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

No defense funds could be used to restart nuclear testing under the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) approved last week by the House. 

The House vote came despite a threat by President Donald Trump to veto the bill—which sets the Pentagon’s spending and policy priorities for the next fiscal year—over a provision that would require the Pentagon within one year to change the names of all military bases and infrastructure named for individuals who served in the Confederacy. 

The veto threat also noted that the White House wants the bill to include language to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) and Fallon Air Station. With regard to the NTTR, the Air Force has been eyeing expanding into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge north of Las Vegas. An amendment from Rep. Steven Horsford included in the House measure removed language that would have given the Air Force more control over a section of the refuge that it has access to.

The House measure contrasts with the Senate’s version of the NDAA, which the chamber also approved last week. The Senate NDAA included a provision authorizing $10 million for a nuclear test if deemed necessary by the White House.

The two bills are expected to be considered by a bicameral, bipartisan conference committee that would negotiate a compromise measure that can pass both the House and Senate, likely after the November election.

The House also approved a package of four appropriations bills, including the measure that sets the budget for the Interior Department (DOI), which helps oversee most of the more than 80 percent of Nevada that is federal land. 

Other bills approved by the House last week included a sweeping conservation measure, the Great American Outdoors Act, which would ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) receives $900 million a year. The LWCF uses money from offshore oil and gas leasing for public-lands conservation. All of the state’s House members voted for the measure. Rep. Susie Lee spoke on the floor in favor of the legislation.

The bill, approved by the Senate last month, would also provide $1.9 billion a year for five years for deferred maintenance at the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education. The legislation now goes to Trump for his signature. 

Pandemic relief

Last week also saw the expiration of an additional $600 a week for those receiving unemployment insurance as Congress was in the early stages of talks on the next pandemic relief bill.

Concerned about the growing deficit and whether the payment disincentivizes people who make more from unemployment insurance than their job from going back to work, Republicans and the White House want to reduce the $600 payment, which expired Saturday. 

Rep. Mark Amodei, the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, said Friday that the payment should be on a sliding scale. “Six hundred dollars may be good for New York,” Amodei said, adding that it was too much for Nevada’s labor market.

Amodei said he has been pushing his leadership to include language that would allow nonprofits, other than those listed as 501c3 organizations, which are typically charities, to receive loans under the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program. 

“It's a big deal in Nevada for chambers of commerce that were not eligible under the last” relief package, Amodei said. 

But it’s not clear by exactly how much the payment would decrease. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that one possibility would be to cut the benefit to an average of $200 a week. It would be more in some places and less in others with the idea being that it would amount to 70 percent of workers' pre-pandemic salary. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hoped to release the GOP plan Thursday but instead delayed the unveiling until Monday to continue talks with the White House. 

But with a growing number of people out of work as states again take steps to fight the current wave of infections, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that she wants to continue the $600 per week benefit. 

The current impasse indicates that it may take some time to get a deal that can pass both the Democratic-run House and the Republican-led Senate. The House passed a $3 trillion package, the HEROES Act, in May. 

Mnuchin and Trump also said Thursday that the package would not include a payroll tax cut, which Trump had pushed for, but received little support among Republicans and Democrats. 

NDAA

The House approved the NDAA on a 295 to 195 vote with 81 Republicans opposing the bill, including Amodei.

Amodei said one of the issues he had with the bill was that it did not include any language on expanding Fallon Air Station, which is in his district. 

He noted that a lot of work has been done to come to an agreement between the counties, the Navy and tribal groups. “Quite frankly, everybody involved in the bill, I think, is pretty deserving,” Amodei said. “That's the Navy for training. That's the native tribes for their concerns, two of three of which are pretty much across the finish line.”

 “The Fallon Paiute Shoshone, there’s a little more work to be done, but that's progressing,” he continued.

He characterized local negotiations as being “on the five-yard line” and said he hopes that something can be included in the final package during conference talks.  

Democratic Reps Dina Titus, Horsford and Lee all welcomed passage of the legislation.

