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WASHINGTON WATCH: October 17, 2023



 


THE LONG GAME: Jordan fails on first ballot of GOP speaker race; Senate to take up measure to support Israel

Although he secured the official nomination of the House GOP Conference last week to become the next speaker, this afternoon Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) fell short of the votes necessary to win on his first attempt. Jordan failed to secure the 217 votes he needed to clinch the gavel, with 20 GOP votes against him.  His supporters are said to fear that a second round might get worse for Jordan. Some are still upset over the removal of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from his position, and others were angry over the treatment of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), who withdrew from the speaker’s race last week.  Members of the moderate Problem Solvers Caucus sent a letter to Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) floating the idea that the House could empower him with more authority in 15-day increments to enable lawmakers to take up legislation, including bills to fund the government.  As the GOP stalemate continues, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said Sunday that Democrats could get more involved in the discussions.  


The lack of a House speaker puts legislation on hold for the time-being—including an aid package for Israel or even a resolution in support of the Jewish state.  Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate delegation visited Israel in the wake of the Hamas terrorist attacks.  Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led the delegation, which included Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ).  Schumer and Romney were forced to take cover in an air raid shelter in Tel Aviv on Sunday.  Schumer said that upper chamber would act on a military aid package quickly.  "We will work to move this aid through the Senate ASAP, and the Israeli leaders made it clear to us they need the aid quickly," Schumer said. Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have both expressed a preference for moving aid to Israel in conjunction with additional aid for Ukraine—a move which is likely to face opposition in the GOP-led House.



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



 




Spotlight on Puerto Rico



Puerto Rico updates driver’s licenses to address controversies 

In the wake of a controversy that erupted last year when a Hertz employee denied a Puerto Rican a rental car because the employee did not know or believe Puerto Rico was part of the United States, the Island has now added the letters “USA” to the top of its driver’s licenses. Hertz issued an apology afterward and promised to retrain employees, but the problem persists. A New York Times poll showed that almost half of Americans do not know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens, leading to many examples of discrimination, including a recent incident where a family flying out of Los Angeles was denied entry on a flight because their toddler did not have a passport. Despite this move, there is still fear among many Puerto Ricans that this will do little to reduce the discrimination they routinely face. 

Toxic coal ash remains problem in Puerto Rico 

Fourteen municipalities, including Salinas, used coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants, as a cheap building material for road construction between 2004 and 2011.  The material is a byproduct of burning coal and is known to contain a long list of toxic and radioactive chemicals, which left these cities covered in chemicals that the EPA did not begin to regulate until 2015.  The problem is worst along Puerto Rico’s south coast, where a coal-fired power plant in Guayama led to deposits of more than 1.5 million tons of coal ash. In July 2022, EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited the region to meet with residents about this issue and view the damage left behind, which has led to numerous public health issues.  The EPA began its own water testing this year, but the results have not yet been made public. 

Social Security funds to boost Puerto Rico economy next year  

Social Security beneficiaries will receive a 3.2% increase in their benefits next year as part of annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA). In Puerto Rico, this amounts to an injection of $353 million into the local economy through the Island’s 829,232 beneficiaries. Current monthly Social Security benefits in Puerto Rico average $1,107/month and that will increase to $1,142/month. Though a solid boost, the numbers lag in comparison to the benefits on the mainland, where the average monthly payment is currently $1,848 and will grow to $1,907 next year. The increase will be automatic and all beneficiaries will be notified of their exact change in benefits in December. 

$563 million in federal contracts awarded to Puerto Rican companies 

The Federal Contracting Center (FeCC) in Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce announced that nearly $563 million in federal contracts were awarded to 456 companies in Puerto Rico during the last fiscal year, from October 1, 2022 to September 30, 2023. These companies include the tourism, agricultural, administrative services, forestry, and social assistance sectors, among others. In the coming months, the FeCC plans to hold public events to continue to help Island companies learn about grant opportunities.





 

View From The White House




  • The White House announced Friday that the Department of Energy had chosen seven regional “hubs” for a $7 billion program funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to produce hydrogen fuel, which does not result in greenhouse gas emissions. 

  • The Washington Post reported Monday that the Biden administration has agreed to ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry if the government allows for a competitive, internationally monitored presidential election next year.

  • President Biden on Wednesday announced a proposed rule from the Federal Trade Commission that would prohibit hidden and bogus junk fees, which inflate the prices of utility bills, hotel rooms, concert tickets, and other items.


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