Saturday, August 29, 2015

Gold King Mine Spill Hearing

Washington, D.C. - August 29, 2015 (The Stuff Gazette) -- The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold an oversight hearing on the harmful impacts of Gold King Mine spill that occurred in southwest Colorado.

The hearing, titled "Oversight of the Cause, Response, and Impacts of EPA's Gold King Mine Disaster," will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015 at 10 a.m. ET in Dirksen Senate Office Building 406 with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as the witness.

Last week, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote a letter to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer requesting the hearing.

". . . we believe that Congressional oversight of the spill should be done to ensure that Congress has a full understanding of the events that led to the release, the response to the release, measures to provide clean water and reimbursements for affected communities and ongoing monitoring to ensure clean water into the future," the senators wrote in the letter last week. "This knowledge will enable Congress to better understand and respond to the issues involved with ongoing cleanup of thousands of abandoned mines throughout our nation."

Mail Delays Inspire Senator's Letter to Postmaster General

Burlington, VT - August 29, 2015 (The Stuff Gazette) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sent a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan urging the Postal Service to reinstate overnight mail delivery standards in light of a recent report finding significant delays in the delivery of mail.

The report from the United States Postal Service’s Inspector General found that since the Postal Service eliminated overnight delivery standards in January, there has been a 48 percent increase in the time it takes to process mail. As a result, letters that should have been delivered in three to five days have been late up to 44 percent of the time during the first five months of this year.

“It is abundantly clear that the Postal Service’s decision to shut down more than 140 mail processing plants a few years ago and to eliminate overnight delivery standards this year has been a disaster that is negatively impacting Americans all over this country,” Sanders wrote in the letter. “I would urge the Postal Service to reinstate overnight delivery standards and speed up the delivery of mail as soon as possible.”

The slowdown in mail delivery has hurt seniors living on fixed incomes, veterans, and people living in rural areas particularly hard. In the letter, Sanders noted that “veterans and seniors have complained that it is now taking 9, and sometimes as much as 11 days, for them to receive life-saving prescriptions through the mail.”

Sanders has been leading the fight against cuts to the Postal Service. Sanders noted in the letter that the most significant reason for the financial problems at the Postal Service is due to the 2006 Bush-era mandate forcing it to pay $5.5 billion a year to prefund future retiree benefits. Excluding this mandate, the Postal Service has made more than $2 billion in profits over the past three years.

Sanders also announced he will reintroduce the Postal Service Protection Act, which fixes the immediate fiscal problem of the Postal Service by ending a disastrous Bush-era mandate to pre-fund 75 years of retiree health benefits over a 10-year period; establishes new ways the Postal Service can generate revenue; prevents the closing of rural post offices; protects 6-day delivery; and protects mail processing facilities.

On April 15, 85 senators voted for an amendment that Sen. Sanders offered to the Budget Resolution calling on the Postal Service to reinstate overnight delivery standards for first-class mail and to impose a moratorium on mail processing plant closures.

Portman Reacts to DOE WARN Act Announcement at Piketon

Washington, D.C. - August 29, 2015 (The Stuff Gazette) -- U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released the following statement on the announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) of WARN Act notices for cleanup workers at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio:

“Today's announcement that 500 Piketon employees could be laid-off by October 1st represents another broken commitment to the community by this Administration.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission website, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires you to provide notice 60 days in advance of plant closures or mass layoffs. The WARN Act is intended to offer protection to workers, their families and communities.

“For the past three years Congress has been calling on this Administration to provide the Piketon site the stable funding it deserves. Congress was barely able to prevent the Administration from laying off 700 Piketon employees during the holidays last winter. I thought the Administration would have learned its lesson with that experience, yet here we are again not even a year later, facing nearly the same situation. The Administration’s refusal to do the right thing by this community is baffling, especially given the President’s past statements of support.

“While campaigning for President in 2008, President Obama wrote, ‘The failure to clean up this site quickly will delay future economic development opportunities and only add additional mortgage costs and pose undue environmental risks.’ I stand ready to work with the Obama Administration and its Department of Energy to avoid these cuts, to maintain the commitment made to the community, to ready the site for reindustrialization, to deal with the environmental risk, and to ultimately save taxpayer dollars by maintaining a cost effective cleanup schedule.”

Portman has repeatedly pushed for accelerated cleanup and reindustrialization of the Piketon site. In a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources meeting last month, Portman continued his push to fully fund decontamination and decommissioning operations in Piketon.

