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East front of the U.S. Capitol. July 16, 2018. (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

In a flurry of activity ahead of the July 4th recess, the Democratic-run House approved legislation on health care and infrastructure even though neither is expected to be considered by the GOP-controlled Senate. 

The House votes came as the Senate approved, by unanimous consent Tuesday evening, a measure to extend the Paycheck Protection Program, a small business emergency lending program, through August 8. The bill would extend PPP for five weeks beyond its June 30 expiration date. The House passed the measure on Wednesday, also by unanimous consent. It now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The extension will allow the remaining funds, $130 billion of the $660 billion provided by Congress, to be lent out. 

Sen. Jacky Rosen, an original co-sponsor of the bill, said she was “relieved” that the Senate acted to approve the measure, but also called on the Senate to pass another pandemic relief package.

“While I am relieved that we took steps tonight to extend PPP for Nevada’s small businesses, I urge Senate leaders to bring a comprehensive, bipartisan COVID relief package to the floor that fully supports all of our small businesses in Nevada, including our tourism economy,” Rosen said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that the Senate will begin work on the next relief package in mid-July and expects passage before the August recess. The House passed a $3 trillion package, the HEROES Act, in May. 

The bills passed by the House last week were designed to draw a contrast with Republicans, particularly those in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has embraced the reputation of being “the Grim Reaper” overseeing a graveyard of legislation passed by the Democratic House only to die in the Republican Senate.

“I can't not support legislation that my constituents have asked me to push because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is more concerned with appointing federal judges than he is addressing the nation's health care issue in the middle of a public health pandemic,” Rep. Steven Horsford in an interview.

But Rep. Mark Amodei, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, said the Democrats are more interested in using the Democratic-drafted measures to generate campaign fodder than working to find bipartisan solutions.

“It's July 1 as we're talking, but clearly, it might as well be November 1,” Amodei said in an interview referring to the election, which is Nov. 3. 

Health care

The House passed its health care measure 234 to 179 with all of the state’s Democrats voting for the bill, entitled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act.

The bill came to the House floor after the White House filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting a lawsuit brought by 20 GOP state attorneys general that argued that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was invalidated after the law’s so-called individual mandate, which required the purchase of health insurance, was repealed as part of a GOP-authored tax reform package enacted in 2017.

Horsford and Rep. Susie Lee, who both campaigned in 2018 on improving access to health care, spoke on the House floor in support of the measure.

“This is legislation that we committed to bringing forward in 116th Congress,” Horsford said. “I said this both as a candidate and when I was first elected, we needed to lower America's health care cost, negotiate lower prescription drug prices, expand coverage and push hold-out states to adopt Medicaid expansion. Fortunately, in Nevada, we have it, but there are a lot of other states that don't.”

In her floor speech, Lee spoke of a constituent whose insulin costs increased 400 percent. 

“Medication costs, rising premiums, and junk insurance plans are forcing people to choose between lifesaving treatment and paying their bills,” Lee said. “No one in this great country should have to make that choice.”

The measure includes provisions designed to strengthen the ACA, such as expanding eligibility for an existing tax credit to help cover monthly insurance premiums. The bill also would expand eligibility for a subsidy designed to help cover out-of-pocket expenses from going to a doctor or being hospitalized. 

The proposal also included Democratic prescription drug legislation approved by the House in December that would overhaul drug pricing by mandating that Medicare directly negotiate the price of up to 250 prescription drugs, including insulin. Negotiation is banned under a 2003 law. The measure also would make the negotiated prices available to those with private insurance.

Amodei argued that the bill had no GOP input, citing a provision that would provide $100 million a year for the so-called navigator program, which assists people seeking to enroll in the insurance marketplace and other government-sponsored health plans.

Amodei argued that the navigator program is a step towards establishing a single-payer system. 

“It's no secret, now, the whole idea of that thing back in its beginning was to create a single-payer health care system,” he said. 

