Rep. Susie Lee posts $660,000 in third quarter fundraising

Susie Lee in a jacket and red scarf at an event

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) continued to refill her campaign coffers through the third quarter after raising more than $660,000, boosting her cash on hand to more than $1.44 million, according to a Friday announcement from her campaign. 

The sum also exceeds the $600,000 she raised in both the first and second quarters of the year and is roughly 22 percent more than the nearly $490,000 she raised during the same period in 2019. 

Details of Lee’s quarterly spending were not immediately available, pending the full release of quarterly campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission, which are due Friday. 

Lee will vie for her second reelection bid in 2022 in the perennially swingy District 3, which encompasses the southern half of Clark County, including many of the Las Vegas metro area’s wealthiest suburbs. 

The district has bounced between the two major parties over the last decade, flipping from Democrat Dina Titus to Republican Joe Heck in 2010, then later from Heck to Democrat Jacky Rosen in 2016, after Heck mounted an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign. 

Lee later won the district in a 9 point landslide during the blue wave of 2018, after Rosen vacated the seat for her own U.S. Senate bid. Lee then held onto it during a tumultuous 2020 campaign that ended in a 3 point win over Republican Dan Rodimer.

How competitive District 3 remains through 2022 will likely hinge on as-yet undecided redistricting decisions. State-level Democrats, who control the redistricting process, may seek to expand voter registration advantages by redistributing lines across or around the heavily-Democratic District 1, which lies in the center of urban Las Vegas.  

No Democrats have formally filed to challenge Lee in the primary, though five Republicans — April Becker, Mark Robertson, Noah Malgeri, John Kovacs and Clark Bossert — have entered the race for District 3.

Indy DC Download: Government shutdown avoided with federal stopgap funding bill, but Biden agenda bills in limbo

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Congress passed legislation funding the federal government through Dec. 3, while disagreement among progressive and moderate Democrats over the size of a $3.5 trillion social safety net package threatened House approval of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure.

After meeting with President Joe Biden on Friday, House Democrats, including Nevada's congressional lawmakers, were hopeful that the two camps of Democratic lawmakers could agree to pass the two bills as negotiations intensified. 

"I think it shows his commitment to getting something done," said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said of Biden’s visit, while noting that both bills are a must-pass items for Democrats.

“Too much is at stake,” she continued. “Failure isn't an option for our districts, our constituents, for the country, for the party.” 

Approval of the two bills, which comprise Biden's domestic agenda, will give Democrats a legislative victory to campaign on ahead of what could be a difficult midterm election with control of the House and Senate hanging in the balance. Democrats hold slim majorities in both chambers. The loss of one seat would flip the Senate.

Discussions on the infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the social spending package, known as the Build Back Better Act, came as the House approved a 30-day extension of the surface transportation bill, which expired Friday. The Senate will try to enact the extension Saturday. A reauthorization was included in the infrastructure measure.

No disruptions were expected by the Nevada Department of Transportation.

“While any delay is concerning, NDOT carries a balance for these types of uncertainties,” NDOT spokeswoman Meg Ragonese said in an email. 

Meanwhile, the Senate also confirmed Tracy Stone-Manning to head the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees federal lands across the nation. Nevada is about 85 percent federal land. 

The Senate voted 50 to 45 to confirm Stone Manning, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who backed her confirmation.

Stone-Manning drew the ire of Republicans, including Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), because she was asked to give testimony in the prosecution of four people convicted in 1989 of tree-spiking, where metal spikes are hammered into trees to destroy logging saws. 

But Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said that the GOP was trying to “impute” the guilt of the four convicted tree spikers to Stone-Manning. “There is no evidence in the trial record that she participated in the tree spiking,” Manchin said.

CR and debt ceiling

The House approved the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open past the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year on a 254 to 175 vote. Thirty-four Republicans voted for the CR, including Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV).

Amodei said he supported the bill, in part, because it continues spending at levels approved under former President Donald Trump and he wanted to avoid a government shutdown.

“I voted to shut the government down a while back,” Amodei said. “Guess what? It doesn't change anything that you're fighting about.”

He also backed the measure because it did not include an effort to suspend the statutory debt limit, which the Treasury Department expects to hit by Oct. 18

Amodei recently voted against a previous CR that included a suspension of the debt limit. He also voted Wednesday against a separate bill to suspend the debt limit, which passed 219 to 212, with only Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) the lone GOP vote in support.

