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WASHINGTON WATCH: December 5, 2023


THE LONG GAME: Santos expelled; Defense authorization negotiations underway 

Ending one of the most bizarre chapters in recent congressional history, the House voted on Friday to expel New York Republican George Santos.  It was the third such attempt. The vote was 311 to 114, far exceeding the two-thirds majority needed to remove Santos from office. About half of the GOP voted in favor of the resolution sponsored by Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Ethics Committee.  The vote followed the release of a scathing report by the ethics committee that found that Santos had, among other things, stolen money from his campaign and used funds to pay for spa visits and luxury goods.  Even so, the top four GOP leaders, including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), voted against expulsion. Santos became only the sixth member of the House to be expelled from office; the most recent being former Rep. James Traficant (D-OH) in 2002.  A special election is expected in late February to fill the vacancy in the Long Island district that President Biden won by 10 points in 2020. House and Senate negotiators began conference committee work on the National Defense Authorization (NDAA) Act last week.  The bill calls for $886 billion in Pentagon programs and includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel.  However, major differences remain, especially those involving social policy issues inserted by Republicans into the

House version of the legislation.  This puts passage of the bill, which has been approved annually for more than 60 consecutive years, in jeopardy.  The House bill includes amendments intended to overturn what some GOP members have called “woke” Pentagon policies, including current Department of Defense policies governing abortion leave, medical care for transgender troops, diversity initiatives, and steps to combat climate change. The Senate version of the bill did not address these issues.  Some Republicans have also signaled opposition to using the bill to provide military assistance to Ukraine or Israel, or to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza or Ukraine.  Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said that such moves would lead to “legislative Armageddon.”

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico health system in danger of collapse

Health services across Puerto Rico have been deteriorating since the 2017 hurricane season, leading to a historic surge of deaths in 2022. With a population estimated at 3.3 million, 35,400 residents died last year, approximately 3,300 more than expected based on historical patterns. Part of this is blamed on a spike in COVID-19 cases, which killed an additional 2,300 people last year. Months after COVID subsided, the spike in deaths continued as young people and healthcare professionals left the Island, leaving behind a population that is elderly and lacking access to specialized care such as dialysis. The Puerto Rican Department of Health admits the rise in deaths is a problem, but blames COVID and the persistent doctor shortage. In 2010, there were approximately 19,000 doctors on the Island. As of 2022, were 10,846 licensed physicians in Puerto Rico, with about 3,000 also licensed to practice on the mainland.

USDA announces grants for Puerto Rican farms

President Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a $196 million investment to strengthen food and agriculture supply chains, expand markets, and lower food costs, which will include $770,000 in Value-Added Producer grants for projects on four farms in Puerto Rico. These grants will help farmers and ranchers enter new markets and increase their revenue. The four projects include $20,000 to De Mi Tierra A Mi Pueblo Corp in Caguas; $250,000 to Fincas Luis Roig Inc. in Yauco; $250,000 to Nestor Reyes Farms and Associates Inc. in Rio Grande; and $250,000 to Loyd Sanabria Hernandez in Salinas. 

New report highlights economic growth potential through clean energy infrastructure

Democrats on the congressional Joint Economic Committee released a report highlighting the economic growth potential of clean energy infrastructure investments in Puerto Rico. The report analyzed steps to modernize Puerto Rico’s energy grid with a $12 billion investment from Congress, which aligns with the Island’s goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050. The report relies upon historical precedent, citing the Island’s economic growth due in part to federal investments in hydroelectric dams from the 1950s through the 1990s. Supporters of the transition to renewable energy say that it will lower costs and open new opportunities for economic development and growth. 

Puerto Rico’s historic cats to be removed 

The National Park Service announced last week that over the next six months it will remove approximately 200 stray cats that live on the 75 acres surrounding the fortress in San Juan. Cat lovers on the Island reacted with dismay, saying six months is not long enough to remove them all, but the Park Service says that the cats need to removed for resident and tourist safety. The cats are descendants from those initially brought to the capital by San Juan Mayor Felisa Rincon de Gautier to kill rats in the mid-20th Century.


View From The White House

  • The Treasury Department announced on Friday that electric vehicles (EVs) made with battery parts made in China would not be eligible for a full $7,500 tax credit. 

  • At the United Nations climate summit in Dubai attended by Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. officials announced that the federal government would require oil and gas companies to detect and fix methane leaks, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. 

  • A new rule released by the EPA last week would require most major U.S. cities to replace lead pipes within 10 years.



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