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Indy DC Download: House advances bill with Yucca funds, GOP immigration talks continue

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressEnergyImmigrationYucca Mountain
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Dark clouds over the U.S. Capitol building

Despite objections from members of the Nevada delegation, the House last week passed a spending package that included funding for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, and a bill to revoke $15 billion in unspent funds, including from the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The spending measure was approved Friday on a 235 to 179 vote with all of the state’s Democrats — Rep. Dina Titus, Rep. Jacky Rosen and Rep. Ruben Kihuen opposing the package and Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, supporting it.

The legislation included funding for the Department of Energy, which was provided with a total of $267.7 million to support the Yucca project, an increase of $100 million over what President Donald Trump requested in his fiscal 2019 budget. The package also included funding for congressional operations, military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Once again House Republicans push a partisan spending bill that attacks Nevada, underfunds our most vulnerable citizens, and cuts funding for clean energy development as gas prices are skyrocketing,” Titus said in a statement on opposing the package. “Republicans continue to push the failed ‘Yucca or Bust’ agenda wasting an additional $190 million dollars to advance the nuclear industry’s campaign of turning Nevada into the nation’s nuclear waste dumping ground.”

House Republican leaders, who control what amendments can be offered to legislation on the floor, allowed two of the eight Yucca-related proposals to be offered. Both amendments failed on voice votes. Their defeat was never in doubt, so Kihuen, the lead sponsor of the proposals, did not ask for roll call votes.

One amendment would cut $190 million of the Yucca funding from the package and the other would strike language that would prohibit the closure of Yucca Mountain.

“I routinely hear from my Republican colleagues on the need to reduce our deficit and debt,” said Kihuen in a speech on the House floor. “I fully agree with the sentiment. Congress should not waste another $190 million of taxpayer money on a project that will not come to fruition.”

Rosen also spoke on the floor reiterating that “like the vast majority of Nevadans, I firmly oppose any attempt to turn my state into the nation’s nuclear waste dump.”

News of House action on the spending package landed with a thud on the other side of the Capitol where Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, both reacted sharply.

“Just as the House has ramped up its efforts to turn Nevada into a nuclear waste dump, I’ve doubled down on my efforts to stop them at every turn,” Heller said in a release. “Under my watch in the U.S. Senate, Yucca Mountain is dead. Plain and simple.”

“Yucca Mountain is nothing but a hole in the ground with rusted equipment that has cost American taxpayers billions,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “I will take every procedural step necessary in the United States Senate to stop any attempt to revive Yucca Mountain.”

But not all Nevadans were disappointed with the House package. Nye County Commission Vice-Chairman Dan Schinhofen celebrated the bill that moved forward a project in his jurisdiction.

“Despite what some scaremongers have said, the funding will be used to restart the licensing process to determine if Yucca Mountain meets the safety standards,” he said in a release. “This process will give the State of Nevada a chance to prove its contention that the repository is unsafe. To repeat, while there is an overwhelming consensus by every reputable government and non-government funded scientist that the repository at Yucca Mountain can be built and operated safely, Congress is providing funding to allow the State of Nevada one more opportunity to make its case.”

The House also narrowly passed a White House-proposed bill Thursday that would take back $15 billion in unspent funds, including a $7.1 billion cut from CHIP. The measure passed 210 to 206 with all but Amodei opposing it. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the program would be unaffected since there is enough money in a contingency fund to finance CHIP through 2028. CBO also said that, if enacted, the entire $15 billion package would only save $1 billion over 10 years.

Titus chalked up House passage of the bill to GOP concerns over the deficit, which was exacerbated by Republican tax cuts enacted last year.

“The rescission package that passed on the House floor today is more smoke and mirrors by the Republicans who claim to be fiscally responsible while creating a $1.5 trillion deficit with their massive tax scam,” Titus said in a release.

On immigration, House GOP leaders continue to try to come up with a proposal that can win a majority of Republicans and be signed into law by the president. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida, said that proposals are being considered after House Republicans met for hours Thursday. He added that negotiations are “very delicate” and gave it a 50/50 chance of success. Curbelo and Amodei are among House Republicans who continue to hold out the threat of moving forward with a discharge petition, which is a process that would force a vote on, in this case, four different immigration proposals if a majority of members sign on. The petition is two Republicans short of the number needed to reach 218 members. Tuesday is a deadline for forcing a vote in June, but Curbelo downplayed the significance, noting that they could try again in July if nothing comes of the ongoing talks.

In the Senate, Heller introduced a bill Thursday that would remove the 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels imposed in January by Trump. The bill represents a rare split between Heller and the president after the Nevada Republican has backed Trump on immigration and repealing the Affordable Care Act. It also comes as more Republican senators appear to be rebelling against Trump’s trade agenda, though Senate GOP leaders are not likely to allow any of those proposals onto the floor.

The “bipartisan bill protects Nevadans’ jobs in this important sector by reversing the 30 percent tax on solar panels, a tariff that threatens jobs and has the potential to harm our economy,” Heller said in a release.

Also in the Senate, Cortez Masto co-sponsored a bill that would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from taking children from their parents at the border.

“Most of these families are fleeing extreme violence and come here because their lives are threatened. I urge my colleagues to act now and support this legislation,” she said in a release. “Congress cannot stand idly by while an overwhelming number of children stay in crowded detention facilities and their parents are left in the dark as to their whereabouts and wellbeing.”

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. DEAN HELLER
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 3022 – A bill to amend subchapter III of chapter 99 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States to repeal increases in duty and a tariff-rate quota on certain crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, and for other purposes.
SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 3036 – A bill to limit the separation of families at or near ports of entry.
S. 3032 – A bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marihuana, and for other purposes.
S. 3028 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide an income tax credit for eldercare expenses.
REP. DINA TITUS
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 6033 – To establish in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the Department of State a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Peoples, and for other purposes.
H.R. 6016 – To require the development of a bus operations safety risk reduction program, and for other purposes.

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