Recently, Portman attended a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ nomination hearing for Dr. Monica Regalbuto to be Assistant Secretary of Energy (Environmental Management). If confirmed, Dr. Regalbuto will be in charge DOE’s Office of Environmental Management with oversees cleanup efforts at Piketon. Portman submitted questions to Dr. Regalbuto expressing concern over the Administration’s $49 million cut to cleanup funding in Fiscal Year 2016 and requesting a commitment from her that if confirmed, she will develop a long-term plan for the cleanup efforts.

Earlier this year, Portman urged Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan to fully fund decontamination and decommissioning operations in Piketon.

Portman previously secured the inclusion of additional funding authority in the Fiscal Year 2015 Continuing Resolution to fund cleanup activities at the Piketon site. The funding helped protect nearly 700 workers at the site who were at risk of being laid-off in October. Portman and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also called on DOE to provide answers regarding concerns over funding for the project, which currently employees 1,900 individuals

In 2012, Portman worked with the former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, to increase the cap on the uranium barter program to help cover a gap in appropriated funding. The uranium barter program has allowed the DOE to barter or sell natural uranium into the open market and use the proceeds to pay for a portion of the cleanup work at Piketon.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Washington, D.C. - August 29, 2015 (The Stuff Gazette) -- A bill to protect pregnant workers from discrimination has been introduced in the Senate. This legislation would prohibit employers from discriminating or retaliating against workers who may have limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or other related medical conditions, and require employers to make reasonable accommodations for these employees. Employers would be prohibited from forcing pregnant employees to take paid or unpaid leave, or to leave a job against their will when an accommodation can be made for employees to continue working. These reasonable accommodations are similar to the accommodations required for employees with disabilities by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The legislation would apply to businesses with more than 15 employees and provide protections for both job applicants and employees. It also provides an exemption for businesses in the event an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

“Women in the workforce should never be forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and their paycheck,” said Senator Peters. “This legislation helps ensure that pregnant workers can continue to provide for their families throughout their pregnancy. I’m proud to cosponsor this important measure that will give workers in Michigan and across the country the workplace protections they deserve,” stated Senator Gary Peters (D-MI).

Waters of US Rule Halted Temporarily in 13 States

Washington, D.C. - August 29, 2015 (The Stuff Gazette) -- U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, released the following statement regarding North Dakota District Court Judge Ralph Erickson’s decision to halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s damaging ‘Waters of the U.S.’ (WOTUS) rule from implementation in 13 states:

“Like many Americans, I have been against the EPA’s ridiculous Waters of the U.S. regulation since day one,” said Senator Perdue. “It is outrageous President Obama and his EPA regulators are trying to regulate runoff water and rain puddles. I’m glad a federal judge agrees that the Obama Administration is out of line, and I will keep doing everything I can on a federal level to protect Georgia farmers and our state’s agriculture community from egregious executive overreach.”

The WOTUS rule, which expands federal jurisdiction over land and waterways, has received considerable criticism from a variety of industries – including Georgia’s agriculture community. While Georgia was not listed in Judge Erickson’s ruling, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens joined with eight other state Attorneys General in filing a lawsuit challenging overturn the WOTUS ruling. Their complaint was ultimately rejected by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

Senator Perdue participated in a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the WOTUS rule in March and co-sponsored legislation in April to stop implementation of this unreasonable rule. This legislation was approved by the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and is now pending full consideration on the U.S. Senate floor.

“The Obama EPA’s WOTUS rule is one of the largest federal land grabs in recent memory,” said Thune. “It will drive up compliance costs for farmers and ranchers and expose homeowners and property owners across the country to massive new fines. The recent ruling by a federal district court in North Dakota shows that the Obama EPA is not only defying common sense, but is also defying the original intent of the Clean Water Act. The EPA should immediately suspend the enforcement of this regulation across the country. The ruling is yet another reason we need to enact a permanent stop to EPA’s overreach,” said Senator John Thune - (R - SD).


In an interview on CNN’s Newsroom just days after two journalists were fatally shot on live television, Senator Christopher Murphy- (D - CT) called on Congress to act “in any way, shape or form” to reduce gun violence in America. Murphy, who co-authored the Mental Health Reform Act with U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), argued that Congress must fix our nation’s mental health system and implement gun laws that the majority of Americans already support, like universal background checks. This sounds a lot like what Trump was saying after his South Carolina speech during a press conference.

