Congress

Lawmakers Urge FAA To Implement Pilot Database

From the Morning Memo:

Federal lawmakers in New York used the 10th anniversary of the crash of Flight 3407 to urge the Federal Aviation Administration to establish an Electronic Pilot Training Database.

The reference tool, which would give airlines full access to the training records of commercial pilots, was included in safety reforms approved by Congress in 2010. However, to this point it has been stuck in the testing phase.

The 2010 legislation was championed by the family members of those who died when Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence Center, killing 50 people, including a 7-month pregnant woman. Members of the WNY delegation and both U.S. Senators wrote to the FAA secretary this week and urged action.

“On the ten year anniversary of Flight 3407 tragedy, we launch a new push to finally establish a new pilot training database – after years of delay and foot-dragging – that will give specific information on the training of all commercial airline pilots,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

“Our skies are safer today than ever before because the Flight 3407 families united as one and spearheaded a movement to pass life-saving commercial airline regulations just like this one. I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the 3407 Families until we pass every element of their life-saving agenda.”

Lawmakers said the database was actually required to be in effect no later than April 2017 – a deadline that has obviously already passed. An audit by the Department of Transportations Office of the Inspector General found the FAA has actually missed several deadlines mandated by the legislation.

“Ten years later, the crash of Flight 3407 still weighs heavily on our community,” Republican NY-27 Rep. Chris Collins said. “The families have worked tirelessly to make our skies safe. The Pilot Record Database is one of the last pieces of the puzzle and it is time for it to be fully implemented.”

The database provision was included in the legislation after an investigation revealed that Colgan Air hired the captain of Flight 3407, without full knowledge of his complete training record, which showed that he failed three FAA practical tests prior to operating the plane.

WNY Congressional Caucus On SOTU

From the Morning Memo:

The responses came in quickly from members of Congress in Western New York following President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

Although the speech was billed as a call for unity, the reactions were unsurprisingly divided by party.

Republican Congressman Chris Collins, NY-27, who no longer serves on any committees due to a federal indictment, released the shortest statement. In it, he praised the president for his leadership.

“We have passed monumental tax and criminal justice reforms. Our economy is flourishing and American families have more money in their pockets, but we still have work to do. While President Trump is fighting for fair trade and the American worker, it is time for Congress to come together to strengthen our borders and fix our broken immigration system. Together, we can accomplish a greater America,” he said.

Rep. Joe Morelle, attending the speech for the first time as the Democratic representative for the 25th congressional district, said he appreciated the call for cooperation. He did not however, think Trump’s agenda or speech were in the spirit of bipartisanship.

“Ultimately, the President’s address only served to further showcase his disturbing world that is divorced from the realities that are confronting everyday, hard-working Americans,” Morelle said. “That is why in the President’s absence, my colleagues and I in the House will continue to provide the leadership the American people need and deserve.”

The Democrat did not respond to Trump’s criticism of New York’s recently passed Reproductive Health Act, even though he co-sponsored the bill while in the state Legislature. He did discuss the need for a new infrastructure plan and new ideas about healthcare.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-23, who has tried to lead a bipartisan movement with his Problem Solvers Caucus, gave the president credit for a “soaring economy and a restored leadership around the globe.” He challenged his colleagues in Congress to work together to support many of the priorities Trump laid out like (once again) health care, infrastructure and immigration.

“Now extremists on both sides of the aisle have a choice to make: Will they adopt a willingness to compromise and ensure a legacy of greatness for our children and grandchildren, or instead, choose to play ‘gotcha politics,’ and guarantee the American people lose out on future opportunities? We sincerely hope they choose to put the I American people first,” Reed said.

Democrat Brian Higgins, NY-26, was perhaps the most critical of Trump. He said the president’s tenure has “been mired by a haphazard agenda driven by hurtful rhetoric and policies that divide America.” Higgins called on Trump to lead by example, including specifically support for a $1 trillion infrastructure investment and border security based on facts, “not fueled by fear.”