“I just think it’s bad policy,” Amodei continued, adding that most people in Nevada get their health insurance from private companies.

He added that the exchange fills “a niche” for coverage, but questioned the need for the navigator program. 

Infrastructure

The House also approved a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that includes funding for housing, school construction, water infrastructure, expansion of broadband services, health care and more.

Horsford praised the bill’s passage and said the measure is designed to help the nation recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, as opposed to four bills that have been enacted that were focused on aid and assistance. 

“It’s a $1.5 trillion bill, really to focus on our recovery and to begin focusing on how we create jobs, get good-paying jobs, not just in highways and roads and bridges, while that's important, but in Nevada for renewable energy,” Horsford said. 

Horsford, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, noted that he helped secure in the bill an extension of tax credits for geothermal and solar projects. The measure also included funding for drinking and wastewater infrastructure, which Horsford said was important for North Las Vegas. 

The bill also includes $130 billion in school infrastructure targeted at high-poverty schools, $100 billion to create or preserve 1.8 million affordable homes and $100 billion to promote competition for broadband internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities.

The package also would provide $500 billion for transportation infrastructure, including $319 billion for highway construction, $105 billion for transit and $60 billion for rail.

The transportation portion was drafted recently on a bipartisan basis by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. But the inclusion of another $1 trillion in Democratic-led initiatives and policies, which Amodei said smacked of the Green New Deal, soured him on the bill. 

The Green New Deal is a proposal backed by Democratic progressives, often lambasted by Republicans, that would seek to zero out greenhouse gas emissions and move the nation to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

(House Democrats last week released another climate change plan to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 88 percent from 2010 levels in 2050.)

Amodei said the transportation issues have historically been bipartisan, but the bill fell well short of that history.

“You’ve got Green New Deal stuff and stuff that was put in here that was basically not supported by the Republicans earlier in the week,” Amodei said of the provision apart from the transportation section. “So you've just furthered the divide. What the Congress is really becoming more and more about is who's a Democrat and who's a Republican and not solving the problems of the day.”

Republicans did manage to score a victory when their motion to recommit (MTR) was approved by the House. An MTR gives the minority a final attempt to amend legislation. The GOP MTR barred funds going to companies with ties to the Chinese government.

The MTR was approved on a 224 to 193 vote. Lee was among the 39 Democrats who voted in favor of the MTR. 

“My vote in favor of the motion to recommit on the Moving Forward Act was to stand up for the American values of fair trade and human rights, while protecting American taxpayer dollars and American jobs,” Lee said in a statement provided by her office.

Hearings

Members of the delegation took part in several hearings last week, including Rosen who questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on issues regarding the battle against COVID-19.

Rosen, at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Tuesday, asked what treatments have proved to be most effective, whether those who have had the virus develop antibodies that make them immune and what type of research would be best to fund given that the virus can affect various organs.

With regard to treatments, Fauci said that there are various trials ongoing but more time is needed to find effective treatments. “There will be therapies that we will be giving for treatment early on and some for prophylaxis,” he predicted of the types of treatment that will be available, possibly as soon as the fall.   

On antibodies, Fauci said that it is not clear at the moment whether they provide immunity, but that the issue will continue to be studied. “We will know in time, but it will take time to know it,” he said.

On research, Fauci noted that those who are infected with no effect on the organs do not get a high level of antibody response compared to those who develop issues with their kidneys, lungs, hearts or other organs. “People who get multi-system disease that gets triggered by the virus, those are the ones that unfortunately get more sick, but also the ones that make a more potent immune response,” Fauci said.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto questioned Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday on what the IRS is doing to make sure domestic violence survivors are receiving their $1,200 Economic Impact Payments.

Cortez Masto said that she has heard from domestic violence victims who have left the homes they shared with their abusers that the abusers kept their federal payment. Last month, she spearheaded a letter signed by 35 other Democrats and sent to Rettig urging him to take action to help survivors of domestic violence get their money.