Read more by clicking HERE

Friday, August 28, 2015

Stuff in the news: Farmers, Rural Schools, Utility Rates

Recognizing that America’s small farmers face unique challenges in implementing new regulations set forth by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), along with U.S. Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) and U.S. Congressman Sam Far (D-Calif.) and U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement specific training and outreach programs to help small farmers and processors accurately comply with the new law. In letters addressed to FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the Members highlighted the importance of ensuring that these small farms – which produce an increasingly large part of our food supply – meet the new food safety requirements, and called for the expedited implementation of Sec. 209 of FSMA to assist small farmers, small producers, and fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers in making timely and accurate business decisions for the upcoming year.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) has joined 12 of his colleagues to introduce a bill to reauthorize and fund the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for six years, permanently reauthorize and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and permanently fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. The SRS program was created in 2000 to provide consistent and reliable funding for more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools located near national forests across the country. SRS helps pay for schools, roads, and emergency response services in rural counties, and forest health projects in national forests. This legislation would grant a six-year extension to provide certainty for these communities and support the continued diversification of economic development in these rural counties. The bill also seeks to reauthorize and permanently fund LWCF. This highly successful conservation program is set to expire on September 30, 2015. Since LWCF’s inception, more than $4 billion has been made available to state and local governments to fund over 40,000 projects in the country. Using revenues from offshore oil and gas development, the LWCF provides funding for additions to national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and other federal public lands, making it the principal source of funds for federal acquisition of lands for outdoor recreation, habitat preservation and protection of special natural, cultural, and historic resources. LWCF has only received full funding once in its 50 years of existence, leaving many worthy projects unfunded each year. Additionally, the bill would permanently fund the PILT program. PILT is administered through the Department of the Interior and compensates rural counties for certain federal lands that cannot be taxed, including Bureau of Land Management land and national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Funding for each county is determined by a formula and is based on the number of acres of federal land within each county or jurisdiction and the population of that county or jurisdiction. In the 2015 fiscal year, Michigan received more than $4 million in PILT funding for 29 counties in the state. Restoring mandatory funding of PILT not only provides certainty, but also improves infrastructure, safety, and strengthens rural counties that depend on public lands.

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission voted to keep existing rates for rooftop solar customers in place through the end of the year, despite hitting a statewide cap on net metering last week.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The president is willing to gamble on U.S. security for the sake of his personal legacy.

Senators Pat Roberts and Tim Scott
Aug 24 2015

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said recently that the Obama administration is in the “final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly” close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Our home states of Kansas and South Carolina are being considered as potential sites for housing the enemy combatants transferred from Guantanamo. Defense Department officials visited Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Aug. 14 and will be visiting the Naval Brig in Charleston, S.C., on Monday to survey the facilities.

When Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, he announced that Guantanamo would be closed in the first year of his presidency. This was a political promise with little regard for recidivism rates, the continuing conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, and most important, America’s national security. So it is fortunate that the deadline was not met.

But throughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has prioritized personal legacy over the safety and security of the nation—and he is still pursuing an effort to move the terrorists at Guantanamo into our backyards.

The notion that Kansas, South Carolina or any other state would be an ideal home for terrorist detainees is preposterous. Transferring these prisoners to the mainland puts the well-being of states in danger, posing security risks to the public and wasting taxpayer dollars. The detention facilities at Guantanamo are doing a fantastic job of holding these terrorists.

Closing Guantanamo Bay isn’t taking the fight to the enemy; it’s bringing it home. Of serious concern is that there is no way to control who the terrorists would attract to our communities. We should be doing everything possible to destroy homegrown terrorism, not encouraging it.

Fort Leavenworth is on the Missouri River, adjacent to a public railroad, about 16 miles from Kansas City International Airport, in the middle of communities Leavenworth and Lansing, surrounded by schools and homes. Fort Leavenworth trains the best and brightest through the Army University, at the Command and General Staff College.

Everyone in the vicinity would live with a target on their back if some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world were housed among them. Millions of taxpayer dollars would need to be spent to retrofit the barracks—and acquire perhaps 2,000 acres of land around them by eminent domain for a security perimeter—to house these prisoners.

Charleston’s Naval Consolidated Brig was built in the late 1980s as a medium-security military prison for prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or less. It is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, less than a mile from a school, close to the Port of Charleston, roughly five miles from the Charleston International Airport, and surrounded by military facilities.

It is also a short distance from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, or SPAWAR, Systems Center Atlantic, and the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command. Both of these strategic military installations are vital to national defense and military readiness and would further raise the profile of the area as a target for terrorism.

Housing some of the world’s most dangerous prisoners next to Charleston, a city repeatedly named the No. 1 tourist destination in the U.S. by readers of Conde Nast Traveler, would be grossly irresponsible.