The funding prohibition on nuclear testing is identical to legislation introduced by Titus earlier in July. She appeared before the House Rules Committee recently to urge them to allow the testing prohibition to be offered as an amendment to the NDAA. The amendment was introduced by Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah. Titus was a cosponsor as were Horsford and Lee.

“This legislation is a major victory for Nevadans,” Titus said in a release. “I am especially pleased that the NDAA includes language I wrote to prevent the Trump Administration from conducting an explosive nuclear weapons test. We simply cannot allow this Administration to restart a global arms race and directly threaten Nevadans’ health.”

Horsford touted the adoption of his amendment—packaged with dozens of other changes and approved by voice vote—that scrapped language added by the House Armed Services Committee that would have given the Air Force more control over about 840,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. His amendment kept the refuge under the ultimate jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Desert National Wildlife Refuge has been a vital sanctuary for the Nevada state animal, the Bighorn sheep, and other precious wildlife,” Horsford said. “I am pleased to see the inclusion of Nevada’s interests in this legislation and I will continue to uplift the voices of our state.” 

The Senate passed its NDAA bill 86 to 14 with Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen both voting for the measure. 

Cortez Masto highlighted language included in the measure she helped secure that would help find a consensus on the proposed expansions of the Fallon Naval Air Station and Nevada Test and Training Range, which have met with resistance from local tribes and environmental groups.

“These collaborations will help ensure we are modernizing our military assets in Nevada while respecting the needs of our local tribes and other public land users,” Cortez Masto said in a release. 

Rosen, in a statement on the measure, lauded $29 million authorized for military construction projects for Fallon Naval Air Station and $16 million for new military construction projects at the Nevada National Security Site. She also highlighted amendments she helped secure in the bill, including a provision to allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in all Small Business Administration loan programs. Rosen has been pressing the SBA to make it easier for child care providers to access pandemic relief. 

Both bills authorized about $740 billion for the next fiscal year and included a 3 percent pay raise for service members. Both also include a provision on removing confederate symbols. But only the House measure has been threatened with a possible veto. 

The House bill would require the Department of Defense to identify, report on a process, and change the names of all military bases and infrastructure named for individuals who served in the Confederacy within one year. 

The Senate bill would establish a commission to study and provide recommendations on the removal bases and other facilities that honor or commemorate the Confederacy. A plan would be implemented three years after enactment.

Passage of the measures also came the same week that the House approved legislation to remove Confederate statues from public areas. That bill was approved 305 to 115, with all members of the delegation supporting it.

Appropriations

The House approved the first four spending bills of the fiscal 2021 appropriations cycle on a 224 to 189 vote, including $13.83 billion DOI, an increase of $304 million over the current level and $1.8 billion more than Trump’s budget request.

All of the state’ House Democrats supported the bills, but no Republicans voted for the package. 

Amodei said he opposed the bill over concerns about spending as the country increases the deficit to fight the coronavirus. He also added his vote was intended to empower Republicans in discussion with the Senate later this year to hammer out a final spending package. 

Within the DOI, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 67 percent of Nevada—roughly 48 million acres—would receive $1.3 billion, which is $28 million less than the amount provided in the previous year but $107 million above the president's budget request. That $1.3 billion includes $72 million for sage-grouse conservation and $49 million for the National Landscape Conservation System.

The package included $104.8 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was a $12.3 billion increase over the fiscal 2020 level and $35 million below Trump's budget request.

The State Department, the United States Agency for International Development, and other international programs and activities would get a total of $65.87 billion, which is nearly $8.5 billion more than fiscal 2020 and $21.2 billion over Trump’s request. 

Federal farm programs would be funded at $23.98 billion in fiscal 2021, an increase of $487 million above the 2020 enacted level.

Miscellany

Rosen last week announced her opposition to the nomination of William Pendley to head the BLM. Pendley is a conservative western lawyer who has pushed to open federal land to private development, including oil and gas drilling. He is also known for sympathizing with Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy.

Trump announced his intention to nominate Pendley in June, but he has been acting BLM chief for nearly a year, well beyond the 210-day limit on acting appointments under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Pendley’s appointment is being challenged in court. 

