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

The Senate approved water infrastructure legislation last week, and the GOP defeated a Democratic resolution designed to target vulnerable Republicans like Sen. Dean Heller on the use of short term health care plans, which do not have protections for pre-existing conditions.

The Senate also confirmed more nominations, including 15 judges and two nominees to the Department of Justice. The votes, which took place Thursday, were the last for the Senate before the election, which went on recess until Nov. 13. The House has been on recess since late last month and is also set to return Nov. 13.

Heller backed the nominations, while Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto opposed them.

The votes came just after the highly contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last week. To date, the Senate has confirmed 29 appellate court judges, a record number for the first two years of a president’s term in office. The feat will be part of the legacy of President Donald Trump and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell because of the lasting impact on the nation as a result of the rulings the judges will issue during their time on the bench.

Prior to taking up the judges, Senate Democrats sought to push Heller and other Republicans to vote with them or give Democrats campaign fodder by forcing a vote on a resolution that would repeal a Trump administration rule which expands the ability of insurers to sell short-term plans not subject to Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage requirements.

But Heller voted with most Republicans to defeat the resolution. He is in a tight race against Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who quickly called Heller out as casting “a deciding vote” against overturning the rule.

“In failing to pass this resolution to restore protections against junk plans, the United States Senate has done a profound disservice to families and communities all across the country,” Cortez Masto, who was a co-sponsor of the resolution, said in a speech after its defeat.” I will continue fighting to restore protections against junk plans.”

Short-term plans don’t have to cover essential health benefits, such as maternity care, prescription drugs, mental-health services or preventive care. The plans do not have to accept people with pre-existing conditions, the most popular requirement of the health law. The Trump administration rule — which extended the length of short-term plans from no more than three-months to up to a year, with the ability to renew plans for up to three years — went into effect recently.

Senate Democrats see the plans as a major issue for their base in the midterm elections and forced a vote as a means to get Republicans to go on the record. The tactic is designed get their voters out on Election Day, which is less than a month away, to support their candidates against Republicans who have opposed the ACA.

But Republicans dismissed the criticism and argued that the rule would create more health-care options for low-income people who don’t need all the care required in plans that conform to ACA, also known as Obamacare, requirements.

The Senate also approved a bill related to the nation’s water infrastructure, which included a provision authorizing $181 million to help protect against flooding around the Truckee Meadows region in Northern Nevada. Both Heller and Cortez Masto supported the bill.

The bill now heads to President Donald Trump to sign into law, possibly before the end of the week. The House approved the bill in September, with the support of the entire Nevada House delegation. The legislation ensures that the funds can be appropriated in future spending bills for Truckee River Flood Management Authority, which is responsible for oversight and implementation of the Truckee River Flood Management Project, a plan designed to control flooding and manage floodplains.

Cortez Masto and Heller were also busy off the Senate floor last week. She helped spearhead a letter from 22 Senate Democrats that was sent to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging her to withdraw the agency’s so-called “public charge” rule, which would make it more difficult for legal immigrants to obtain permanent residency if they have used public assistance programs like food stamps or Medicaid.

“If this rule goes into effect, hardworking families would try to make ends meet with less – hurting children – for no other reason than to advance this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda,” the letter said.

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus noted that Friday was the first day that DHS was taking comments on the rule. “I have voiced my strong opposition to this terrible proposal before & I urge you to join me by commenting at:,” she said on Twitter.

Heller signed onto a letter with a bipartisan group of 13 other senators to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma requesting that the agencies prioritize developing strategies to reduce maternal mortality rates, including for pregnant women and mothers enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The letter also asked six questions, including “Since 2000, what economic, social, and health policy factors may have contributed to the increase in maternal mortality rates?” The letter asked for a response by Nov. 1.

Also last week, Republican Sen. John Barrasso, of Wyoming, who is the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced legislation that would repeal the $7,500 per electric vehicle tax credit—which has helped create demand for the cars and been important to carmakers like Tesla, a big employer in Nevada.

“The electric vehicle tax credit largely benefits the wealthiest Americans and costs taxpayers billions of dollars,” Barrasso said. “My legislation levels the playing field for all drivers across America.

Heller, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax issues, introduced a bill Thursday that would “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish a new phaseout of the credit for plug-in electric drive motor vehicles,” according to
His office declined to comment or provide any details.

Cortez Masto co-sponsored a bill last month that would extend the tax credit for 10 years. The legislation is the Senate version of a bill co-sponsored by Rosen.

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.

S. 3597 – A bill to strengthen protections for child trafficking victims testifying against human traffickers.
S. 3583 – A bill to direct the National Science Foundation to provide grants for research about STEM education approaches and the STEM-related workforce, and for other purposes.
S. 3582 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish a new phaseout of the credit for plug-in electric drive motor vehicles.
S. 3580 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a tax credit to taxpayers who provide reductions in rent to low-income senior renters, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 3584 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 in order to increase usage of the Federal student loan income-based repayment plan and improve repayment options for borrowers, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 7052 – To provide that no Federal funds may be used to carry out the proposed rule of the Department of Homeland Security entitled "Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds", and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 7031 – To provide for research to better understand the causes and consequences of sexual harassment affecting individuals in the scientific workforce and to examine policies to reduce the prevalence and negative impact of such harassment, and for other purposes.

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