Congress has consistently stopped the president from closing Guantanamo by prohibiting funds from being used to transfer or release detainees into the U.S. Changing this policy would be beyond foolish. As the threat of Islamic State grows, now is not the time to consider transferring detainees to U.S. soil and putting America’s security at even greater risk.

We will not let the president ignore the realities of terrorism. We will do everything in our power, use every tool in the Senate, to ensure that our communities—the churches, schools, playgrounds and military installations—are kept safe while terrorists remain where they belong: locked up at Guantanamo Bay.

Sen. Roberts is a Republican from Kansas and Sen. Scott is a Republican from South Carolina.

Wasted Taxpayer Money Found in Jazz Musicians' Pockets

By Senator Rand Paul - (R - KY)
August 24, 2015

From Duke Ellington to Tony Bennett, jazz is a part of the American soul. One group taking the genre to new levels is the New Orleans-based Soul Rebels. The Village Voice said of the group, “[t]he hip-hop-inflected eight-piece Soul Rebels are arguably the most dynamically au courant of the city's many fine brass bands.”[1]

Have not had a chance to take in one of their concerts? Well, you’ve paid for one of their concerts overseas. That’s right. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of State spent nearly $50,000 of taxpayer money to, “support the Soul Rebels to travel to Turkey to give public performances as part of the 22nd Istanbul Jazz Festival.”[2]

What is most surprising is that the Soul Rebels were already on a European tour, making taxpayer financing for the stop in Turkey unnecessary. In fact, after Turkey, the Soul Rebels went on to make stops in Belgium, France, Ireland, Norway, and met up with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at the “North Sea Jazz Festival” in the Netherlands.[3]

The group is hardly a fledgling act needing Uncle Sam’s help. The Soul Rebels have put out six albums since 1999, including Power=Power (2013), where they incorporate their unique sound to popular songs by the likes of Bruno Mars and Nicki Minaj. That is not the only company they are keeping. They share a label with, Tom Jones, They Might Be Giants, and Alison Krauss.[4]

So, the question has to be asked, why does such a cutting edge, established group need Uncle Sam to pay for the band to play at a well-established European jazz festival?




[3] North Sea Jazz Festival,


Stuff in the News: Pell Grants, Mark Costello, Defense Contracting, Immigration Judges, Climate Change

U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced S.1998, the Middle Class Creating Higher Education Affordability Necessary to Compete Economically (CHANCE) Act, a bill to increase access to affordable post-secondary education for low- to moderate-income students. The bill would address the significant loss in value of Pell Grants by adjusting them for inflation, reinstate year-round Pell Grants, and increase the number of eligible semesters to 15. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and the College Board, the burden of paying for college has shifted to students as tuition continues to increase and state funding continues to decrease. Nearly 9 million students across the country depend on Pell Grants to pay for school.

Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello died this week. "Mark Costello was a true servant to the state of Oklahoma and considered to be an up-and-coming leader in our state. He passionately worked to represent conservative values not only as Labor Commissioner, but also in other areas, such as his work to give a voice to the unborn through the pro-life movement. His presence in the state will be missed. Kay's and my prayers are with his family during this difficult time," stated Senator James M. Inhofe - (R - OK)

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday that Oshkosh Defense, based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has won the contract for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), its Humvee replacement. "These new vehicles will provide improved durability to protect our men and women in uniform while maintaining the mobility they need," said Senator Ron Johnson- (R - WI)

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the shortage in immigration judges and the backlog of immigration-related cases may intensify as more than half of today’s judges are eligible to retire this fiscal year while other judges are burning-out faster under a growing number of cases. “Despite this clear crisis, Senate Democrats led by Minority Leader Harry Reid continue to block meaningful legislation that would enable us to hire new immigration judges that are critically needed today. In fact, the Minority Leader has continued to hold hostage the Senate Commerce, Justice & Science Appropriations Bill, and all other appropriations bills, which would include a programmatic increase of $60 million and add 55 new Immigration Judge Teams. This increase would allow the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to better coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security to more effectively enforce immigration laws and help adjudicate the rapidly growing caseload. It is simply irresponsible for Democrats to hold up this commonsense solution that would provide our justice system the resources it needs to speed up deportation proceedings and keep our communities safe,” said Senator John McCain - (R - AZ).