Reed’s ‘Problem Solvers’ Applaud Senate Prison Reform Passage

From the Morning Memo:

The U.S. House of Representatives has yet to pass the legislation yet, but Republican Rep. Tom Reed and the Problem Solvers Caucus he co-chairs, reiterated their support for the FIRST Step Act.

The Senate passed the criminal justice reform bill overwhelmingly on Tuesday. Among other things, the bill expands job training and early release programs, and modifies sentencing laws.

The House has vowed to pass the bill this week. It is being touted as a bipartisan victory.

The bipartisan Problem Solvers point out they have championed the legislation for months.

“The Problem Solvers Caucus was proud to put our full weight behind the FIRST Step Act more than six months ago. This bill betters our communities, improves the lives of thousands and saves taxpayers money. Congress must continue to craft and pass more bipartisan legislation like the FIRST Step Act,” Reed and his co-chair Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ-5, wrote in a joint statement.

The president has also signaled he will sign the legislation, a sentiment he reiterated Tuesday night on Twitter.

“This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!” he wrote.

WNY Members Of Congress Applaud New Farm Bill

From the Morning Memo:

Both Democrats and Republicans from Western New York applauded Congress’ passage – after a long delay – of the Farm Bill.

The $867 billion dollar package received overwhelming support with a 386-47 vote. It passed the Senate earlier this week, and the president is expected to sign it into law soon.

Newly-minted Democratic Rep. Joe Morelle, elected in a special election last month to fill the vacancy left by the death of Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, of Rochester, was among those who supported the bill.

“I am proud to cast my vote in favor of this bipartisan legislation which effectively and comprehensively addresses the needs of farmers, strengthens our rural communities, and ensures vulnerable families have access to critical SNAP benefits programs,” he said. “In addition, it takes important steps to support the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of our agriculture economy in the global marketplace.”

Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican who was re-elected to represent NY-27 in a narrow victory that came despite the federal charges he faces of insider trading and lying to the FBI, has said passing a Farm Bill was one of his main priorities after winning that close race. Congress had failed to pass it in September before the previous package expired.

Specifically, Collins said, the new legislation included important dairy policy that will strengthen the economy for WNY’s struggling farmers.

“The agriculture industry is the backbone of New York’s 27th district,” Collins said. “Protecting Western New York farmers will always be a priority of mine, and I’m committed to doing what is best to help them succeed. While we still have a lot of work to do to turn this industry around, H.R. 2 is a huge step in the right direction, and I’m pleased to see it pass today.”

Southern Tier Republican Rep. Tom Reed, who easily won re-election last month, also expressed the importance of the dairy policy for his district.

“This farm bill not only supports our hardworking farmers we care about, but also ensures our families are given a fair hand up when they fall upon hard times,” he said. “And as always, we are proud to continue our efforts to ensure increased funding and standards for rural broadband access.”

Reed said other important components included the legalization of production of hemp, funding for organic farmers and specialty crop research, and improvements to the crops insurance program.

Responding to Schoharie Limo Crash, Bill Tightens Safety Regulations

New legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would change the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s requirements for retrofitted limousines.

Current law allows more lenient safety requirements for re-sold vehicles when compared to vehicles sold as new. Requirements for seat belts or exit areas are different, especially as some limousines purchased second hand may become altered or expanded to combat capacity limitations.

The bill is a direct response to October’s fatal limousine crash in Schoharie County along Route 30A that claimed 20 lives.

It has been recorded as the U.S.’s most deadly transportation accident within the past nine years.

The passengers were traveling in a rented, modified 2001 Ford Excursion. It had failed inspection barely a month prior.

By Republican Reps. John Faso and Elise Stefanik and Democratic Rep. John Faso introduced the legislation.

“NHTSA regulations are in place for a reason,” Faso said.

“Each time a new vehicle is sold, it must undergo a thorough safety examination. However, if the vehicle is substantively modified to add more seating, it is not subject to the same safety checks. It’s vital that vehicles which are significantly modified undergo a strict amount of scrutiny. The recent tragedy in Schoharie County which took the lives of 20 people must move the Congress to close this loophole and enact stricter rules on modified vehicles. While there were certainly other factors surrounding this crash which are the subject to federal and state investigation, as well as a criminal prosecution, making sure modified vehicles are safer is a critical step.”

