Saturday, February 28, 2015

Drinking Water: A Human Right at Risk in America

By John Conyers, Jr.
Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Take a moment to imagine life without running water. Imagine the ordeal of having to find water not only to stay hydrated but also to bathe, clean, and cook. Imagine the challenge of caring for infants, the sick, or the elderly when the tap runs dry.
Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of Americans -- including residents of my hometown, Detroit, and residents of cities and municipalities around the country -- have had to live out this nightmare. While the causes and consequences of the nation's water crises vary, the core message for policy makers around the country is the same: We need strong and sustained investments to ensure all Americans' access to safe and affordable drinking water.
One year ago, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced it would begin an unprecedented policy of water shutoffs. Over the course of the year, more than 33,000 households, or 90,000 residents, were cut off from service for late payment or delinquency.
These shutoffs did not happen in a vacuum.
With its location on the world's largest freshwater system, Detroit should have access to plenty of high-quality drinking water. Yet insufficient investment and shifting population resulted in household water rate increases of more than 119 percent over the course of a decade. Some residents on public assistance have been hit with monthly utility bills totaling more than 50 percent of their monthly household income. By denying residents the ability to maintain proper sanitation, these actions create costly long-term challenges of dysfunction and disease. Water shutoffs force residents to leave a city, further weakening the tax base and worsening the fiscal position of local government.
I fought alongside activists, concerned citizens, and nonprofit organizations to stop these coldhearted and counterproductive shutoffs and propose new long-term investments in affordable water. We won important concessions, including a temporary moratorium and financial assistance programs. But, as of the start of the year, nearly 14,000 customers were still without service, and there's risk of another 12.8-percent rate increase starting in July.
This year, I will be advocating to ensure that Detroit's Water and Sewerage Plan fully implements the water affordability plan passed by Detroit's City Council in 2006 to account for residents' financial need in water billing and to prevent discrimination in access. But we also need strong local, state, and federal investment in infrastructure around the country.
There are dire threats to safe drinking water beyond Detroit. Just an hour's drive south in Toledo, more than 400,000 people were left without water for two days in August after supplies were found to be unsafe for household use due to the presence of microcystin, a toxin from algae blooms in nearby Lake Erie. Earlier in the year, a toxic chemical used to process coal spilled out of a ruptured storage tank into the Elk River, leaving 300,000 West Virginia residents unable to drink or to cook, clean, or bathe with their tap water.
These ecological and industrial water crises -- like Detroit's crisis of affordability and access -- underscore the need for immediate investment. The EPA estimates that the capital needs of water utilities over 20 years amount to $384 billion and another $298 billion for wastewater and runoff.
On Thursday, Feb. 26, at 2:00 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., I will be joining the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a national human rights organization, for an important hearing on how federal, state and local agencies can come together to craft solutions to ensure universal access to quality drinking water. The panel will be moderated by the noted writer and scholar Michael Shank and will feature several of my distinguished colleagues in Congress, including Rep. Charlie Rangel, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Debbie Dingell, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
If you're in Washington, please join us for Thursday's discussion.
In the world's most prosperous nation, it's unthinkable that anyone should go without safe, affordable water.
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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trouble on Tap: A Briefing on the Water Crisis in Detroit, Toledo, and West Virginia.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, February 26, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) held a briefing organized by faith-based human rights group Unitarian Universalist Service Committee focusing on the affordability of water to the nation's poorest and most vulnerable.  The briefing, held in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, was organized in the context of soaring costs of water to consumers nationally, the continuation of the widely-criticized water shut off policy in Detroit, and the implications of these trends for America's urban and rural water and wastewater services.  In addition to Rep. Conyers, Reps. Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18), Charles Rangel (D-New York), and Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), were also honorary hosts of the event.

Panelists included: Detroit attorney Alice Jennings, a lead attorney in a federal class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of community organizations and Detroit residents affected by the city's mass water shutoffs; Economist Roger Colton, the developer of the original Detroit Water and Sewer Affordability Plan who testified as an expert witness in the city’s 2014 bankruptcy case;  David Gatton, the director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Council on Metro Economies; and Patricia Jones, the Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, who is an international expert on the human right to water and coordinated the 2011 and 2014 United Nations missions of the Special Rapporteur to Detroit. Noted writer and scholar Michael Shank, Director of Media Strategy of Climate Nexus, moderated the briefing.

