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WASHINGTON WATCH: July 11, 2023



 

THE LONG GAME: Senate to take up SCOTUS ethics; Greene expelled from Freedom Caucus

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) said last week that he wants a vote on a package of Supreme Court ethics reforms by the end of the month. Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, said that the exact timing of a vote would be announced this week. “The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards,” Durbin said in a statement. He also expressed disappointment that Chief Justice John Roberts had not used his own authority to impose new standards. This follows recent revelations about justices accepting expensive gifts. In June, ProPublica reported that Justice Samuel Alito took a lavish vacation paid for by a billionaire whose hedge fund came before the court at least ten times. Given the partisan make-up of the court, it is unlikely that Senate Republicans will help Democrats cross the 60-vote threshold needed to pass new reforms—or that the House GOP will take up the issue.


Although she has been one of the leading voices among ultra-conservatives, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) now appears to have been expelled by the House Freedom Caucus. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) confirmed to reporters that a vote had been taken on Greene’s status and that she had been kicked out. Greene had run afoul of other Freedom Caucus members in recent months by backing Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in his bid for the top position and by supporting McCarthy’s deal with President Biden to avert a government default. The final straw appears to have been a verbal spat on the House floor with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), during which Greene used an expletive to refer to Boebert. “I think the way she referred to a fellow member was probably not the way we expect our members to refer to other fellow, especially female, members,” Harris said, according to Politico.


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



 


Spotlight on Puerto Rico


Repairs to begin on Guajataca Dam 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has signed a $1 billion deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to begin permanent repairs and improvements on Puerto Rico’s Guajataca Dam. The funds will support reconstruction of the dam, including design, engineering, procurement, contract administration, construction supervision, and project management. Much of the funds will flow through FEMA and the project is expected to be completed by 2028. The Lake Guajataca Reservoir provides drinking water for 300,000 people and agricultural irrigation. The new effort will restore the dam, originally built in 1928, to full hydroelectric capacity for the first time since a critical failure that followed Hurricane Maria in 2017. 

Hundreds of millions of unused federal funds set to expire in September 

The Puerto Rican government has not spent nearly half (47%) of the federal funds distributed to the Island under the second phase of the Emergency School and Secondary Education Relief Fund program. If they are not used by September 30 of this year, the money will roll back to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education gave more than $1.3 billion to the Island to keep schools open during the pandemic, but the government of Puerto Rico has only spent about $695 million so far. This is part of a pattern, as the government also failed to spend $23 million in phase one funding that expired in September 2022 and thus far has only spent 20% of phase three funding that expires in September 2024.

Construction labor shortage hits Puerto Rico 

Puerto Rico has experienced a shortage of construction workers as both skilled and unskilled laborers leave the Island to pursue higher wages and better benefits on the mainland. According to El Vocero, there are 2,000 licensed civil engineers on the Island, but only 20 graduated last year from the Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico. Demand for construction workers across Puerto Rico is extremely high because of reconstruction funds and Biden Administration infrastructure resources, but projects may stall unless wages and benefits improve.  

Goodwill Industries announces new services

Goodwill Industries International is expanding its services in Puerto Rico with two new retail locations and a new outlet, bringing as many as 80 jobs to the Island. The services will operate under the new “Goodwill de Puerto Rico” brand name and in partnership with Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana.




 

View From The White House



  • The Department of Justice filed a motion to stay the order of a federal judge in Louisiana who ruled that members of the executive branch were prohibited from contacting social media companies about certain content.

  • Taking aim at what the administration calls “junk” health care plans, the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday announced a proposed rule that would limit short-term health care plans to three months, and can only be renewed for one more month, as compared to the three-year short-term plans allowed by the Trump administration. 

  • Before embarking on a five-day trip to Europe, during which he will participate in a NATO summit in Lithuania, President Biden said that it was premature for the alliance to vote on granting membership to Ukraine.



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