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to broaden the agenda of his upcoming trip to Alaska beyond the single issue of climate change. In the attached letter, Murkowski asks the President to acknowledge that climate change is only one part of the Alaska story, while detailing a number of investments Alaskans have made with renewable energy and innovative energy technologies.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Stuff in the News: Gas Prices, Fraudulant Tax Returns, Youth Violence, E-cigarettes, Guns

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, R-Jimtown, along with Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, have sent a letter to the chief executive officer of British Petroleum (BP) demanding answers to questions pertaining to the sudden closing of its refinery in Whiting, Ind., which has caused a sharp spike in gas prices throughout the upper Midwest. In their joint letter to Robert Dudley, Upton and Walorski noted: “Some areas of the Midwest have seen prices rise over $1 per gallon over a 24 hour period, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable of our constituents and resulting in large unpredicted costs in getting goods to market across the region. Additionally, some are worried that speculators may force additional increases due to lack of information. The BP Whiting Refinery in northern Indian shut down the largest of its three crude distillation units on Saturday. Upton, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Walorski, whose Congressional district includes the refinery, demand answers from Dudley for their constituents by August 21 along with daily updates. They want to know how long the outage is expected to last and how BP will prevent price gouging, among other issues.

On Wednesday, August 26, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) will hold a Budget Committee field hearing with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen on the IRS' handling of fraudulent tax returns. Ayotte invited Commissioner Koskinen to participate in the hearing in order to hear directly from New Hampshire residents who have been victims of tax-related identity theft or have had other tax-related issues. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) have both examined how the IRS deals with fraudulent returns and found billions in revenue lost due to lack of detection. Ayotte has pushed the IRS to improve its policies and better help identity theft victims protect themselves and their personal information, and was instrumental in securing a commitment from Commissioner John Koskinen to provide identity theft victims with copies of fraudulent tax returns. Ayotte also helped introduce the Social Security Identity Defense Act of 2015, which would require the Internal Revenue Service to notify potential victims of identity theft, something the agency has failed to do in the past. It also requires that the IRS notify law enforcement and that the Social Security Administration notify employers who submit fraudulently used Social Security numbers. The bill adds civil penalties and extends jail time for those who fraudulently use an individual's Social Security number.

Following a violent weekend in Philadelphia during which ten shootings occurred, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) called for an end to the school to prison pipeline and pushed for passage of a bipartisan plan that would allow Pennsylvania cities to invest more in proven crime prevention strategies like youth mentoring. In North Philadelphia, Casey was joined by law enforcement, mentorship groups and a youth advocate who was once a victim of gun violence to discuss the need to aid children before they encounter the criminal justice system and curb youth violence. As major criminal justice reform legislation works its way through Congress this year, Casey’s legislation is backed by Republican Senators and could be included in the overhaul. On any given day in the United States, approximately 60,000 young people are incarcerated, costing taxpayers about $5 billion each year. The Youth PROMISE Act (Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) would empower local communities to fund, implement and evaluate evidence-based youth violence prevention and intervention strategies. These prevention practices, such as mentoring and after-school programs, reduce crime more effectively and at a lower cost than incarceration. In fact, a recent study in Pennsylvania found that it saved $5 for every $1 invested in high-quality prevention and intervention programs. The Youth PROMISE Act is supported by over 300 organizations, including the Alliance for Children and Families, the American Correctional Association, the AFT, the Children’s Defense Fund, the ACLU, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the NEA, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today joined U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) in calling for clear product standards and good manufacturing processes to combat the health risks of toxic substances in e-cigarettes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalizes its first regulations of the aerosol-producing products. The number of e-cigarette users — especially among young people — has soared in recent years, but little is known about the long-term health risks for users and the risks of breathing in second-hand aerosol. (OH PLEASE!)

Intent on protecting Second Amendment rights, U. S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., cosponsored legislation to allow military spouses to purchase handguns in the state where their partner is stationed for duty. Enzi also sent a letter last week with other senators against a plan by the federal government to prevent certain seniors from being able to purchase a gun. Current law restricts a citizen from legally purchasing a handgun in any state other than the one in which they reside. The Protect Our Military Families’ 2nd Amendment Rights Act, led by Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune, both R-S.D., would provide an exception for military spouses to purchases handguns in the state where their spouse is permanently stationed for duty or in a neighboring state if the military spouse commutes across state borders to their duty installation. An exception for active duty service members who are on permanent duty station orders is already made so that they can be considered a resident of the state in which they are assigned. Enzi and Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., also joined Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and 24 other senators in signing a letter to express disappointment over the Social Security Administration plan to report certain social security beneficiaries to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS is used by the federal government to prevent gun sales to individuals who are felons, drug addicts, illegal or unlawful immigrants, and others.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Rep. Veasey Works at Fort Worth-Based Eye Care Company Alcon

I think this is a wonderful idea, and I applaud Congressman Veasey for doing this.