Nauman Hussein, operator and son of Prestige Limousine owner Shahed Hussain, faces criminally negligent homicide charges and will be prosecuted by the Schoharie County DA.

A lawsuit has been filed against Prestige Limousine’s owners by the family of victim Amanda Rivenburg.

Today, the lawyer representing Rivenburg’s family announced the family intends to file a lawsuit against the State of New York on grounds of negligence.

The incident remains under investigation by both state and federal authorities.

NY Farm Bureau Awaits Farm Bill Passage

From the Morning Memo:

Congress could make a decision on the Farm Bill before the new year.

The 2014 Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30 amid congressional gridlock, but an temporary extender has held the legislation in place. This came much to the dismay of struggling farmers nationwide, from all sectors of agriculture, ranging from cattle to dairy to soybean production.

Disagreement around SNAP specifics, or the food stamp program, largely concerned differences in Republican and Democrat determinations on work requirements–not to mention, SNAP accounts for the most expensive portion of the bill. Decisions on crop insurance, subsidy eligibility and forest management similarly need smoothing out.

In a statement on Thursday, New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher:

“New York Farm Bureau is pleased that Congressional leaders have reached a consensus on the 2018 Farm Bill ahead of the current Farm Bill’s lapse at the end of this year. While we have yet to see specific details, we are hopeful that final passage of the legislation will give farmers some reassurance moving forward that critical risk management tools will be in place as they plan the best they can for next year.

“Improvements to the dairy safety net, the continuation of important conservation programs as well as support and research programs for New York’s specialty crop producers are much needed in this tough farm economy. The Farm Bill is an investment in our food system. It helps farm families weather some unpredictable conditions and provides consumers the reassurance that we will continue to have a strong, affordable food supply in this country. We encourage our Senators and Representatives to support the compromise legislation.”

New York farmers have been particularly concerned with tariff impositions, especially in light of the state’s close proximity to, and trade relationship with Canada.

Reed’s Problem Solvers Caucus Strikes Deal With Pelosi

From the Morning Memo:

As Rep. Nancy Pelosi continues her efforts to solidify her bid to be the next Speaker of the House, another Upstate New York member of Congress is reaping the benefits.

Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-23, announced Pelosi struck a deal with the Problem Solvers Caucus, agreeing to change several rules he said should help break gridlock. Reed co-chairs the bipartisan caucus.

It was, in fact the Democrats in the group, whose votes for Speaker, Pelosi was seeking. The nine members were threatening not to vote for her if she didn’t support reforms.

Reed said everybody benefits though.

“These rule changes represent a hopeful and substantial breakthrough to empower the people we represent, enable rank-and-file Members to truly govern and make it easier for bipartisan bills to pass,” he said. 

Among the changes, it will now be harder to keep legislation with 290 or more sponsors stalled in committee. If a bill meets the requirements to go on a “Consensus Calendar” leadership will be required to bring at least one of those stalled bills per week to the floor for a vote, during the final months of session.

Another change gives preference to amendments with at least 20 sponsors from each party. 

Also, a process allowing members to bring legislation to the floor with 218 signatures would be opened up even further. They would be allowed to be considered under a 3-day notice process rather than only on certain Mondays, as it exists now.

“We look forward to continuing to work across the aisle to find common ground in order to get things done for the American people,” Reed said.

The congressman is the second representative from the region to take advantage of Pelosi’s push for the leadership position. Last week, Democrat Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, decided to support her after she promised to bring two priority bills, one regarding health care and major infrastructure legislation, to the floor.

Morelle Supports Pelosi For Speaker

From the Morning Memo:

On the same day Nancy Pelosi held a closed door meeting with incoming freshman Democrats to solidify support for her Speaker of the House, a new member from Upstate New York announced he would vote for the party’s longtime leader.

