Indy DC Download: House passes $760 billion infrastructure package, creates Jan. 6 committee and votes to oust confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol
The House approved a $760 billion transportation and water infrastructure package, voted to create an ad hoc Democrat-led committee to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 insurrection and adopted a measure to remove all publicly-displayed confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
The infrastructure bill included $54.5 million requested by Nevada's House members for 11 state projects. The legislation included 1,473 earmarks, costing almost $5.7 billion.
“There's a lot in there for the state,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which crafted the package and approved it last month.
“I'm pleased, because I was able to serve on that committee and be sure that Nevada has a seat at the table,” Titus, who represents Las Vegas, continued. “We need infrastructure to bring people to Nevada and so that they can move around once they get there and for the 2 million people who live in Southern Nevada.”
The measure initially cost $715 billion, but amendments added on the House floor boosted the price tag.
Most of the votes in the House divided the state’s congressional delegation along party lines.
But all members voted for the confederate statue-removal bill. They also all voted for a group of bills that included the repeal of two authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF): the 1991 first Gulf War (AUMF) and the Cold War-era military 1957 AUMF for the Middle East.
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the state’s only congressional Republican, voted for a similar confederate-statues bill last year.
One of the items of confederate iconography that would be removed under the measure is a bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney. He authored the Dred Scott decision, which stated that African Americans were not citizens of the nation where they lived and did not have rights under the Constitution.
“It’s a symbol that is incompatible with the overall symbol of this building,” Amodei said off of the House floor Thursday.
The Taney bust, which sits in the Old Senate Chamber, would be replaced with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall.
With regard to the AUMFs, Amodei said the older authorizations were dated and unnecessary, which is why the repeal bills were passed under suspension of the rules, an expedited process reserved for noncontroversial legislation requiring a two-thirds vote to pass.
That contrasts with the 2002 Iraq War AUMF. The House last month repealed that authorization on a 269 to 161 vote, with 49 Republicans voting with Democrats. Amodei voted against the measure and cited a desire to maintain “discretion” for the president to act to protect the nation. The Senate still needs to approve the repeal.
Votes in the House came as the Senate was not in session for the July 4th holiday. Both chambers are off next week.
The House passed a Democrat-drafted infrastructure bill, known as the INVEST in America Act, on a 221 to 202 vote.
Titus said that the House measure would likely be part of future talks with the Senate. Once the upper chamber finishes turning its $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure framework into legislative text, the Senate could begin negotiations with the House and broker a bipartisan compromise that could pass both chambers.
But first, Democrats are focused on passing a budget bill by the end of July. The budget would give instructions to various committees to draft pieces of a broader infrastructure package, including child care, affordable housing and other parts of the Democrats’ agenda, that Republicans have said they would not support. That measure would be passed using reconciliation, which would allow the Senate Democratic majority to avoid a filibuster and pass a bill with just Democratic votes.
All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted for the infrastructure bill. Only two Republicans voted with all Democrats for the measure. Amodei opposed it over a concern that it could encourage Democrats to pass their reconciliation package.
“The problem is, just as we sit here at the end of June, it sounds like it’s ‘hey, we're going for broke on everything for our agenda,’” Amodei said.
Amodei acknowledged, though, that the bill includes the $21 million he requested for five projects in his district.
Those projects include $6 million for the Arlington Avenue bridge over the Truckee River in Reno. That bridge was among a list of 24 in his district deemed to be in poor condition by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) most recent “Bridge Report.”
The measure also includes the $20 million Titus sought for four projects, including $7 million for the Charleston Boulevard underpass in Las Vegas, which is prone to flooding.
Titus said the bill would help improve Interstate 15 between Las Vegas and California and would help finish the Arizona piece of Interstate 11 to better connect Las Vegas and Phoenix. The two remain the largest cities in the nation not joined by an interstate highway.
The package also would help build a privately-financed high-speed rail line along I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. A provision secured by Titus would open up the Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion (PRIME) grant program to privately funded higher-speed intercity passenger rail carriers if they apply in partnership with eligible governmental entities.
Horsford secured $13.5 million for two projects in the bill. Most of the funding—$12 million—was for retrofitting street lights in North Las Vegas with energy-efficient LED bulbs.
While Rep. Susie Lee did not request funds for transportation, the House did approve a climate change-related amendment she offered — on a 220 to 200 vote. The provision would require that any wastewater infrastructure funded using the Clean Water State Revolving Fund or other Clean Water Act grant programs undergo a climate resiliency assessment.
“More than 80 percent of the West is under some degree of drought and in my district Lake Mead sits at the lowest level on record,” Lee said on the House floor.
“My amendment will ensure that future wastewater infrastructure is designed and constructed to withstand future impacts of climate change,” Lee said, including drought, rising sea levels and more intense hurricane seasons.
The bill would provide $117 billion for drinking water infrastructure and $56 billion for wastewater infrastructure.
Jan. 6 Insurrection and other votes
The House voted 222 to 190, with only two Republicans joining all Democrats, to create a Democrat-controlled select committee to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the security needs of the Capitol complex.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Thursday named eight of the 13 members of the panel, which included Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), one of only two Republicans who have been outspoken critics of former President Donald Trump’s role in the riot.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), leader of House Republicans, said he was surprised that Cheney had agreed to join the panel. McCarthy, who has not said whether he would name the five remaining members, denied reports that he had threatened to remove any GOP member from their committee assignments if they accepted a role on the Democrats’ Jan. 6 panel. Pelosi has a veto over McCarthy’s picks.