In a letter to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Rosen and eight other Western Democrats urged them to quickly hold a hearing on Pendley’s nomination. They also argued against his confirmation. 

“[W]e do not believe Mr. Pendley is fit to oversee the agency,” the letter said. “His advocacy for selling off our public lands flies in the face of the agency's role in managing more than 245 million acres of public lands for the American public's benefit. He spent much of his career working against the interests of local communities who fought to protect public lands from development.”

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, Cortez Masto joined her Democratic colleagues in voting against the nomination of Judy Shelton, a conservative economist who has espoused returning to the gold standard, to fill a spot on the Federal Reserve board of governors. 

“During one of the most profound economic crises in our history, we need a steady, independent nominee for the Federal Reserve Board,’ Cortez Masto said in a statement after the vote. “Judy Shelton holds views far outside the economic mainstream that would threaten our economic recovery at a perilous time for too many Nevadans.” 

Democrats have been critical of her advocacy to peg the value of the dollar to a specific amount of gold, which would cripple a key tool of the Federal Reserve: to increase the money supply and juice the economy when needed. Linking the dollar to gold, which is also dismissed by mainstream economists, would limit the amount of money in circulation to how much gold reserves are held by the government.    

Cortez Masto also raised concern about Shelton’s ability to be independent of the White House. Shelton was an advisor to Trump’s 2016 campaign and could be tapped to lead the Fed if she’s confirmed and the president wins re-election. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s term ends in 2022.

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 sponsored:

S. 4299 – A bill to provide grants for tourism and events support and promotion in areas affected by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4309 – A bill to amend the Community Services Block Grant Act to clarify that the maximum allotment provision does not apply to supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2020.

S. 4283 – A bill to provide funding for States to improve their unemployment insurance technology systems, and for other purposes.

S. 4263 – A bill to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to revise the criteria for determining which States and political subdivisions are subject to section 4 of the Act, and for other purposes.

S. 4262 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop an action plan, make targeted grants, and develop public awareness campaigns with respect to COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations.

S. 4252 – A bill to provide funding for States to improve their unemployment compensation programs, and for other purposes.

S. 4246 – A bill to provide that the rules entitled "Religious Exemptions and Accommodations for Coverage of Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act" and "Moral Exemptions and Accommodations for Coverage of Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act" shall have no force or effect, and for other purposes.

S. 4220 – A bill to limit the use of Federal law enforcement officers for crowd control, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. 4227 – A bill to improve access to economic injury disaster loans and emergency advances under the CARES Act, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4309 – A bill to amend the Community Services Block Grant Act to clarify that the maximum allotment provision does not apply to supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2020.

S. 4283 – A bill to provide funding for States to improve their unemployment insurance technology systems, and for other purposes.

S. 4263 – A bill to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to revise the criteria for determining which States and political subdivisions are subject to section 4 of the Act, and for other purposes.

S. 4262 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop an action plan, make targeted grants, and develop public awareness campaigns with respect to COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations.

S. 4246 – A bill to provide that the rules entitled "Religious Exemptions and Accommodations for Coverage of Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act" and "Moral Exemptions and Accommodations for Coverage of Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act" shall have no force or effect, and for other purposes.

S. 4220 – A bill to limit the use of Federal law enforcement officers for crowd control, and for other purposes.

S. 4216 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct studies and report to Congress on actions taken to expand access to telehealth services under the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children's Health Insurance programs during the COVID-19 emergency.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 7692 – To provide a grant program for elementary schools, secondary schools, and institutions of higher education to help offset costs associated with complying with guidelines, recommendations, and other public health communications issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or a State, Indian Tribe, Tribal organization, or locality related to mitigating the hazards presented by COVID-19.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7724 – To prohibit the use of Federal funds to implement, administer, or enforce the Presidential Memorandum on Excluding Illegal Aliens From the Apportionment Base Following the 2020 Census, issued on July 21, 2020.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7762 – To provide continued support for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for other purposes.

H.R. 7674 – To require the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a standardized method for State, Tribal, and local health departments to report to the Centers with respect to COVID-19, and for other purposes.

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