Amodei argued that he was concerned that the suspension would clear the debt for Democrats to pass their agenda. He also noted that it was dead in the Senate where Republicans have vowed not to vote for more debt. 

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday, Cortez Masto sought to call out Republicans for their “hypocrisy.”

In questions she posted to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Cortez Masto argued that the debt incurred was from legislation to fight the pandemic and Republicans should support making sure that those obligations are met. 

“That’s true,” said Yellen. “Raising the debt limit allows us to pay bills that were incurred because of those acts and others in Congress.”

Infrastructure and reconciliation

After the meeting with the president, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) said that Biden's visit helped unite Democrats. He tempered progressives' expectations that the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package would be less than initially hoped. But Biden also sought to bolster moderates by underscoring the need for passage of the infrastructure bill. 

Horsford said Biden believes the sweet spot is between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion. 

Biden’s numbers come after Manchin has said he wants a roughly $1.5 trillion package

But Horsford stressed that he wants to focus on the policies rather than the topline. 

Horsford, a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the Budget Committee, said his priorities for the package include provisions to tackle climate change, make health care more affordable, and take care of families with affordable childcare and associated tax credits. 

“Those are the things that I have already voted for on Ways and Means and Budget,” Horsford said. “I know that means other things may not make it into this particular package, but those are priorities that I want to deliver for my district.”

Democratic leaders, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), hope to get a legislative framework on which all Democrats, including Manchin and House progressives, can agree. Such an agreement would allow for the passage of both bills.

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) also evinced confidence that a deal would get done after talks with Manchin and others.

“This is a big package,” Lee said. “There's going to be a lot of negotiations between where [Manchin] is and where we're gonna end up, and that takes time.” 

Democrats are using the budget reconciliation process to pass the Build, Back Better Act, which allows the Senate to approve tax and spending legislation on a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster. But it's a tricky calculation because, with a 50-50 party split in the Senate, all Democrats would need to support it, including Manchin (and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who have been skunks at the party for progressives. 

Rosen, who helped negotiate the infrastructure package, said more discussions are to be expected.

“I think that we're going to see what what the House sends us and we're going to have continue to keep working on what we have and speaking with Sen. Manchin about all the things that we feel we need to do to build this country,” Rosen said.

Immigration

The Senate parliamentarian rejected the second attempt by Senate Democrats to include an immigration provision in the reconciliation bill. 

Democrats, including Cortez Masto, who is among the senators working on the issue, will continue to press their case with the parliamentarian. 

“The Senator made it clear that she will not stop fighting for immigration reform in reconciliation, which would have a major, positive impact on our nation’s economy,” according to her office. “The Senator is continuing to work with her colleagues and is looking at additional options.”

Under the budget reconciliation process, changes in legislative spending or revenues cannot be incidental. The parliamentarian ruled that the latest effort did not pass the test. 

Democrats sought to change the date of a 1929 law, known as the registry. The registry allows for undocumented people who have been in the country since 1972 to apply for lawful permanent resident status. The date has been changed four times since 1929. The last date change took place in 1986.  

A change in the registry date in reconciliation “would have allowed millions of hardworking, law-abiding immigrants to get green cards,” her office said.

Democrats have pledged to include a provision to legalize the status of those brought to the country illegally as children, known as DREAMers, those receiving Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and essential workers. 

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.2874 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude from gross income payments under the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program and certain amounts received under the Indian Health Professions Scholarships Program.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2907 – A bill to establish the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, and for other purposes.

S.2900 – A bill to suspend the enforcement of certain civil liabilities of Federal employees and contractors during a lapse in appropriations, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2890 – A bill to allow the participants in the National Health Service Corps to defer their obligated service in order to receive training in palliative care services.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2922 – A bill to establish a commission to study the war in Afghanistan.

S.2911 – A bill to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to provide funding to States for extending broadband service to unserved areas in partnership with broadband service providers, and for other purposes.

S.2887 – A bill to codify the existing Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program of the National Park Service, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5427 – To regulate bump stocks in the same manner as machineguns.

Indy DC Download: Cigarette tax, capital gains tax boost to defray cost of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion bill come under scrutiny

Photo of the U.S Capitol

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Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation this week raised concerns about a cigarette tax, a new mining royalty and an increase in the capital gains tax designed to offset the cost of the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion House social spending package.

But in interviews on the House’s Build Back Better Act, they also cautioned that specifics were still being worked out with the Senate and that the final bill language was yet to be settled on. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Friday that the bill could get a vote as soon as next week. A House vote could also come Monday on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“We have to get to an agreement on the final package, the [topline] number and the payfors, and it's all still being discussed,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV). 