In his remarks, Rep. Conyers emphasized that ensuring the human right to water is “an economic, social, and health issue that we can all get behind.  It doesn’t have any partisan aspect to it.”  In an op-ed published earlier this week, Rep. Conyers advocates for the full implementation of the “water affordability plan passed by Detroit's City Council in 2006 to account for residents' financial need in water billing and to prevent discrimination in access.”  He also stressed the need for “need strong local, state, and federal investment in infrastructure around the country.”

During the briefing, Jennings stated that “just last year, there were 33,000 homes shut off, and only 18,000 restored.  That means that 15,000 potential homes are without water.”  Patricia Jones called on federal agencies “to provide immediate assistance to the thousands in Detroit in harm’s way today.”

Michael Shank highlighted that Detroit’s water system is not alone in facing challenges in covering its costs.  “A survey last month of 368 water utility companies in America suggested that two-thirds of the utilities have insufficient funds to cover their costs and will likely increase fees to make up for the shortfall,” he said.

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WASHINGTON – Today, during a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law hearing consumer protection and mortgage lending settlements, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. issued the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“The stated purpose of today’s hearing is to determine whether there has been a misuse of mortgage settlement funds by the Administration for its so-called “pet projects.” 

“In truth, however, this hearing is really a misguided witch hunt that has absolutely nothing to do with helping the millions of hardworking Americans who were swindled by unscrupulous and predatory mortgage lenders and mortgage servicers.

“Nor does it have anything to do with addressing the massive fraud committed by the securities industry that nearly led to the financial collapse of our Nation’s economy. 

“Rather than focus on these critical issues, the Majority has cited so-called “activist” organizations and the Justice Department as the perpetrators worthy of this hearing. 

“And, who exactly are these entities?  They are housing counseling programs administered at the national, state and local level by service providers subject to a rigorous certification process by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  They include such organizations as: 

•           the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities;
•           the Michigan State University Extension Service;
•           the New York City Commission on Human Rights; and
•           NeighborWorks America.

“So let us just take an in-depth look at one of these organizations.  NeighborWorks is chartered by Congress.  Its board of directors, whose membership is determined by statute, consists of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies, who are presidential appointees subject to Senate confirmation.

“In fact, Congress in 2007 designated  NeighborWorks America to administer the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program pursuant to which this organization has helped more than 1.725 million homeowners.

“If the Majority really cared about the victims of the foreclosure crisis, it would hold a hearing on either the mortgage crisis that still grips many parts of our Nation or on how Congress could better assist those millions of Americans who still are at risk of losing their homes. 

“In stark contrast, when I was Chairman of this Committee, we held 9 hearings and 2 field briefings examining the causes and impact of the foreclosure crisis, as well as potential solutions. 

“Over the course of those hearings, the Committee heard from a U.S. Senator, various Members of the House, representatives from the Treasury Department, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, bankruptcy judges, nationally-recognized economists, leading academics, victims of predatory mortgage lending, and many, many more voices.

“Finally, I am particularly concerned that the Majority has unfairly singled out the National Council of La Raza, which is the Nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. 

“The Chairman of this Committee and the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, in a letter to the Justice Department last November, characterized La Raza as an “activist” group that stands to benefit from the mortgage settlement agreements with Citigroup and the Bank of America.

“As detailed in a response from La Raza –  which I ask unanimous consent to include in today’s hearing record – there is absolutely no truth to this allegation.

“In fact, La Raza has not received a single penny from these settlements and it did not proactively seek to be designated as a recipient of these funds.

“La Raza is not even named specifically in either of these settlement agreements as a designated recipient. And, if it was to receive any monies under these agreements, La Raza has a fire-wall  between its housing counseling activities and its advocacy activities as well as accounting standards in place to ensure such separation.

“This information was readily available had the Majority simply reached out to La Raza to confirm its allegations before putting them in writing to the Justice Department.

“I thank the witnesses for joining us here today and I yield back the balance of my time.”
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Deans of the CBC—Honored for Their Work in Congress

Deans of the CBC—Honored for Their Work in Congress

The two longest-serving members of Congress were honored for their legislative work, ranging from the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to divestment from apartheid South Africa

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) (right) greets fellow Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) onstage during the Democratic National Convention in Denver Aug. 26, 2008. 
The two most-senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus—Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), 85, and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), 84—were honored at the CBC Foundation’s annual Avoice Heritage Celebration Dinner in Washington, D.C., Tuesday night.

