The young administration's agenda — detailed in 2021's first presidential address to a joint session of Congress — dominated the news out of the nation's capital this week. The Senate was in session and the House was engaged in the first of two consecutive committee work weeks set to continue through May 7. Here's how Colorado's D.C. delegation kept busy:
COUNTING THE DAYS ... Joe Biden marked his 100th day in office on April 28 with a speech to a sparsely filled House chamber, due to COVID-19 precautions. More conversational than oratorical, the president's delivery was a nod to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the transformative Democrat's fireside chats, the same way its timing evoked FDR's frantic pace out of the gate, aimed to compare Biden's response to the pandemic and a stunned economy with FDR tackling the Great Depression.
Four Coloradans were among the 100 senators and House members who got tickets to the speech — Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse and Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert — but everyone in the delegation watched it and reacted.
Distant are the days when Coloradan Mark Udall led the charge for senators and House members to set aside their colors, forget about the aisle and sit together at a presidential address, like nearly all of the state delegation did in 2012 for Barack Obama's State of the Union. The exception that year was Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who skipped the speech entirely to express his disapproval of the Democrat in the White House.
This year, without exception, the state's delegation hewed to party lines, with Democrats cheering and Republicans jeering.
"The president’s message to the American people tonight is precisely the leadership we need at this critical moment," said Rep. Diana DeGette, whose sentiment was echoed across the board by the other Democrats.
SOUR NOTE ... "My reaction to the speech can be summed up in four words: I miss President Trump," said Boebert, who also accused Biden of "spewing hateful, partisan rhetoric" and mouthing "empty platitudes."
During the speech, Boebert tweeted a steady stream of denunciations and later slammed Biden for his attracting far fewer viewers than Trump did for his joint addresses. She also drew the spotlight by unfurling a Mylar blanket while Biden was talking to call attention to the crush of immigrants at the southern border.
Meanwhile, a sizable majority of voters back home hold favorable views of Biden and unfavorable views of Trump, according to new polling released this week by Democratic firms Keating Research, OnSight Public Affairs and Mike Melanson. The KOM poll also found two-thirds of Colorado Republicans believe the 2020 election was "stolen" from Trump, echoing claims made by many top state Republicans.
LEGACY ACHIEVEMENT? ... If it seems like Michael Bennet is talking a lot lately about the expanded child tax credit he's been pushing for years, it's because he has been — it's that big, say Democrats who predict the policy will slash childhood poverty when it starts to take effect this summer.
"This is a transformative change," said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in a virtual press conference on April 27 with lawmakers who want to make the credit permanent, including Bennet and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who called it "the biggest victory for working families" in decades.
In a nutshell, the measure increases the existing $2,000-per-child tax credit to $3,000 for ages 6-17 and $3,600 for children 5 and younger — adding 17-year-olds to the pot — and makes it fully refundable, meaning it'll go to families who don't make enough money to qualify for the current credit. It'll also be paid out monthly, starting in July, instead of just at tax time.
All told, it's expected to cut poverty among American children nearly in half in one year, with outsized effects among Hispanic, Black and Native American families. In Colorado, that means lifting 57,000 children out of poverty and sending payments to almost 350,000 children who weren't getting the payment under the old law.
So far, it's in place for just one year, under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by Biden in March, but the administration has proposed extending it for four more years as part of the new $1.8 trillion American Families Plan unveiled this week.
Bennet and his allies — including 40 Democratic senators and a cadre of key House Democrats — say that isn't good enough and want the provision made permanent.
THE AYES HAVE IT ... Legislation with Colorado connections involving methane emission passed the Senate and a key House committee this week.
On April 28, the Senate voted 52-42 to reverse the Trump Administration's weakening of Obama administration rules to curb the powerful greenhouse gas, modeled on rules first adopted in Colorado when Hickenlooper was governor.
"Gov. Hickenlooper worked by bringing environmentalists and industry leaders together and crafted a policy that reflected the consensus in my state around climate change," Bennet said on the Senate floor before the vote.
If that sounds familiar, it's because it was a signature talking point to demonstrate Hickenlooper's collaborative approach to solving problems during the former barkeep's brief 2020 presidential run and on the Senate campaign trail last year.