Horsford, a member of the Budget Committee and the second-in-command of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), one of four Latino Democrats in the Senate and the only Latina, were among the Democratic lawmakers who met with President Joe Biden on Wednesday on the bill as Democrats deliberate over the details of the measure. 

Horsford said he also had an exchange with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who wants to cut the cost of the $3.5 trillion measure. Manchin argued that some of the proposed spending in the package could be put off to another time.

“Senator Manchin kind of challenged me to say well, there are certain things we don't need, we can wait,” Horsford said. “And I said ‘don't tell me what we can wait for. You don't know, Nevada, you don't know my district, you don't know the people that I represent.”

Regarding the tobacco tax, Horsford said he has raised concerns that it would hit those with lower incomes the hardest as that demographic tends to smoke more than the general population. He also has concerns about a new mining royalty for operations on public lands. Currently, there is none.

“With our mining production leading the country, I don't want anything that's going to create a negative impact,” Horsford said.  

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) said the mining royalty would harm the industry in Nevada. He stressed that mining is one of the economic engines of the state’s rural communities.

“This stuff pays for a heck of a lot of stuff statewide, including making the rurals self-sufficient,” Amodei said.

Cortez Masto, who also questioned whether it was wise to include the royalty in the bill, said she also has heard from constituents on the so-called stepped-up basis tax break on inherited wealth and an increase in the tax rate on capital gains. 

The House bill did not include a change to the inherited wealth tax break, given the opposition from farm and ranch-state Democrats. But the bill did have an increase in the capital gains tax to 25 percent from 20 percent.  

A member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is drafting the tax portion of the Senate bill, Cortez Masto is weighing provisions against how they affect small businesses and the middle class.

“I am looking at what makes sense for us in Nevada and looking at where the priority should go and how we pay for those,” Cortez Masto said. “But it can't be [paid for] on the backs of...small businesses or ranches or farms and families. There should be tax fairness.”

She said she also has concerns about the cigarette tax. 

“I don't support it,” Cortez Masto said when asked about the provision. 

But, with support from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), the cigarette tax could end up in the final package irrespective of the opposition from some Democrats. 

Though the tax is widely recognized as regressive, Neal argued that the subsequent price increase would reduce smoking, thereby saving lives and money. 

“There is a public health assertion that's included in the conversation too so we think that this is good policy,” Neal said in an interview.

According to the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the cost of smoking exceeds $300 billion a year in medical care and lost productivity. Those costs fall more on low-income people, and African Americans in particular are more likely to die from smoking-related illnesses than other groups. A 2020 report from the Surgeon General also found that price increases effectively get people to quit. 

The White House has also argued that the cigarette tax does not violate the president’s promise not to raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year because it is a discretionary  and not a necessary cost, unlike gasoline. The White House opposed a gas tax increase earlier this year during negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure bill because it would break the pledge.

Debt ceiling

Both the House and Senate were back in session after their summer recesses just in time to deal with four issues that are coming to a head: keeping the government open beyond the Sept, 30 end of the fiscal year; suspending the statutory debt ceiling; passing the Build Back Better Act; and passing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The House voted 220 to 211 to keep the government funded through Dec. 3 and suspend the statutory debt limit through Dec. 2022. No Republicans backed the bill. 

Amodei stressed that he does not want a government shutdown or a default on the debt. But it made no sense to back a bill that is dead on arrival in the Senate — where Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called on Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the debt limit with just Democratic votes, he said.

McConnell introduced a Senate bill that would fund the government through Dec. 3, but would not raise the debt.

The Senate will take up the House measure Monday; it is expected to fail to get the 10 Republicans needed to reach the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.

Using reconciliation to raise the debt limit could take about two weeks, which would run up against the deadline for acting, which the Treasury Department said could be early next month. 

But Democratic leaders, including Pelosi, have said Republicans should vote to raise the debt because it was incurred under former President Donald Trump.  

A continued impasse would lead to a default on the debt that would hurt the economy.

Reconciliation and bipartisan infrastructure bill 

Reconciliation, which Democrats are using to pass the Build Back Better Act, allows the Senate to pass legislation that directly affects spending and revenue with a simple majority and avoids a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to override. 