Both were presented with the Distinguished Pioneer Award as founding members of the CBC. Conyers came to Congress in 1965 and Rangel in 1971—the two are now the most-senior members of the current Congress.

The work of their combined 94 years in the House of Representatives has contributed to the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the end of apartheid and $300 million in federal grants for Detroit in 2013 alone. Conyers has led a continuous push against racial profiling and overincarceration, as well as for criminal-justice reform.

Both Rangel and Conyers were two of only 11 black members who voted against the Clinton crime bill in 1994, legislation that would lead to a spike in incarceration rates—particularly in black communities.

Conyers and Rangel arrived in Washington at a time when there were only 13 black members of Congress. There are now 48, the most in U.S. history.

In a place where seniority is king and longevity means power, Conyers and Rangel have been able to navigate the complexities of moving legislation. In a gridlocked Congress where little gets done, that skill is even more valuable.

As a member of the Ways and Means Committee in the 1980s, Rangel pushed through the low-income-housing tax credit, increasing affordable-housing opportunities, and passed the “Rangel Amendment,” ending tax breaks for corporations that did business with South Africa—a policy that would help bring down the country’s apartheid regime.

Last year Rangel was named by TrackBill as the most-productive member of Congress in terms of the number of bills passed, passing 31 pieces of legislation (pdf) he sponsored.
But Rangel didn’t talk about legislative work when he took the CBC Foundation stage to accept his award. He talked of only one person: his wife, Alma.

“When we talk about not having a bad day since, it’s because all of my life has been spent cherishing the moment, knowing a person over 57 years—and I’ve been married to her for over 50 years. Whatever praise I was able to receive, she was able to pick a guy in law school who didn’t have a job,” Rangel said of his wife, seated in the first row.

“My wife and I have been so blessed by being partners, you can’t do these things without the support and someone to guide you,” he added.

“I’ve been moved by just a few people. The first one is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He moved me to a depth that I never dreamed of before,” said Conyers, who introduced legislation to make King’s birthday a holiday on April 8, 1968, four days after he was killed. 
Conyers spoke of the people he and Rangel had seen “come and go” over four decades in politics, and focused on three: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela.

Another civil rights icon, Parks, worked on Conyers’ first congressional campaign in 1964. She would be Conyers’ first staff hire and worked in his office until 1988, when she retired.

Many speculate that Rangel is serious about retiring from Congress at the end of 2016. But for now their colleagues are continuing to enjoy the institutional knowledge of both of the two oldest members of the caucus.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015


WASHINGTON – Today, during a full House Judiciary Committee hearing titled, “The Unconstitutionality of Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration,” Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. issued the following opening statement:

“In three days, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will run out of funds.  While tens of thousands of federal government workers could be furloughed, around 200,000 workers will be forced to come to work without receiving a pay check.  They will be told to patrol the border, conduct investigations, and secure our ports but they will not be paid.

“DHS has notoriously low morale.  That has been a problem since the Department’s creation a decade ago.  This won’t help.  But I am sure those workers will do their jobs, which is more than I can say for Congress.

“Why do I say that?  Because Congress has certain responsibilities—some are complicated and some are less complicated—and we have failed to live up to our responsibilities for years.

“First, consider the most basic obligation we have.  It is our responsibility to pass bills to fund the government.  If we don’t do our job the government shuts down.  Congressional Republicans got their wish in October 2013 and shut down the government for more than 2 weeks. 

“Now the Majority is again set on a collision course - this time they will shut down the Department of Homeland Security because they refuse to pass a clean spending bill because they want to block the administration’s executive actions on immigration.

“Keep in mind that the spending bill we are talking about was negotiated between Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate.  Truth be told, there are aspects of that bill that I disagree with.  I strongly oppose the detention bed mandate and believe that it is wasteful and unjust to include that language in the appropriations bill.  But I also understand the importance of funding DHS and the need to keep our nation safe.

“Second, Congress is also failing to do its job because it is ultimately our responsibility to fix our broken immigration system.  Instead of doing that work, we are holding hearing after hearing to vilify the President for taking important and common-sense steps to prioritize the deportation of felons before families. 

“The limited legislation that this committee has considered would make our immigration system even less efficient, less humane, and less able to meet the needs of American families and businesses.
 “Earlier this month we held two Immigration Subcommittee hearings on draft language of four deportation-only bills that would separate families, strip protection from DREAMers, destroy the agricultural industry and the millions of jobs that depend upon it, and return vulnerable children to face persecution and violence with no meaningful due process.
“Finally, I want to note that the title of today’s hearing demonstrates a glaring disrespect for the office of the presidency and for this institution’s responsibility to conduct oversight that is rooted in fact rather than political presumption.