The only "get everyone to sit down together" Hickenlooper anecdote that might have gotten more of a workout on the stump was the one about the time he brought dozens of previously hostile metro-area mayors together to get behind FasTracks, the light- and commuter-rail expansion approved by voters in 2004.
• The same day as the Senate voted, the House Natural Resources Committee voted 24-19 to pass DeGette-sponsored legislation to require oil and gas drillers on public lands to capture nearly all of the methane they produce.
“If we’re going to be serious about staving off the worst effects of this climate change, we’re going to have to get serious about cutting the amount of methane that’s being released into the atmosphere,” DeGette said during the hearing.
• On April 29, the Senate voted 89-2 to pass legislation that includes a provision from Bennet's RESILIENT Act to require federal outreach to rural communities about financing and funding options for water infrastructure.
“Rural communities across the nation face many of the same challenges as larger communities, but often with fewer staff and resources,” Bennet said in a statement. “This provision will help ensure that local leaders have information on federal funding and financing options, so they can pursue the water infrastructure projects that fit their needs.”
The two senators who voted against the bill were Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. Senate Bill 914, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, heads to the House for action.
MR. CHAIRMAN ... Neguse wielded the virtual gavel on April 29 for an oversight hearing on wildfires by the House Natural Resource Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, which he chairs.
“Colorado’s record-breaking wildfire season in 2020 has only highlighted the urgent need to invest in wildfire resiliency and recovery and equip our wildland firefighters as they work to protect our communities,” said Neguse, who also co-chairs the bipartisan Wildfire Caucus.
Pointing to Colorado's smoky summer last year, when the state faced its three largest wildfires on record, and touting his 21st Century Civilian Climate Corps proposal — included in Biden's massive infrastructure package — Neguse said the hearing was meant to bring together "individuals on the frontlines of these wildfires" to "discuss opportunities for community collaboration, climate resilience and workforce capacity.”
Witnesses included Courtney Schultz, an associate professor of Forest & Natural Resource Policy at Colorado State University and director of the Public Lands Policy Group at CSU; Beverly Law, an emeritus professor of Global Change Biology & Terrestrial Systems Science at Oregon State University; and Riva Duncan, executive secretary of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters and a retired U.S. Forest Service firefighter.
Watch the hearing here.
IN THE HOPPER ... Members of Colorado's congressional delegation have been introducing legislation at a fast pace lately, and this week was no exception.
• Rep. Jason Crow joined with fellow Democrats Reps. Adam Schiff of California, Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to reintroduce a bill to repeal legislation on the books that blocks victims of gun violence from suing the gun industry — including manufacturers, merchants and advocacy organizations — on claims of negligence and disregard for public safety.
The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act would repeal the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
“Our nation is suffering from a gun violence epidemic and yet gun manufacturers are shielded from liability," Crow said in a statement. "This is wrong and it has to end." The earlier legislation, he added, "removed any incentive for gun manufacturers to make their products safer, putting private profit ahead of public safety." Noting that families who sued over the Aurora theater shooting went bankrupt, he said the new bill "creates a level playing field so survivors can have their day in court.”
• Crow and Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida reintroduced a bill to extend the Special Immigrant Visa program to Syrian Kurds who helped the U.S. and its allies fight ISIS, as well as their families.
“The American handshake needs to mean something," said Crow, a decorated Army Ranger veteran with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maintaining that he knows firsthand "that our alliances are built on trust," Crow added: "We must protect the friends who protected us.”
The Syrian Partner Protection Act is similar to programs put in place during the Bush administration for Iraqi and Afghan translators, combat interpreters, soldiers, advisors and others who were endangered because they supported the U.S.
• Republican Rep. Ken Buck introduced three bipartisan bills to make prescription drugs more affordable.
"It’s unacceptable that big drug companies are engaging in anticompetitive practices that make senior citizens pay more for prescription drugs," he tweeted. "Let’s hold these companies accountable."
Here's how Buck, the ranking member House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, described the bills, which are all aimed at curbing anti-competitive behavior in the pharmaceutical market:
— The Stop Stalling Access to Affordable Medications Act
"This bill would prohibit brands from flooding the FDA with meritless citizen petitions to block or delay generic competition. The Act makes it presumptively unlawful for brands to submit sham petitions under certain circumstances and empowers the FTC to hold violators liable for engaging in an unfair method of competition violation."