Fort Worth, TX - August 14, 2015 (The Stuff Gazette) -- On Wednesday, August 19, Congressman Marc Veasey, TX-33, will join the assembly line at the Fort Worth-based global headquarters of Alcon, a leader in the eye care industry. In conjunction with the Democratic Caucus’ “Make It In America” initiative, Rep. Veasey will learn firsthand the tools that U.S. based manufacturers like Alcon need to continue producing quality goods made by American workers. Congressman Veasey will join the ranks of Alcon’s over 3,000 U.S. manufacturing employees to learn how to assemble surgical packs for ophthalmologists worldwide and prepare eye care products for global distribution.

Since March 2014, Veasey has spent a day each month working at a different job in his district learning about the diverse range of industries in the 33rd Congressional District of Texas. He has braved the Texas heat to perform door-to-door trash pickup at one of Dallas’ affordable housing developments, aided in storm clean up with the Dallas Parks and Recreation department, and worked as a waiter at Odom’s Barbeque. The Marc Means Business series connects Veasey with constituents at their place of employment to better understand the challenges they face in their work and daily lives.

Two pharmacists, Robert Alexander and William Conner, founded Alcon in 1945 as a small ophthalmic shop in Fort Worth, Texas. Over the course of seven decades, Alcon has grown from a hometown operation to become the global leader in eye care. Today, Alcon employs over 3,000 in its U.S.-based manufacturing sites, and more than 8,500 employees in the U.S.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stuff in the News: Asset Forfeiture Seizures, Lay-offs, Legionnaire's Disease, China, EPA Damage

This week, a bipartisan group of members on the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee is calling on the Treasury Department to return money seized from a Maryland family of dairy farmers. Earlier this year, the subcommittee held a hearing examining civil asset forfeiture and found that small-business owners were having their bank accounts seized—without due process—simply because of how they were depositing money. The hearing found that this abuse of power has devastated families, eliciting an apology from the IRS commissioner. The Department of Justice has since announced that it will no longer pursue such cases unless it has reason to believe the deposits are somehow related to underlying criminal activity. While this policy change is welcome, some small businesses are still reeling from the seizures. That’s why the lawmakers, led by subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL), have sent a letter asking the administration to remit the money that rightfully belongs to Randy and Karen Sowers, the Maryland dairy farmers, as well as to return assets to all taxpayers whose bank accounts were seized inconsistent with the updated policy. Attorneys for the Sowers family have also filed a petition asking the government to return the Sowers’ funds.

Kraft Heinz announced major layoffs on Wednesday. They laid off 2500 workers. The company has been based in Northfield, IL. According to Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL, 9th), "The Kraft-Heinz merger, approved earlier this year, is a direct cause of these layoffs. This follows a pattern by the merged company’s private equity owner, 3G Capital Partners, which also laid of thousands of American workers when it took over Anheuser-Busch in 2008."

U.S. Congressman Jose E. Serrano (D-NY, 15th) sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez asking for the Department of Labor, specifically the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to play a role in the federal investigation of the origins of the Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx and to help determine whether the violation of federal workplace safety laws have been a factor in the outbreak. Most of the locations affected so far are workplaces required to meet federal safety regulations. Congressman Serrano also encouraged the Department to revisit previously proposed indoor workplace air standards shelved by the Bush Administration in 2001, which “would have required employers to develop written plans to maintain indoor air quality, conduct regular inspections and maintenance to ensure indoor air quality, and to take preventive measures to control specific hazardous sources.”

Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Chairman Representative Chris Smith and Cochairman Senator Marco Rubio in a joint statement urged the Obama Administration to use the occasion of the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, convening in Washington, DC this week, to send the unambiguous message that tangible progress on human rights should be a key goal of President Xi Jinping’s planned September visit.