“The title of today’s hearing is ‘The Unconstitutionality of Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration.’  Not ‘President Obama’s Executive Actions,’ but ‘Obama’s Executive Actions.’ Since when are we on such familiar terms with our Commander in Chief?  In cannot recall a previous Administration during which Members of Congress - from either side of the aisle - showed such a persistent disrespect for the office of the presidency.

“The title of this hearing is also interesting because it is a statement, not a question.  It just presumes that the Administration’s actions are unconstitutional, even though no court has found the actions unconstitutional and there is strong legal authority and historical precedent supporting these policy decisions.
“In closing, our current immigration system is not working for American families, businesses, or the economy.  These problems require real legislative solutions.  I urge my colleagues to start doing the job we were sent here to do.”
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Thursday, February 19, 2015


WASHINGTON– Last week, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), with support from 31 Democratic Members of Congress, reintroduced H.R. 1000, the “Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act.”  The bill establishes a comprehensive job creation and training program that would create millions of new jobs and raise wages throughout the country. The bill, which is funded by a small tax on Wall Street speculation, would employ Americans in projects such as the renovation of housing and schools, infrastructure repair, expanding access to broadband and wireless Internet, neighborhood beautification projects, among many other community initiatives in the health and education sectors.  This direct job creation effort would be coupled with a significant increase in funding for job training programs funded under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“While President Obama has made great strides in job creation, there are still millions of Americans seeking full-time employment and a livable wage,” Conyers said. “While the official unemployment rate has dropped, there are still more than 20 million Americans who want full time work. In my hometown of Detroit—as in many urban and rural communities throughout the country—the local unemployment rate remains above 25 percent. The direct job creation strategy in H.R.1000 is the only proven way to ensure that millions of American workers are not stuck on the sidelines of this economic recovery.”

Polls indicate that many Americans remain concerned about the state of the job market, even as the official unemployment rate has declined to 5.7 percent. A poll released last week by Associated Press-GfK found that only 35 percent of Americans say their own family has “mostly recovered” from the recession, while even fewer—27 percent—see the their local job market as being “most of the way to recovery.”

Conyers added that “the persistent lack of full time jobs is the greatest single cause of America’s wage stagnation. When more jobs are available, workers gain the power to bargain for higher wages.”

Conyers’ bill would address these lingering job shortages by providing resources for employment and training programs administered by non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and state and local governments.  H.R. 1000 prioritizes projects in those regions that have higher level of unemployment, underemployment, and non-labor force participation.

H.R. 1000 received the endorsement of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators at their December 2014 legislative conference.

Original Congressional co-sponsors of the measure included Karen Bass (D-CA), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Michael E. Capuano (D-MA), André Carson (D-IN), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Judy Chu (D-CA),  Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Al Green (D-TX), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX),  Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA),  Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Mark Takano (D-CA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Richard M. Nolan (D-MN), José E. Serrano (D-NY), Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL), John Yarmuth (D-KY).
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Friday, February 13, 2015

Senate, House Committee Leaders Push to Preserve IP Standards, Market Access for Products Around the Globe

In Letter, Bipartisan Leaders on Senate Finance, House Ways & Means, and Senate & House Judiciary Committees Call for Full Participation of WIPO Members In Negotiations to Amend Lisbon Agreement
WASHINGTON – Today, leaders on the international trade and judicial committees in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives called on the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Francis Gurry, to ensure all WIPO members have an equal voice in amending the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin. The lawmakers want to ensure that any potential changes to the treaty preserve protections for users of common or generic names and for holders of established trademarks around the globe.
The Lisbon Agreement is a WIPO-administered treaty that allows parties to the agreement to simultaneously register Appellations of Origin with all parties to the agreement.  The proposed changes would substantially expand the scope of the Lisbon Agreement to allow for registration of Geographical Indications (GI’s) and could threaten market access for many common products, such as feta cheese, around the world.
Given that only 28 of the 188 WIPO members are parties to the Lisbon Agreement, lawmakers in Congress are concerned that departing from WIPO’s longstanding practice to allow this limited group of WIPO Members to amend the Agreement could result in unwanted changes that would ultimately harm workers and businesses in the United States and around the world.
“WIPO’s legitimacy as a global forum for the protection of intellectual property throughout the world could be called into question by departing from standard practice and allowing a limited group of WIPO Members to substantially amend the Lisbon Agreement in a way that harms market access and the intellectual property rights of stakeholders from other WIPO Members, including the United States,” wrote the lawmakers. “Such a step would be contrary to longstanding WIPO practice, which is to encourage broad participation because of the far-reaching effect of its decisions.  Therefore, we strongly urge you to do everything possible to ensure all WIPO Members have an equal voice in determining any revisions to the Lisbon Agreement.”

