Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Hybrid Meeting In-Person and via ZOOM
Present: Megan Barajas, Deborah Barmack, Peter Barmack, Carole Beswick, Greg Bradbard, Sandra Cuellar, Michelle Decker, Kevin Dyerly, Louis Goodwin, Otis Greer, Fran Inman, Mark Kaenel, Lowell King, Doug Kleam, Pam Langford, Mike Layne, Bill Lemann, Darcy McNaboe, Miguel Mendoza, John Mirau, Tomas Morales, Dan Murphy, Vikki Ostermann, Bansree Parikh, Catherine Pritchett, Thomas Rice, Karen Richmond, Michael Rivera, Dan Roberts, Elizabeth Romero, Kate Salvesen, Dan Schenkel, Kristine Scott, Paul Shimoff, Phil Southard, Sol Teh, Eric Ustation, Lupe Valdez, Pete Van Helden, Reggie Webb, Ray Wolfe and Marisa Yeager.
Guests: Kathy Eiler and Todd Warden.
Announcements: 1) Committee Chairs were reminded of the meeting today at the Inland Action office to discuss federal issues for 2022.
Lowell King, Chair, presiding.
Motion by R. Wolfe/Second by K. Dyerly/Passed: Minutes from October 5, 2021.
Otis Greer introduced Congressman Pete Aguilar who joined us via Zoom.
The Congressman related that the Capitol will likely be closed to the general public through January. People are allowed to meet in the Capitol, but it is by appointment only and visitors must be escorted to and from the meeting location. Accommodating large groups would be much more difficult. There is no way at this point to accurately predict what the situation will be like in March. Congressman Aguilar suspects that people will opt to slowly reopen buildings in spring/summer. How those measures will be implemented is unknown. If the Capitol is not fully reopened, meetings could be held in an offsite facility, like the legislative reception location, to avoid these complications.
In the spring they will be very busy on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan and making sure that the resources flow from the package that they have passed in addition to potential packages they plan to pass related to infrastructure and reconciliation. They will still be sorting out what the impact may be to the Inland Empire, its residents, and families. The Congressman reminded the group that there is always a little bit of discretionary money in these pieces. There are opportunities to advocate for projects and proposals out of things that have passed in the prior 6-9 months. The group can look at priorities and what resources have not yet been expended out of these packages. Broadband resources for example are needed not just in rural communities but also many urban communities like ours where access is not available.
The infrastructure bill has broad support in the Senate although he would have preferred to put more resources to climate and water infrastructure. The much-needed money in transportation is for streets and roads but is really not enough. Additionally existing formulas for distribution will continue to be used, putting areas like ours at a disadvantage.
We will benefit from the significant amounts of money that are going to broadband and airports. The bigger package is more difficult and as he shared with his colleagues, he believes they should do fewer things, well. The $3.5 trillion bill does a lot with many things that will benefit our communities but with a three-seat margin in the House and a fifty-fifty Senate the next package does not have the votes. They must work within the realm of the possible so hard choices will have to be made. The Congressman believes there is a path to make a significant down payment into investing in our community.
Our region is poised to benefit from a “social” infrastructure package in any form. The proposed package will be slimmed down but it addresses climate, childcare and health access. He has been a longtime proponent of expanded Medicare for dental, vision and hearing, and universal pre-K. He favors and has been vocal about a fully refundable child tax credit which puts thousands of payments back into the pockets of Inland Empire families. Since being in effect for the last four months, it has reduced the national poverty rate and should be continued and expanded. Employers are trying to get their workforce back but since the increased pandemic unemployment benefits have ended it is clear that there are other reasons for people not returning to work. A shortage of childcare resources plays a significant part as well as health access and people not feeling safe. It is important to shore up the Affordable Care Act and make sure that the subsidies that go to Medicaid and others are protected and expanded.
Appointed by the Speaker, he serves on the January 6th Commission along with 2 republicans and 6 other democrats. The 9-member committee is very busy and talk and or text daily. They are making significant progress and they have many topflight investigators, attorneys, former U.S. attorneys (nominated and confirmed by both parties) and individuals from the Department of Justice. They are looking at all the aspects of January 6th which includes the President fomenting the “big lie” throughout summer and into the fall and who funded and supported the rallies on January 5th and 6th. They are reviewing some of the rallies held in November which may have been test cases for the January 6th event and they are looking at law enforcement intelligence gathering, sharing, and response, all to create a thorough report for the American people. Some democracies fail and the preservation of the American democracy is the number one issue that should be discussed as well as what we should look out for and be aware of for the future.
Both the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and Police reform are two critical issues for the Congressman. Karen Bass, who is leaving Congress, has been leading the police reform issues and through her efforts and with compromise she has gotten most of law enforcement to support what she is doing including the Fraternal Order of Police. Unfortunately, they were not able to get the needed support from the National Sheriff’s Association. As the two groups are split, they felt they would be unable to get the legislative support needed out of the Senate. It is a terrible situation and very frustrating as the Senate seemingly can’t get the needed 60 votes on anything. He expressed frustration that rather than making policy it seems some are more interested in just saying “no” to any agenda. The conversation continues but rather than the needed federal legislation, many states like California are implementing components of suggested reforms.
Aguilar is a member of the House Administration Committee, which has purview over voting rights and election sub-committees. They wrote some 60% of HR4 (the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) which has gone over to the Senate. They have made a few changes which have been acceptable compromises. The bill has support from all 50 democrats, and he feels there should be a carve out to the Senate Rules related to voting rights and democracy. The changes made in some states are purposefully designed to make it harder for people of color to vote. Voting has never been so politicized in our country and, most concerning, is that people no longer have faith in local elections or the voting system. Some states now would allow state legislators to overrule county election officials. Partisan officials should not be able to overturn non-partisan officials. These practices are bad for the country and bad for democracy.
A Q & A period followed.
Meeting adjourned at 8:32 a.m.