San Joaquin Valley lawmakers will hit Capitol Hill after Labor Day with bleak prospects for completing some legislation once introduced with high hopes.
A measure by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, to authorize the military enlistment of immigrants who are in the country illegally has stalled. So has a familiar bill by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, authorizing the burial of Hmong veterans in U.S. national cemeteries. A bill by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, to settle a big Westlands Water District irrigation drainage dispute is stuck for now.
For all these Californians and their colleagues, the tail end of the 114th Congress, which began in January 2015, could become another exercise in frustration, leavened by the occasional opportunity for success.
“Much remains to be done,” Costa said Thursday. “Things that should be easy . . . seem to be caught in the political crosswinds unnecessarily, which makes more difficult things, like passage of a water bill to assist communities in California with drought response, seem improbable.”
Even in the best of times, most bills fail; or at least go slowly. It’s the nature of politics, in which success can be measured in multiple ways, including constituent service and influence quietly wielded.
Sometimes, success comes in the form of dollars delivered. Valadao, for instance, cites his work on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which has funded myriad projects like work at Naval Air Station Lemoore.
“While partisan politics in Washington can be extremely frustrating, I have worked hard to reach across the aisle and work with both Republicans and Democrats to do what is best for my constituents,” Valadao said Thursday.
I hold out hope that when we return to Washington, my colleagues will set aside political differences, roll up their sleeves and get to work on passing legislation.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno
Last year, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced a total of 7,883 bills and resolutions. Only 115 bills were enacted into law; some included provisions previously introduced as stand-alone legislation.
An additional 2,465 measures have been introduced since January.
“Things take too long,” Denham said in an interview earlier this year, “and they’re certainly too political.”
In this second and final year of the 114th Congress, 73 bills had been enacted into law as of June 30. At least 30 measures enacted this year simply renamed post office buildings, like a measure by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, to honor a longtime civic leader with designation of the W. Ronald Coale Memorial Post Office Building.
Other bills signed by President Barack Obama this Congress include a significant pipeline safety act introduced in the House by Denham and a measure authored by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale to take 301 acres in Lassen County into trust for the Susanville Indian Rancheria.
“We found agreement on this legislation,” LaMalfa said during a brief House debate last November.
Similar agreements could be elusive in what remains of the year.
With 34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats up for re-election in November, many lawmakers are itching to campaign. After returning Tuesday, House members are scheduled to put in several short D.C. workweeks before departing again Sept. 30.
Lawmakers may simply do the bare minimum in September, passing a continuing resolution that temporarily keeps the federal government running at its current funding levels once the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
The real action, and probably the last chance for myriad California proposals, will come in a post-election session set to start Nov. 14, when the expiring Congress will consider a sprawling omnibus funding package.
The last omnibus, passed last December, for instance, included a significant intelligence agency authorization package shepherded in part by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel.
Last year’s omnibus also included a measure backed by Costa and some other Californians curtailing beef and pork country-of-origin labeling requirements.
Omnibus competition can be stiff, though, and strong head winds will continue to challenge big and small items alike.
“I continue to remain frustrated by the influence of my colleagues who seem to have little interest in governing for the benefit of the people,” Costa said.
A controversial California water bill that spanned some 174 pages in the House still struggles for Senate traction. A three-page bill by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, to rename a Sierra Nevada peak after Marine Corps veteran Sky Mote passed the House unanimously in June 2015 and hasn’t noticeably moved since. McClintock, though, fully expects the Sierra peak renaming bill to become law, he said Thursday.
Some measures have received hearings, like a Denham bill boosting the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical residency slots for optometrists. The American Medical Association opposes the bill, whose high-water mark was a July 2015 subcommittee hearing.
Other measures haven’t even gotten that far. Costa first introduced in 2010 a bill providing burial benefits to Hmong veterans who’d fought on behalf of the United States during the Vietnam War. In May 2015, he offered his latest version, which has attracted 18 co-sponsors but has not had a hearing.