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Indy DC Download: Nevada dodges another Yucca funding bullet

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressGovernmentYucca Mountain
The US Capitol Building dome at dusk

House efforts to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain were foiled once again last week when the Senate and House approved a spending package that included funding for the Department of Energy, but did not include money for the project.

Both chambers passed the bill Thursday with the Senate going first. Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto were among the 92 who voted for the package. The House later took up the measure and approved it 377 to 20, with each member of Nevada’s House delegation voting for the package. The legislation now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Nevada’s victory on Yucca came as most of the delegation has been unified in fighting the project, which is unpopular with a majority of Nevadans. But perhaps the most significant factor in keeping the funding out of the package was Heller’s re-election. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wants to protect Heller and the slim Republican majority in the Senate where the GOP holds 51 seats. Heller is in a heated battle with Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen. Polls have shown they are virtually tied, and the race is expected to be decided by as little as 1 or 2 percentage points.

It was a factor highlighted by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who has championed restarting the project since it was effectively killed by former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid before he retired in 2017. The House, on a 340 to 72 vote in May, passed a bill Shimkus drafted which would have jump started the effort to build the repository.

In a statement, Shimkus took issue with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision not to insist on the House proposal for funding the Department of Energy, which included $267.7 million to support the Yucca project, an increase of $100 million over what Trump requested in his fiscal 2019 budget.

“After a majority of both House Republicans and House Democrats overwhelmingly backed legislation this summer to get our nuclear waste management policy back on track, I’m extremely disappointed that Speaker Ryan failed to stand strong on the House position, as well as the president’s position, on funding in the appropriations process,” Shimkus said. “Instead, as we’ve allowed for a decade now, a single senator’s short-term political calculations again triumphed over long-term, bipartisan policy priorities.”

For his part, Heller declared victory in the spending fight. “U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) once again stonewalled efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives to fund the failed Yucca Mountain project after he successfully worked to keep funding to revive it out of the spending package," he said in a release after Senate action.

Cortez Masto underscored the bipartisan resistance to the project. “There is bipartisan consensus that Yucca Mountain is bad for Nevada’s future – more than 70 percent of Nevadans strongly oppose the project. Congress must respect the voice of Nevadans,” she said in a statement.

The spending package includes $97.1 billion for veterans and to fund military construction, $5.3 billion more than the previous year, $44.6 billion for Department of Energy programs and infrastructure projects administered by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, $1.44 billion above the fiscal 2018, and $4.8 billion to maintain operations and security of the U.S. Capitol and Congress, which was an increase of $136 million over last year.

The spending measure also included an amendment offered by Cortez Masto that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s office to conduct an investigation of all VA nursing homes with one-star ratings in the previous two years. A recently released report by the VA revealed that nearly half of all the VA nursing home facilities received one out of five stars for quality of care, which is the lowest possible rating, including one in Reno, which has since raised it’s quality rating to two stars.

On Thursday, House and Senate appropriators unveiled another spending package that included $674.4 billion for the Department of Defense, which is an increase of $19.8 billion above the previous year. The measure also included $178.1 billion, an increase $1 billion over fiscal 2018, for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Action on the package could come next week in the Senate, but the chamber could also focus on a bipartisan measure to respond to the opioid crisis.

The defense spending measure included provisions Heller had authored, including proposals to help veterans find jobs, promote science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) programs that benefit pre-kindergarten-12 students and support babies born dependent on opioids or other substances. “As a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, I believe that we must lay the groundwork to ensure that our nation’s Armed Forces have the tools they need to succeed when they come back to civilian life,” Heller said in a release.

Cortez Masto, also last week, signed on to a letter with 17 other Senate Democrats to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen raising concerns about reports that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) intends to re-open and re-calendar 350,000 deportation cases that are currently administratively closed. “Any plan to reopen and recalendar all of the currently administratively closed cases will undeniably overwhelm the already flooded immigration court backlog,” the letter said.

Meanwhile, the state’s House members were back in the Capitol last week, but the House will be out of session next week.

Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, joined with Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., last week to call on the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to hold a hearing following a recent report from the General Services Administration (GSA) Inspector General (IG) found that the GSA intentionally misled Congress about White House interference in the decision to cancel a plan to relocate the FBI headquarters. “President Trump still receives profits from the Trump Organization and any private development of the J. Edgar Hoover Building (Hoover Building) where the FBI is currently located could directly negatively impact the profitability of the Trump Organization’s Trump International Hotel located across the street from the Hoover Building,” they wrote. DeFazio is the ranking member of the full committee and Titus is the ranking member of the panel’s Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee.

Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, had a legislative victory last week when the House on Thursday passed a bill he co-sponsored that would require the secretary of the interior to submit to Congress a report on the efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation to manage its infrastructure assets. The Bureau of Reclamation Transparency Act passed the House by voice vote.

Rosen also scored passage of a bill she supported. On Thursday, the House approved a bill that would create a 10-year National Quantum Initiative Program to advance quantum research and development in the U.S. A House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, helped introduce the measure in June. She also introduced a bill to establish a grant program within the Department of Labor to support the creation of apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat, joined firefighters at an event at Fremont Street Experience to “honor and commemorate the lives we lost and the heroes who saved lives on September 11,” he tweeted.

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.

Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 3436 – A bill to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to provide for greater spousal protection under defined contribution plans, and for other purposes.
S. 3435 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to issue guidance and recommendations for institutions of higher education on removing criminal and juvenile justice questions from their application for admissions process.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 6805 – To prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing on inmates during the period of pregnancy, labor and postpartum recovery, to collect data on incarcerated pregnant women in the United States and the results of such pregnancies, to address the health needs of incarcerated women related to pregnancy and childbirth, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 6791 – To establish a grant program within the Department of Labor to support the creation, implementation, and expansion of registered apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity.
H.R. 5761 – The Ending Maternal Mortality Act
H.R. 5341 – Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2018


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