Members of the Colorado and New Mexico Congressional delegations are urging President Barack Obama to direct any and all appropriate federal resources to help respond to damage from the Gold King Mine spill that occurred in southwest Colorado last week. Communities in both states along the affected rivers are working quickly to minimize the short-term and long-term public health and economic challenges caused by the tragic spill. Recovering from the spill will take a full and coordinated approach from the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies working with state, tribal, and local officials.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

State Department Refuses to Disclose Info on Iran "Secret Side Deals"

Afterglow Cosmetics, Inc

Wichita, KS - August 11, 2015 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) issued the following statement after receiving a letter from the State Department in response to his letter to President Obama on July 22, 2015 in which he, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senator Tom Cotton requested access to the two secret side agreements to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The State Department’s response says, in short, that Congress will not receive access to these secret side deals and the U.S. does not even have the right to ask for them. On what theory of international law are we prohibited from even asking for the documents? It seems the Administration would rather feign ignorance of the contents of these secret side deals than to defend the concessions made to the ayatollahs. These side deals go to the heart of whether the Iranian Nuclear Deal can actually be verified.

“The State Department’s response also states that they ‘have been transparent with Congress about the existence of these arrangements since [they] submitted the JCPOA’ on July 19, 2015. Nothing could be further from the truth. So far, the Administration has given seven different answers to the question of whether the side deals exist and who, if anyone, has read them, starting with the July 22 television appearance of State Department Spokesman John Kirby who tried to completely dodged the issue.

“The letter concludes with the sentiment that the ‘level of engagement with Congress . . . has been unprecedented.’ I agree that it has been ‘unprecedented.’ For the President to name call and equate opponents with the Iranian ayatollahs is completely ‘unprecedented.’

“I find the Administration’s response wholly unacceptable and I will continue to pursue access to the secret side deals.”

The full text of the letter from the State Department is below:

Dear Mr. Pompeo:

Thank you for your July 22 letter to President Obama regarding the nuclear deal between the PS+1, coordinated by the European Union, and Iran.

On July 14, the United States and our international partners concluded an historic deal that, if fully implemented, will verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the result of nearly 20 months of intensive negotiations since the PS+1 and Iran concluded the interim Joint Plan of Action. Because of our combined diplomatic efforts, the international community will be able to verify that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon, and we will have taken an important step in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

This deal is based on verification and requires important compliance monitoring and verification by Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In the JCPOA, Iran committed to take certain steps set forth in the Roadmap agreement negotiated between the IAEA and Iran. This Roadmap and Iran's JCPOA commitment to undertake the steps in it are matters of public record, were posted publicly to the Internet, and were provided to Congress by the State Department on July 19. The IAEA-Iran Roadmap contains steps to clarify possible military dimensions. Under the JCPOA, Iran must complete the steps required of it in this Roadmap by October 15, well in advance of any sanctions relief.

The Roadmap refers to two "separate arrangements" between the IAEA and Iran. Within the IAEA system, such arrangements related to safeguards procedures and inspection activities are confidential and are not released to other member states. The United States does not have a right to demand these documents from the IAEA. However, the United States was briefed on these separate arrangements, and we in tum are briefing Congress on them as well in an appropriately classified setting. We have been transparent with Congress about the existence of these arrangements since we submitted the JCPOA, and we are happy to continue these conversations.

On July 19, Congress was provided with everything agreed between the PS+1 and Iran, in full compliance with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). There are no "secret deals" between the PS+ 1 and Iran and no JCPOA documents that Congress does not have. The level of engagement with Congress that we have maintained on the nuclear deal has been unprecedented and we look forward to continuing our close consultations. We hope this information is useful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance.


Julia Frifield
Assistant Secretary
Legislative Affairs

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Stuff in the News: Bahrain, Broadband, Iran Nuclear Deal, Power Plant EPA Rule, Jobs Report

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), a senior House Democrat and co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, joined Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to announce a bipartisan push to block the sale or transfer of certain arms to Bahrain until the State Department certifies that Bahrain has fully implemented all of the recommendations by an independent oversight commission to strengthen human rights in the country. Congressman McGovern will introduce legislation in the House when Congress returns next month and Senators Wyden and Rubio introduced companion legislation in the Senate earlier this week.

Recalling the success of the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Administration (REA) that began connecting every corner of rural America to the electrical grid in the 1930’s, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan has introduced legislation to launch a massive effort of similar scope for high-speed broadband. Nolan’s Rural Broadband Initiative Act (H.R. 3152) would lay the foundation for new funding and a coordinated federal strategy to bring 21st Century high-tech communications services to millions of underserved rural people and businesses.

Congressman Gary Palmer (R-AL), signed a letter along with 93 other members of Congress, sent to President Barack Obama, requesting the text of the “side deals” made between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Iranian Government as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the "Iran Deal."