Democrats control 50 votes in the Senate and will need all of them to pass the measure. That gives moderates like Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and any other Democratic senator willing to derail the package an outsized voice in crafting the bill. The House is not much easier for Democrats, where Pelosi can only lose three Democratic votes and still pass legislation if all Republicans vote ‘no.’

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said she had urged House Democratic leadership to go below the $3.5 trillion figure to get the package through both chambers. 

“I don't think it's going to be a $3.5 trillion bill,” Lee said, adding that Democrats should fund fewer priorities rather than trying to fit all of their priorities in this one package.   

“I've been pressing the leadership to have the conversation at this point, on what it is we're willing to set aside,” Lee said.  

Asked what she wants in the bill, Lee said child care is her top priority. Under the House Democrats’ bill, most families would pay no more than 7 percent of their income for child care, with the rest subsidized by government aid. 

“Especially with childcare, you’ve got to build infrastructure, you’ve got to build a workforce, you've got to pay them,” Lee said.  “There's a lot to get the program up and running. It's one thing to say you're not going to pay more than 7 percent of your income on childcare, but then you got...to make sure you have the providers.” 

Horsford also said he’s not focused on a number. 

“I've never chased the number,” Horsford said. “I've always been about the substance. What are we getting?”

He added that he doesn't expect to get everything in the bill, but he stressed that inter-party bickering wouldn't hold up the package.

“The package, the entirety of the package, is too important to my constituents, to the American people, to American business, to American families, and to the American worker,” Horsford said. “It's time for us to act.”

He wants both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better measure to pass. But he declined to say if he'd vote for the bipartisan bill on Monday.

"I will reserve judgment," Horsford said when asked about how he would vote for the bipartisan bill. "I believe both bills have to pass, period. I said it's a false choice for us to pick. We need both.

He dismissed the fight over the process. Progressives, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), have said they would not vote for the bipartisan bill without a House and Senate agreement on the Build Back Better Act. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) has led a group of nine moderates who have said they would vote against the Build Back Better bill unless the House passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“How we do that, that's a process thing here that the majority of the people in my district don't care about,” Horsford said. “They just want to know it's getting done, the benefits of coming home, and we're going to deliver.”

It’s unclear whether the bipartisan measure passes if there is a vote Monday. 

House votes

The House this week also approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and a measure to limit restrictions on abortion, known as the Women's Health Protection Act.

The NDAA passed 316 to 113, including 135 Republicans ‘yes’ votes. All members of the delegation voted for the bill.

Amodei put out a release defending his vote even though the measure included a so-called red flag provision, allowing police or family members to seek a court order to remove a gun from someone who might commit a violent act. He noted that the provision is typically included in the bill by the Democratic majority and dropped in negotiations with the Senate.

Amodei also touted the fact that the bill included a 5 percent increase in topline funding for the Department of Defense, a 2.7 percent pay increase for servicemembers, authorization for the procurement of over $1.3 billion in new aircraft, equipment and weapons, and $250 million to conduct counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.

He also said he plans to work with Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on expanding the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) in Churchill County. He introduced legislation on the issue and hopes it can be added to the Senate version of NDAA after agreeing with the senators, both of whom said they were looking at the proposal.

Amodei also said he presented the proposal to the Department of Interior and received the agency's backing.

“As crazy as things are, there might actually be an opportunity to get that in” the NDAA, the Nevada Republican said. “But it's going to have to come from the Senate side.”

Amodei did not vote for the abortion access bill, which passed 218 to 211 with no Republican votes. It’s unclear whether the Senate would even consider the measure, as it would likely be impossible to get ten Republicans to support it.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said the bill was an important check on Republican-led states that have passed abortion restrictions laws, like Texas. The Lone State recently approved a five-week ban, which the Supreme Court declined to block.

“This year is on track to be the worst year for Republican legislative attacks on women’s health rights since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973,” Titus said in a release. “As of July, 90 reproductive health restrictions have been enacted in Republican states. These attacks especially harm people who already face barriers to health care access.”

Miscellaneous

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee's Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion Subcommittee, held a hearing Tuesday on legislation the panel is crafting that would wrap together a series of Republican and Democratic tourism-improvement bills.

“This comprehensive legislation will support the recovery of the travel and tourism economy in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and help us build a brighter future for businesses and workers in this key sector in every single state in the nation,” Rosen said.

The package is expected to include a provision to provide $250 million to help fund Brand USA, which markets travel to the U.S. abroad. Funding for the program comes from private donations and fees charged to international visitors registering for visas to enter the U.S. But the pandemic’s travel restrictions have hurt the program’s funding.