Rep. Joe Morelle, D-NY-25, said it is more important than ever the new majority have a leader with experience to make the party’s “shared priorities a reality.”

“Like me, Leader Pelosi knows that we must work to lower healthcare costs, create more economic opportunities for working families, enact common-sense solutions to prevent the devastating gun violence that plagues our nation, and take action to protect our environment for future generations. With Leader Pelosi at the helm, we will take important steps towards achieving meaningful reforms and putting government back in the hands of the people,” he said.

As recently as last week, Morelle said he had not made a decision yet. He said he has consistently said he would support the person best for his district in the country.

Morelle won a special election in November to replace the late Louise Slaughter and has already been sworn in. Both he and Pelosi spoke at Slaughter’s funeral earlier this year.

Rep. Higgins Will Support Pelosi For Speaker After All

Western New York Democrat Brian Higgins changed course Wednesday, indicating he will support California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House next year.

Higgins has consistently endorsed a change in leadership since this summer, telling the Buffalo News in June Pelosi was “aloof, frenetic and misguided.” As recently as last week the congressman reiterated he would not support the current Democratic leader’s bid.

He said too much power has been consolidated under both his and the Republican party’s leadership for too long and was looking for a change. In a press release, he explained his change of heart.

Higgins said he had identified another representative from California, Karen Bass, as the right person to bring the caucus together. However, late last week Bass indicated to him she would not seek the position.

“At the urging of several friends and colleagues – in particular incoming Ways & Means Chairman Richard Neal – I spoke with Leader Pelosi. After several productive discussions, I am confident that Nancy and the entire leadership team will work with me on making Medicare an option for Americans at age 50, helping to lower health care costs for the 25 million Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 who have pre-existing conditions and are struggling to manage health care costs. I am also pleased that Nancy remains committed to bringing a $1.5 trillion comprehensive infrastructure bill to the floor next year that will provide millions of good paying jobs to hardworking Americans. And Nancy reiterated a commitment to finally, after 20 years of increases, push changes that would reverse the trend of skyrocketing prescription drug prices by harnessing the purchasing power of the federal government in Medicare and Medicaid to help consumers manage costs,” he said.

Higgins said he took a “principled stand” earlier in the year, but oftentimes a principled stand “requires a pragmatic outlook in order to meet with success.” With Democrats taking a relatively slim majority, his reversal potentially could be a deciding vote toward Pelosi’s leadership bid.

McMurray’s Orientation Comes On Several Fronts

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic congressional candidate Nate McMurray has had a turbulent week so far.

McMurray decided to attend the congressional orientation down in D.C. after a late invite from friendly Democratic members. However, by late Tuesday, he said the Republican-led Committee on House Administration had essentially rescinded the invitation.

With the support of his own party, the NY-27 candidate sought to keep things quiet while the two sides battled it out internally. Yesterday afternoon, he confirmed he was being blocked from participating in any joint events.

McMurray blamed the decision on his Republican opponent, with whom he is still battling over the outcome of the general election.

“I am very disappointed by Congressional Republicans catering to Chris Collins’ demands, who is under indictment on 11 felony counts and spent his campaign lying and hiding from his constituents,” McMurray said. “I came to D.C. to equip myself to hit the ground running and better serve the people of Western New York once the results are official.”

“It is shameful that Collins is continuing his efforts to diminish the will of the voters and call this race before all votes have been counted. As usual, he is actively undermining the future of this district and our country.”

The public reaction to his claims appeared to have helped McMurray’s cause, as he tweeted last night that he was back at orientation.

“We shamed Mr. Collins’ buddies (who tried to kick us out) into letting us back into orientation,” McMurray claimed. “What can I say? Never quit. And…#FightLikeHell.”

A spokesperson for the House Administration Committee told the New York Post McMurray was not initially invited because he had conceded the NY-27 race on election night, and the invitation has since been extended.

McMurray, who has since insisted that his emotional speech last Tuesday was not a concession, remains down several thousand votes to Collins, but believes he has begun closing the gap as absentee ballots are counted.