— The Preserve Access to Affordable Generics and Biosimilars Act
"This bill stops brands from entering into anticompetitive pay-for-delay agreements, under which the brand effectively pays the generic or biosimilar to stay out of the market. The bill makes it presumptively illegal for brands to enter into such agreements."
— The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Through Promoting Competition Act
"This bill would prohibit 'product hopping,' an anticompetitive practice by which branded drug manufacturers seek to extend their exclusivity on an expiring patented drug by switching doctors and patients from the old version of the drug to a new version. This allows them to artificially extend their monopolies and prevent generic drugs from entering the market, which keeps prescription drug costs high."
• Bennet introduced a bill to require service members' and veterans' fertility treatments — including in vitro fertilization and counseling — are covered by their health benefits, reversing a ban in place since 1992 that blocks the Veterans Administration from providing certain forms of fertility treatment. The bill is co-sponsored by more than a dozen Democratic senators.
“It's our job to make sure veterans who have bravely served our country and their families have access to the fertility care they need and deserve,” said Bennet in a statement. “I'm happy to introduce this legislation that will help ensure veterans have access to needed treatments or counseling to start a family through the VA."
The Veteran Families Health Services Act has the backing of Paralyzed Veterans of America, Minority Veterans of America, the Service Women’s Action Network, RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Military Family Building Coalition, Disabled American Veterans and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Bennet's office said.
• Bennet and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas introduced a bill to run a pilot program to increase access for Medicare patients to biosimilar biologics, which are like generic versions of prescription drugs and cost about one-third less.
The bill, dubbed the Increasing Access to Biosimilar Act, "would increase patient access to lower-cost biosimilars, saving them and our health care system billions of dollars," Bennet said in a statement.
The bill would change the incentive structure in an attempt to encourage providers to prescribe the less expensive versions. It has the support of the Biosimilars Forum, Association for Accessible Medicines, the Biosimilars Council and Viatris.
BELLY UP TO THE SBA ... Hickenlooper reminded owners of restaurants and others in the food and drink industry that applications open at 10 a.m. Monday for the Small Business Association's Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which offers tax-free grants that don't have to be repaid, based on revenue loss between 2019 and 2020.
“Local bars and restaurants struggled, sacrificed and innovated to keep their doors open and the public safe,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “Now, help is on the way. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund will deliver the aid restaurants urgently need to survive the pandemic and continue serving their communities.”
The $28.6 billion program offers up to $5 million grants for restaurants or bars with one location and up to $10 million for restaurant groups. It's more flexible than last year's Paycheck Protection Program — allowing spending on payroll, rent, construction, maintenance and more — and is also available to food trucks, food stands, breweries and caterers.
Hickenlooper — if you hadn't heard, he's the founder of Denver's Wynkoop Brewing Co. and owned a raft of restaurants and breweries before he went in to politics — urged businesses to register here before the applications open.
He held a seminar last week with the Colorado Restaurant Association and the state SBA office to go through the application process. Watch that here.
LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS ... Letter-writing, some say, is a lost form of expression, pushed aside by dashed-off emails and texting, but lawmakers are keeping it alive.
This week, Neguse joined with Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Jared Golden of Maine leading a letter calling on Biden to expand Medicare in his American Families Plan.
The "ideologically diverse group" — Neguse and Jayapal fall toward the left end of the spectrum, while Lamb and Golden tend to be classified as moderate Democrats — called on the administration to lower Medicare's eligibility age, add dental, vision and hearing coverage, impose an out-of-pocket payment cap and let the plan's administrators negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever we must ensure that families and older adults are equipped with adequate health care coverage,” said Neguse in a statement.
Crow and DeGette were among the more than 80 other House Democrats who signed on to the letter.
TWEET OF THE WEEK ... Neguse scored a solid 9/10 for his presentation from Zoom-room arbiters Room Rater, a left-leaning Twitter account that's been sizing up remote locations that have become ubiquitous in the last year.
"Good member of Congress set up," Room Rater assessed. "Flags. Photos. Dramatic lighting. 9/10"
Responded Neguse: "We worked hard on the 'dramatic lighting.' I’m honored!"