Signing the letter today were: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.)
The Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Committees have jurisdiction over international trade policy and the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have jurisdiction over intellectual property law and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reps. Sensenbrenner and Conyers Lead Bipartisan Reintroduction of Legislation to Restore the Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON – Today, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) reintroduced the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015.  The legislation aims to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law, which was first enacted 50 years ago.

Reps. Conyers and Sensenbrenner reintroduced the legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision which struck down Section 4b, the core provision in the Voting Rights Act that determines how states are covered under Section 5 of the Act (which requires federal preclearance of voting changes by covered jurisdictions to protect against discriminatory voting measures).  The bill updates the coverage formula by making all states and jurisdictions eligible for coverage formula based on voting violations in the last 15 years. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“The Voting Rights Act was designed to eliminate evolving legal barriers to the voting booth and to give minority voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.  The Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the Section 4b formula for coverage under Section 5 is a critical blow to its future relevancy and will make it more difficult to challenge existing barriers” said Rep. Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus who cosponsored the original Voting Rights Act in 1965.  “I have witnessed firsthand the stain that discrimination has placed on our democracy.  Though the Shelby County v. Holder decision struck at the heart of the Act, today, it is with much pride that my colleagues and I are reintroducing a renewed Voting Rights Amendment Act to reaffirm our constitutional commitment to protecting the right to vote.”

“The VRA is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed.  Combating both discrimination and fraud is essential to ensuring Americans’ right to vote is protected.  Our legitimacy as elected officials relies on the integrity of the ballot box.  I urge my colleagues to support the VRAA because it is vital to our commitment to never again allow racial prejudices in the electoral process,” said Rep. Sensenbrenner.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August of 1965, and it has been reauthorized four times since.  President George W. Bush signed the most recent reauthorization into law in 2006, after the House voted 390-33 and the Senate 98-0 in favor of the legislation.

An outline of the legislation can be found here, and text of legislation can be found here.

Key provisions in the bill include:

·         Through a coverage provision based on current conditions, the bill establishes a rolling nationwide trigger that covers states or jurisdictions that have a persistent record of recent voting rights violations over the last 15 years.

·         Allows our federal courts to bail-in the worst actors for preclearance.  The current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for intentional violations, but the new legislation amends the Act to allow states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for results-based violations.

·         Greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of changes.  The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.

·         Allows for preliminary relief to be obtained more readily, given that voting rights cannot often be vindicated after an election is already over.

Additional original co-sponsors of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 include: Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Charles Dent (R-PA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Lewis (D-GA), Christopher Gibson (R-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY),  Bobby Scott (D-VA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee ( D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN),  Hank Johnson (D -GA), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR),  Judy Chu (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Scott Peters (D-CA).

