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WASHINGTON WATCH: April 18, 2023


THE LONG GAME: McCarthy promises debt ceiling vote; Judiciary Committee holds NYC field hearing

Lawmakers return to work this week, with a solution to the looming debt ceiling crisis no closer than when they departed Washington. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) stopped off at the New York Stock Exchange Monday morning, where he declared that the House would vote in the coming weeks on a bill to lift the debt ceiling into 2024. His proposal would return discretionary funding levels to 2022 levels and limit the growth of spending over the next 10 years to 1 percent of annual growth. McCarthy would also tighten work requirements for people who receive food stamps under the SNAP program. Meanwhile, separate groups of lawmakers have weighed in. Last week, leaders of the 70-member Main Street Caucus of Republicans unveiled a list of priorities that included clawing back billions in unspent funds related to the pandemic and ending the pause on federal student loans repayment. In March, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus unveiled a list of demands that, among other things, called for slashing $400 billion that was included in the Inflation Reduction Act to support clean energy and canceling $80 billion in new funding for the IRS to pursue tax cheats. The White House has called for a “clean” debt ceiling increase.

In what Democrats billed as a political stunt, the House Judiciary Committee held a field hearing in New York City on Monday. Skeptics said that the hearing, entitled “Victims of Violent Crime in Manhattan”, was a thinly veiled attempt to discredit District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office recently indicted former President Donald Trump. Bragg and committee chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) have sparred in recent weeks. Jordan kicked off the hearing with a critique of Bragg, claiming that he is more interested in pursuing a “radical political agenda” than in going after “real criminals.” Last week, Bragg filed a federal lawsuit accusing the committee of trying to interfere with the investigation of Trump and accusing the lawmakers of a “brazen and unconstitutional attack” on his prosecution. Despite GOP attempts to paint New York as crime-ridden, violent crime in general and homicides have dropped considerably in Manhattan since reaching record levels in the 1990s. Indeed, the murder rate per capita in Columbus, Ohio—the largest city in Jordan’s district-- is now three times higher compared to that of New York City.

Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Inter-American University to serve as Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has selected Inter-American University of Puerto Rico(IAUPR) as the site of an Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (EJ TCTACs). The university will receive $10 million over the next five years to help communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands get the resources they need to advance environmental justice and revitalize disadvantaged and historically underfunded communities. Organizations working to expand and develop leadership capacity will be some of the beneficiaries of this fund, along with local governments and networks seeking to advance environmental justice.

FEMA sued over grid construction plans

Community groups in Puerto Rico led by the Center for Biological Diversity have filed a lawsuit against FEMA over its plan to rebuild Puerto Rico’s centralized grid. The groups allege that the plan limits Puerto Rico’s ability to transition to renewable energy and locks in the Island’s dependence on imported fossil fuels for many more decades. FEMA is expected to spend $12 billion over the next few years to permanently rebuild the grid destroyed by Hurricane Maria back in 2017. Currently, only 4% of Puerto Rican energy comes from renewables, but the Island has a goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Cousins of Puerto Rico’s governor found guilty of embezzling federal funds

Two of Governor Pedro Pierluisi’s cousins, 58 year-old Walter Pierluisi and 52 year-old Eduardo Pierluisi, pleaded guilty to embezzling $3.7 million in public housing funds from the federal government. The case stems from an FBI raid on the offices of American Management and Administration (AMAC). AMAC had received $73 million since being founded by Walter Pierluisi in 1995 to administer public housing complexes on the Island. Both men were actively involved in the governor’s 2020 race. The governor put out a statement saying that his cousins “failed his family and failed the country.” As part of the plea agreement, the embezzled money will be returned and the men will serve 30-37 month sentences.

Puerto Rico declares state of emergency on coastal erosion

The Puerto Rican government declared a state of emergency last week to fight coastal erosion due to climate change that is worsening all over the Island. The government plans to set aside $105 million in federal funds to relocate homes, create artificial reefs, plant mangrove trees, and add sand to beaches. The mitigation measures will be targeted at the municipalities experiencing the most damage, including Rincon, Cabo Rojo, Isabela, and Vieques. The Island’s Department of Natural Resources will also establish a new protocol to deal with coastal erosion and update its coastal zone management plan. Activists are also pushing for a moratorium on all coastal zone construction.


View From The White House

  • In the wake of yet another mass shooting, President Biden called it “outrageous and unacceptable” on Sunday that leading Republicans have stood in the way of commonsense gun safety measures.

  • The Democratic National Committee announced last week that it would hold its 2024 nominating convention in Chicago next summer.

  • The White House announced a new round of public-private partnerships Monday designed to increase the use of electric vehicles, including a commitment from Uber that the ride-sharing company would drive 400 million miles in EVs by the end of the year.


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