Rettig said that he was in the process of responding to her letter and pledged to take steps to ensure the agency acts. 

“Every person at the Internal Revenue Service is very sympathetic, understanding and would like to assist any victim of domestic violence,” Rettig said. “It’s a priority and a focus for us.”

He also said that suggestions included in the letter—such as creating a dedicated phone line so victims can call to get help, creating a process with an online personal identification number and utilize existing prepaid cards tied to government benefits—“were quite helpful.” 

Miscellany

Horsford spoke at a Congressional Black Caucus press conference Thursday to call for enactment of the House policing reform bill recently passed by the House and other legislation to address systemic racism. 

He called for the passage of the American Family Act, which would increase the child tax credit to $3,000 per child for children over the age of six and would create a new $3,600 per-child credit for those younger than age six. The credit, which currently maxes out at $2,000, would also be fully refundable under the House bill, meaning that if the filer’s tax liability is less than the amount of the credit, that difference would be paid to the filer in the form of a refund. Under current law, only $1,400 of the $2,000 credit is refundable. The bill was included in the HEROES Act. 

“This is real, meaningful reform that would address systemic issues,” Horsford said at the press conference. “This is our job as members of the Congressional Black Caucus. My district is majority white. But I’m a black man raising three children, two of whom are young black boys. They and other constituents throughout my state are expecting me to dismantle systemic racism and I will do my part to do that along with my colleagues.”

After being pressured by Rep. Dina Titus, the Bureau of Land Management said it will begin the process for disbursing grants funded by the sale of Nevada’s public lands under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA).

“I’m pleased to announce that the Bureau of Land Management has committed to open new grants to improve Southern Nevada’s recreational parks, conservation efforts, and wildlife protection,” Titus said in a release. “The over $400 million in this fund will help stimulate Nevada’s recreation economy during this difficult time.”

SNPLMA is a program that designates which federal public lands BLM is allowed to sell to developers. Most of the proceeds go to conservation projects, with the rest going to the water authority and the state, including the state general education fund. 

Titus, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also commented on reports that Russia paid a bounty to the Taliban to target U.S. and other coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. 

“If the media reports are true, President Trump looked the other way while allowing Vladimir Putin to reward Taliban fighters for killing U.S. troops,” Titus said in a statement. “President Trump's claim of ignorance about this apparent intelligence raises serious questions about whether he is adequately informed about other possible threats to the American people. The Administration must immediately provide a full briefing to Congress on this situation.”

The White House has said that the president was not briefed on the matter because there was not a consensus among intelligence officials as to the situation.

Horsford’s office and Amodei said they are monitoring the story. Horsford’s congressional district includes Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases and Amodei’s includes Naval Air Station Fallon.

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. 4099 – A bill to require the approval of Congress before explosive nuclear testing may be resumed.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4141 – A bill to refinance Federal and private student loans, and for other purposes.

S. 4131 – A bill to make high-speed broadband internet service accessible and affordable to all Americans, and for other purposes.

S. 4108 – A bill to amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to increase Federal support to State Medicaid programs during economic downturns, and for other purposes.

S. 4098 – A bill to provide funding for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation Act, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4131 – A bill to make high-speed broadband internet service accessible and affordable to all Americans, and for other purposes.

S. 4116 – A bill to extend the authority for commitments for the paycheck protection program and separate amounts authorized for other loans under section 7(a) of the Small Business Act, and for other purposes.

S. 4112 – A bill to support education and child care during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and for other purposes.

S. 4108 – A bill to amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to increase Federal support to State Medicaid programs during economic downturns, and for other purposes.

S. 4099 – A bill to require the approval of Congress before explosive nuclear testing may be resumed.

S. 4098 – A bill to provide funding for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation Act, and for other purposes.

S. 4095 – A bill to provide emergency benefits for broadband service during periods relating to COVID-19, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7420 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the membership of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or queer.

Disclosure: The Nevada Independent has received a PPP loan.

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