More than 180 Members of the Vegas Chamber and the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance were in Washington, D.C. this week. They heard from members of the delegation on infrastructure, workforce development and other of the chamber's priorities.

Vegas Chamber President Mary Beth Sewald said in an interview that the group was closely watching deliberations on infrastructure and reconciliation. 

The group supports the infrastructure package, which is expected to help with funding improvements to Interstate-11 and I-15. But proposed new taxes in the reconciliation bill have concerned the group.

Sewald warned against “one more burden” on businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.2795 – A bill to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to use alternatives to detention for certain vulnerable immigrant populations, and for other purposes.

S.2775 – A bill to amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to provide for whistleblower incentives and protection.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2798 – A bill to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

ection.

S.2757 – SNAP Tribal Food Sovereignty Act of 2021

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2812 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish a small business start-up tax credit for veterans creating businesses in underserved communities.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2798 – A bill to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

S.2791 – A bill to prevent harassment at institutions of higher education, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5338 – To amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

H.R.5300 – To direct the Secretary of Defense to establish a tiger team to perform outreach regarding the process by which a member of the Armed Forces, discharged on the basis of sexual orientation, may apply for review of the characterization of such discharge.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5345 – To authorize the Director of the United States Geological Survey to establish a regional program to assess, monitor, and benefit the hydrology of saline lakes in the Great Basin and the migratory birds and other wildlife dependent on those habitats, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5338 – To amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

This story was corrected at 12:08 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 25, 2021 to note that there are four Latino Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Indy DC Download: Cortez Masto unsure of House-proposed mining royalty in Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending bill

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Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) pushed back on a House proposal to include a new hard rock mining royalty in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending package. 

In a brief interview, she said that she was still reviewing the House version of the so-called Build Back Better Act, including the tax, environmental and mining proposals. She will help draft the Senate tax and mining policy sections of the Senate version as a member of the Finance Committee and Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

When asked about the proposed royalty included by the House Natural Resources Committee in its part of the $3.5 trillion package, Cortez Masto said she does not oppose the idea, but that the industry and other “stakeholders” should be allowed to weigh in.

“I have talked to Senator Manchin about this.” Cortez Masto said, adding that Manchin is open to adding a royalty under the General Mining Act of 1872, which currently applies no royalty to mines on federal lands.

“I think it is fair to, if we were going to open the door to royalties and the mining act—which I know Senator Manchin wants to do, and I'm not opposed to—that we should have a hearing on it. And so that's what I've asked Senator Manchin” to do, she continued. 

“Let's just be transparent, be fair, and have a hearing in committee on it and bring all the stakeholders so we can hear from everyone and not do something like this, that there's no input from all the key stakeholders,” she said.

Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray said recently he does not support the royalty. 

The House panel included the mining royalty as a way to offset the cost of the bill. The royalty on hard rock mining could raise around $2 billion over 10 years, according to the House Committee.  

The House bill would also establish a hard rock mineral reclamation fee, raising around $200 million over 10 years.

Her comments came as the House Ways and Means Committee finished its part of the $3.5 trillion measure. But the House held no roll call votes as it wrapped up its recess. The lower chamber will be back next week. 

The Senate was back from its recess and confirmed three of President Joe Biden's nominees, including James Kvaal, undersecretary of education. Both Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) voted for Kvaal, whose nomination was approved 58 to 37.

A former official in President Barack Obama’s administration, Kvaal saw his nomination held up by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) over her push to crackdown on student loan servicers. She then signaled her support for Kvaal last month after talks with the Department of Education. 

Still deciding

Cortez Masto stressed that she hasn’t decided on the specifics of either the House or Senate bills. 

“So this is my challenge,” Cortez Masto said. “There's so much out there and so I'm trying to make sure I understand everybody's proposals, including the” White House’s. 

She added that she would judge the provisions of the package on whether they help Nevada. 

“Here's what I know, at the end of the day...does what we do benefit our state?” she said. 

Cortez Masto said that the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax, Medicare and Medicaid policy, is exploring how it plans to offset the package costs and whether they will follow the House or use other revenue-raising provisions. 

“I think it should be paid for,” she said when asked about the package, but she declined to say that the cost would need to be entirely offset in order to win her vote. 

She stressed that the package was far from done and that it remained to be seen what could pass the Senate—especially as Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have said they would not support a $3.5 trillion measure. 