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

America's New Single-Payer Majority

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
The Republican-led House of Representatives just unsuccessfully attempted to undo the Affordable Care Act for the 56th time.
While it's been well established that repealing Obamacare without a plausible replacement would leave tens of millions of people uninsured and worsen our deficits by accelerating the growth in healthcare costs, it's also important to note that this continued GOP crusade to get government out of health care runs directly counter to the stated will of the majority of Americans.
new poll shows that more than half of Americans -- including 80 percent of Democrats and a quarter of Republicans -- support expanding health reform to "Medicare for All." While Obamacare has been a step in the right direction, more and more people across the country understand that a single-payer healthcare system is the only way to guarantee quality care and at the same time reduce medical costs.
The United States spends almost twice as much per person on health care as any other country, yet our key outcomes -- life expectancy, infant mortality and preventable deaths -- too often lag behind our peers. A recent Commonwealth Fund study ranked the U.S. healthcare system dead last among 11 highly developed countries in terms of quality, efficiency and access to health care.
What are we doing wrong?
One major problem is that billing and insurance-related administrative costs -- in other words, bureaucratic red tape -- cost the American people $471 billion in 2012. That's enough money to pay for our country's whole interstate highway system. At least 80 percent of that extraordinary cost was, according to a respected study, due to inefficiencies in our for-profit, multipayer healthcare system.
By adopting a "Medicare for All" model -- which, by the way, is the standard for health care throughout the industrialized world -- we can achieve hundreds of billions of dollars in cost savings that can be used to cover the nation's remaining uninsured and upgrade coverage for millions of underinsured citizens. While the ACA has brought insurance to 19 million Americans, 13 percent still lack health insurance, including one out of every five young adults. Notwithstanding the fact that the ACA has significantly reduced out-of-pocket costs, 21 percent of insured Americans are still spending 5 percent or more of their income on out-of-pocket costs.
This week I was joined by 44 members of Congress in reintroducing the only healthcare legislation that will overcome these persistent challenges to our healthcare system: H.R. 676, or "The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act." This bill has been introduced in every Congress since 2003 and has a broad base of support among healthcare activists, organized labor, physicians, nurses, and social-justice organizations across the nation. The bill has been endorsed by 26 international unions, Physicians for a National Health Program, two former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine, National Nurses United, the American Medical Students Association, Progressive Democrats of America, the NAACP, and countless others.
This isn't just good ethics; it's also good economics. H.R. 676 will boost the economy by enabling America's small businesses to focus on building their companies rather than on dealing with the cost and complexity of providing healthcare for their employees. H.R. 676 keeps the delivery of health care a private matter, enabling health providers to engage in market-based competition and innovation.
Half a century ago, addressing the convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. declared, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." It's time to adopt a serious comprehensive plan to address it.
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House passes small-business bill

House passes small-business bill

The House on Thursday passed a bill requiring federal agencies to measure the costs of regulations on small businesses.
Approved 260-163, the measure would require federal agencies to calculate the direct, as well as indirect, costs of proposed rules.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the bill's sponsor, said it would help give small businesses a more influential role in the regulatory process.
"H.R. 527 is not a bill that stops regulations; it allows small businesses to be a part of the solution and provide valuable input during the rule-making process. This bill simply makes government think before it acts by answering, ‘How will this impact America’s working families?' " Chabot said.
Democrats warned the measure's provisions would drag out agency rule-making.
"Under the guise of protecting small businesses from allegedly burdensome regulatory requirements, this bill is just another attempt to prevent regulatory agencies from promulgating regulations that promote and protect the health and safety of Americans," said Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
The White House issued a veto threat against the bill, saying it would "impose unnecessary new procedures on agencies and invite frivolous litigation."
Before final passage, the House rejected, 172-248, an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that would exempt all regulations issued by the Food and Drug Administration related to consumer safety.
The House has passed versions of the same bill in the last two sessions of Congress.
Thursday's vote was for the second bill on the House floor this week to reform the regulatory process. The House passed legislation on Wednesday to require federal agencies to report the full economic effects of regulations.
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WASHINGTON– Today, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) introduced the “Cancel the Sequester Act of 2015.”  This one-sentence bill would repeal the across-the-board-cuts that are scheduled to go into effect once again this fall. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Six years after the onset of the financial crisis, there are still millions of Americans seeking full-time employment and a livable wage.  The misguided budget cuts known as ‘the Sequester’ would make life significantly harder for these hard-working people and the families they struggle to support,” said Conyers.  “These across-the-board budget cuts are unique among American public policies for a simple reason: They were purposefully designed to be a bad idea.  During the debt ceiling standoff of 2011, the Sequester was designed as a default option so revolting to both Democrats and Republicans that it would force the bipartisan “Super Committee” to form a workable budget plan.  While that committee failed at this objective, the American people have been left to pay the price.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Sequester, if fully implemented, would put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk—including many associated with small businesses.  Macroeconomic Advisers, an independent consulting firm, estimated that the first round of sequestration and the related budget battles of the 112th and 113th Congresses have cost the United States roughly $700 billion in economic activity.

“A new round of sequestration this fall would undermine educational quality, research output, and military readiness while leaving us with longer airport security lines, more untreated mental illnesses, more hunger, more homelessness, and fewer federal criminal prosecutions.  We have an obligation to act.  This legislation would repeal the section of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that created these job-killing budget cuts.”  

Original Congressional co-sponsors of the Cancel the Sequester Act of 2015 include: Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) , Gwen Moore (D-WI), James McGovern (D-MA), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
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