 6578 – To amend section 6 of the Joint Resolution entitled "A Joint Resolution to approve the Covenant To Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America, and for other purposes".

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