On Monday, August 3, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a power plant (CO2 ) rule that will not only lead to higher utility bills for hardworking Americans, but will also disproportionately harm millions of millennials and young people comprising the next generation. According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, more than half of America's unemployed are teens and young adults. Teens face a staggering unemployment rate of 18.1 percent. The Pew Research data also shows that the share of young adults now living in their parents’ homes is 26 percent, an increase of 2 percent since 2010. The new 1,500-paged EPA rule forces states to rely on less reliable forms of energy and eliminates the move to natural gas, that has created thousands of jobs in New Mexico and nationally. Congress didn’t vote for the rule. In fact, the House expressly rejected this EPA policy to force the closure of coal-fired power plants nationwide. On June 23, the House passed the Ratepayer Protection Act (H.R. 2042) that would protect consumers from the EPA’s costly, so-called Clean Power Plan. In 2010, a bipartisan coalition in Congress also rejected the Obama Administration’s job-killing cap and trade legislation.

The Department of Labor announced that the economy added 215,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate held steady at 5.3 percent. With businesses adding 210,000 jobs last month and a total of 13 million jobs over the past 65 consecutive months, this is the longest period of private sector job growth in American history.

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Crawford, Gibbs, Marino to Seek Environmental Protection Agency Investigation

Washington, DC. - August 8, 2015 (The Stuff Gazette) -- More than 100 Members of Congress joined Representative Rick Crawford (AR-1), Representative Bob Gibbs (OH-7), and Representative Tom Marino (PA-10) in sending a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG). The letter requests that the OIG open a formal investigation into the EPA’s unprecedented grassroots lobbying effort to promote the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rulemaking, first reported in a New York Times article in May of this year. A copy of the letter can be found here.

All rulemakings, particularly ones of such an enormous scope and significant consequence as the WOTUS rule, require stakeholder engagement to the strongest degree possible. However, in an effort to misrepresent the concerns of the affected public, the EPA used social media and possibly colluded with advocacy organizations to generate support for its actions. Anti-lobbying statutes and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines prohibit agency employees from “engaging in substantial ‘grass roots’ lobbying” and from “provid[ing] administrative support for the lobbying activities of private organizations", as such activities undermine the spirit of the public comment period.

Representative Rick Crawford:

“Not only are the EPA’s actions potentially illegal, but the most essential and democratic component of the rule-making process was abused and corrupted in a way that manipulated the public to help justify the Agency’s actions. Rulemakings by unelected agency officials should take into account all the views of the affected public – not just its own and its political allies."

Representative Bob Gibbs:

“If the EPA colluded with political entities like the Sierra Club and Organizing for America to promote this regulation, this will be just one more issue that troubles me about the Waters of the United States rule process. By stacking the deck in their favor, the EPA abused and discredited the public comment process. I hope that the OIG conducts a rigorous, impartial investigation to determine whether any federal anti-lobbying laws were broken.”

Representative Tom Marino:

“It is not surprising to me that we hear of these kinds of allegations about the EPA. For years this agency has sought to push a radical political agenda instead of focusing on making rules in an open and transparent manner. The American people deserve a government that is responsive and accountable for its actions. Agencies like the EPA must be impartial and separated from political influence from advocacy organizations. The EPA should be investigated for possible wrongdoing and open to full exposure of its rulemaking and advocacy activity.”


The EPA consistently made claims that it had received over one million comments on the rule, and about 90 percent of them were supportive. However, according the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, only 20,567 of those comments were considered “unique,” and of those, only 10 percent were considered substantive. The vast majority of comments – more than 98 percent – appeared to be mass mailings generated by the EPA’s lobbying efforts. So while it is clear that EPA undertook an unprecedented campaign to generate support for the WOTUS rule, whether or not the Agency’s actions became illegal actions in violation of anti-lobbying statutes is unclear. The attached letter requests that the EPA’s Office of Inspector General investigate all matters relevant to EPA’s efforts in generating support for the WOTUS rule, including the EPA’s engagement and coordination with outside organizations.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Justice Department asks judge to leave migrant families in detention centers

The Obama administration has urged a federal judge to reassess a ruling that ordered the release of thousands of immigrant mothers and children from family detention centres, arguing that the controversial federal facilities are an effective tool to deter migrants from crossing the southern border into the United States.

In a 52-page response to a decision made last month by Judge Dolly Gee in the federal district court for central California, the US Department of Justice argues that the ruling could be used by human traffickers “who are known to exploit changes in immigration policy” and “could cause another notable increase in the numbers of parents choosing to cross the border with their children”.

The government’s response, however, concedes that Border Patrol agents have apprehended only 24,901 family members so far this fiscal year, compared with 68,445 in total last year, a 55% annual decrease.

Read more about this by clicking HERE

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