By Andy Cohen
Welcome to the November edition of the San Diego Congressional Watch.
Congress narrowly averted catastrophe at the end of October, with outgoing Republican Speaker John Boehner taking advantage of his lame duck status to team with House Democrats to pass crucial budget legislation.
The “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015” passed 266-167, largely along party lines. The approval of the budget act ensures that there will be no government shutdown for the time being, and that the U.S. government will not default on its debts, which would have catastrophic economic consequences.
All but one of the 187 Democrats voted in support of the act — essentially voting in favor of keeping the government running and avoiding default — with only 79 Republicans joining them. Among the Republican ‘no’ votes: Darrell Issa (R-49) and Duncan Hunter (R-50).
“I will not sell our future for this year’s budget,” Issa said in a press release. “Americans expect Congress to be the force that reins in Washington’s out-of-control spending, including an administration that has grown our federal bureaucracy to record levels.”
The deal “avoids the economic disaster that would ensue from breaching the debt ceiling, which we are just days away again,” said Scott Peters (D-52). “I supported today’s deal because it gives necessary sequester relief to both the military and numerous domestic programs that have struggled to provide needed services to working families in San Diego.”
“This bipartisan agreement is promising progress for working families and the American people,” said Susan Davis (D-53), who noted that the budget provides “critical investments in medical research, infrastructure, early education, and national security.”
But really what this budget deal does is take away the possibility of House Republicans taking the economy hostage over Planned Parenthood funding or Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Last month we noted that Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives who hails from Bakersfield, California, was the leading candidate and presumed successor to John Boehner (R-OH) to become Speaker, arguably the second most powerful position in the country. Boehner announced his retirement in September after having grown tired of being (figuratively) beaten bloody by the most conservative factions of his own party and attempting to manage the unmanageable.
But after a series of missteps and gaffes — including an admission that the House special committee investigating the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, was a political exercise designed to damage the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — McCarthy was forced to step aside.
Enter Darrell Issa (R-49), the controversial former chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, who offered himself as a candidate for Speaker. Issa made a name for himself as enemy in chief of the Obama administration, overseeing several extensive, yet baseless and ultimately fruitless investigations into the executive branch at the cost of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
There’s no doubt an Issa speakership would have made for outstanding political theater, particularly given the unmitigated disaster his term as head of the oversight committee is considered to be, by both Democrats and Republicans. But alas, it was not to be. House Republicans elected Paul Ryan (R-WI) to step into what has become the worst job in Washington, despite the power it holds.
Since his term on the oversight committee has ended, however, Issa has found more constructive uses for his office. He has been a staunch advocate for open data legislation to bolster government transparency, and in a recent Washington Post story, Scott Peters (D-52) credited Issa with convincing his House Republican colleagues to authorize the $500 million needed to complete the San Ysidro border crossing expansion and modernization project, which began in 2009 but has lagged along for several years due to lack of funding.
Making it easier to cross the border with Mexico is typically an anathema in Republican politics, but Issa sold it as an economic issue for the San Diego region and helped win funding approval.
Juan Vargas (D-51) teamed with Republican Florida Congressmember Thomas Rooney to introduce legislation that would allow the National Institutes of Health to establish a privately owned and managed investment fund to provide desperately needed funding for basic research to find cures for rare diseases.
“The life sciences industry desperately needs help to overcome the ‘valley of death’,” said Vargas in a statement. “Recent advancements in genetics and biomedicine are leading to incredible research projects and novel therapies with the possibility of changing the lives of many patients who suffer from rare diseases.
“However, the current lack of financing is leaving many promising therapies gathering dust when they could be saving lives,” Vargas continued. “The RaD Fund would allow for a larger number of biomedical projects to be funded, and thereby increase the likelihood for new cures to be found faster, more efficiently and with greater efficacy.”
Susan Davis weighed in on the Chargers stadium quest, penning a letter to NFL Vice President Eric Grubman, who is overseeing the NFL-to-Los Angeles derby, and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
In the letter, Davis emphasized San Diego’s growing innovation economy, status as a tourist destination, and the bi-national nature of our region — which could be viewed as a natural avenue for the league to expand its reach into Mexico (something the Padres and MLB have stressed in the past), among other virtues of the San Diego market.
“No matter where their stadium is, the Chargers are an integral part of our community and civic identity,” Davis wrote. “We have some spectacular places for them to play, but the real question is not where the Chargers should play in San Diego. It is whether it’s worth it for them to play here. The answer is yes — it’s worth it for the Chargers and it’s worth it for San Diego.”
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.