Cheney told reporters later that she has not, as yet, been removed from any committees. The Wyoming Republican’s appointment comes after the House GOP voted in May to remove her as chair of the House Republican conference, the third-highest position in House GOP leadership, over her criticism of Trump.
House Republicans leaders, and Amodei, want Trump’s help to win back the majority in next year’s election and Cheney’s criticism made that more difficult.
Amodei voted against creating the special panel. He also voted against creating an independent commission in May. He argued that both panels, especially one controlled by eight Democratically-appointed members, would be used to generate political ammunition against Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterms.
“If you had any doubt what the objective was a month ago, this should clear up all that,” Amodei said.
“It's flat out ‘we got the majority, oh, by the way, we have approval authority over who you appoint,’” Amodei continued. “I mean, come on.”
Panel chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who serves as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that the Jan. 6 committee has a quorum without the GOP-appointed members and would not wait very long for McCarthy to act.
The House also approved the IG Independence and Empowerment Act, which would make it harder to remove inspectors general (IG). IGs are the independent watchdogs that police federal agencies. The bill was approved 221 to 182. All Democrats backed the bill along with three Republicans.
“In six short weeks, President Trump fired or sidelined four IGs and acting IGs who were simply doing their jobs,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said during debate on the House floor.
“President Trump’s actions struck at the heart of why we have IGs, to provide independent oversight and a check on executive branch waste, fraud and abuse,” Maloney continued.
Amodei voted against the bill because he doesn’t want to empower unelected officials at the expense of the president, an elected official who has to answer to voters.
“Don't basically make unelected people more powerful than the electeds,” Amodei said.
In her first year on the Appropriations Committee, Lee secured $1 million in a bill approved by the committee to help equip a workforce training center in Henderson affiliated with the College of Southern Nevada.
“This past year showed more clearly than ever that we need to do everything we can to diversify our economy, and this funding bill passed today will help us do just that by funding the creation of the Henderson Workforce Training Center and expanding access to capital for our local businesses,” Lee said.
Lee asked for $2 million for the project as part of the newly reestablished earmark program, known as member designated projects.
The measure, known as the Financial Services and General Government funding bill, would provide a total of $29.1 billion, an increase of $4.8 billion over the previous year. Among the agencies funded by the bill, the Treasury Department would receive $15.4 billion, $1.9 more than last year.
Lee also helped get $1 million to upgrade systems at the Boulder City Wastewater Treatment Plant as part of the $43.4 billion Department of Interior (DOI) and related agencies bill.
Lee spearheaded a letter signed by 16 other members—including all of the state’s House members—to President Joe Biden calling for action to help mitigate the drought currently plaguing Western states.
“We urge you to engage with Western lawmakers and stakeholders to identify and implement timely, bipartisan solutions to this crisis,” the letter said. “This issue cannot wait. In the face of climate change’s threats, we must become more resilient to drought and plan for the water supply we will likely have moving forward.”
The letter came as Gov. Steve Sisolak and a group of six other Western state governors participated virtually Wednesday in a White House event to discuss the worsening wildfire season.
“The State of Nevada remains committed to taking immediate action in order to protect our communities, improve emergency preparedness, and address this growing threat,” Sisolak tweeted.
Biden said that drought and record heat spurred by climate change is gripping the West, exacerbating the wildfire season.
“The threat of western wildfires this year is as severe as it's ever been,” Biden said.
Biden announced that federal firefighters would be eligible for retention incentives and get bonuses to raise their pay to $15 from $13 an hour for this year. The White House will work with Congress on a more long-term increase.
"We can't cut corners when it comes to managing our wildfires or supporting our firefighters," Biden said.
Lastly, Nevada had the highest GDP growth of all 50 states and D.C. in the first quarter of the year, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Spurred by a 2.34 percent increase in the accommodation and food services sector, Nevada’s gross domestic product rose by 10.9 percent in the first three months of the year.
Sisolak said that the state must focus on increasing vaccinations to keep the momentum going,
“In order to ensure we continue down a successful path, we must remain focused on vaccinating our residents, putting people back to work, diversifying our economy, and ensuring that Nevada’s recovery reaches every individual and family,” he said in a release.
The pandemic hit the state's tourist and entertainment-focused economy hard and, for several months in 2020, had the worst unemployment rate in the nation. But as the state has re-opened with the prevalence of the COVID-19 vaccines, tourists have started to return. The state has also received billions in federal aid, including $4 billion from the most recent package, known as the American Rescue Plan, enacted in March.
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.
REP. DINA TITUS
H.R. 4291 – To prohibit certain practices relating to certain commodity promotion programs, to require greater transparency by those programs, and for other purposes.
H.R. 4311 – To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for coverage of dental, vision, and hearing care under the Medicare program.
H.R. 4306 – To expand employment opportunities for spouses of Foreign Service officers, and for other purposes.
H.R. 4225 – To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to prohibit the distribution of 3D printer plans for the printing of firearms, and for other purposes.
H.R. 4220 – To amend the National and Community Service Act of 1990 to establish a National Climate Service Corps to help communities withstand and respond to changes in the Earth's climate with respect to natural disasters, and for other purposes.
REP. MARK AMODEI
H.R. 4300 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to make free National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes available to members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.
REP. SUSIE LEE
H.R. 4341 – To provide support with respect to the prevention of, treatment for, and recovery from, substance use disorder.