It's unlikely that a hearing could be held before the reconciliation package reaches the House and Senate floors. But it will be up to Manchin to decide whether to include the mining revenue raiser in the resources committee’s section of the reconciliation bill. If not, the royalty provision will need to be worked out between the House and Senate since both chambers need to pass identical bills.

The negotiation will be delicate. Democrats are using reconciliation, a budget process that allows spending and tax legislation to pass on a simple majority rather than needing 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But with the Senate split between the parties 50 to 50, every vote will be needed to pass the package. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can only lose three votes in the House if all Republicans oppose the package, as expected.

Timing on when the House and Senate vote on the package will be determined by when Democratic leaders line up the votes to pass it. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that he expects a vote before the end of September. 

House tax plan

Individuals earning more than $400,000 a year would pay a 39.6 percent tax rate and those making more than $5 million would be subject to a 3 percent surcharge under the tax portion of the $3.5 trillion social spending package approved by the Ways and Means Committee this week.

The new top individual tax rate, the new surcharge, raising the corporate tax rate to 26.5 percent for companies with more than $5 million in revenue and other revenue-raising provisions would offset about $2.2 trillion of the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), a Ways and Means Committee member, underscored the spending in the bill that he argued would help middle-class taxpayers in the state, including two housing-related tax credits.

“It is no secret that our nation is facing a housing crisis, and we must expand tax credits that increases affordable housing for individuals of every race and income level and prevents homelessness and evictions,” Horsford said during the panel’s bill drafting session.

Nevada has a shortage of affordable housing. The state had a deficit of about 79,620 affordable units available to extremely low-income renters — people earning 30 percent or less of area median income — the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association said earlier this year.

The bill eased limits on the low-Income housing tax credit (LIHTC). The LIHTC is the primary federal program for encouraging private investment in the development of affordable rental housing for low-income households.

The measure also created a new credit, the neighborhood homes tax credit, to encourage private-sector investment to rehabilitate deteriorated single-family homes in distressed neighborhoods.

Horsford said the credits were “critical for my constituents in Nevada, as we continue to close the development gaps in low-income and multifamily rental housing communities.”

During the debate, Horsford also tangled with Republicans on amendments that failed to attach a means test to the enhanced child tax credit, extended through 2025 under the bill. He also spoke out against an amendment to strike language to allow union members to deduct dues from their federal taxes.

On the union dues proposal, Horsford said that the bill, as written, gives workers the same tax treatment as that of management, which is permitted to "deduct management and legal costs such as those involved in resisting unionization campaigns and negotiating with unions." 

House transportation

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its $60 billion reconciliation measure on Wednesday. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV),  a panel member, voted in favor of the measure. 

Titus, in a release, called the reconciliation package “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” which will “spur economic development, address the escalating climate crisis, and provide a sustainable long-term recovery for working families.” 

The bill included $10 billion for a grant program to improve access to affordable housing and enhance the mobility of residents in low-income communities, $9.5 billion for economic development in distressed communities and $6 billion to advance local surface transportation projects.

Much of the Democrats' transportation-related priorities are included in the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate approved the measure last month and the House could take it up as soon as next week.

Titus also voted to approve the House Homeland Security Committees portion of the package, which consisted of $865 million in for cybersecurity enhancements. 

Miscellany

Cortez Masto and Rosen signed on to a letter with six other Democrats from western states to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to raise the pay for federal wildland firefighters. 

“The disparity in pay between federal and non-federal wildland firefighters has led to a shortage of federal firefighting personnel and limits our nation’s ability to respond to these increasingly devastating natural disasters,” the letter said.

The Senate's $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill provided $600 million to raise pay for federal wildland firefighters. The letter said that the senators want the agencies to be ready to implement the measure once it becomes law.

The letter comes as the western part of the country has suffered from drought and wildfires.

Rep. Susie Lee failed to report personal stock trades on time, according to The Insider

“Across seven certified reports to the US House between February 2020 and May, Lee did not disclose many of her trades until several days after deadlines mandated by the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012, also known as the STOCK Act,” the news website said.

“She also disclosed a few trades a couple of weeks or more late.” 

Lee's office told the website that the trades were made by a third-party money manager, which can take time to report transactions, and Lee also said she had no input on the trades herself. 

Under the STOCK Act, government officials must report financial transactions totaling more than $1,000 no later than 30 days after receiving notification of the transaction and no later than 45 after the transaction date. Violations are subject to a $200 fine.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.2748 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the rules for postponing certain deadlines by reason of disaster.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2754 – A bill to provide funding for the deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1, and for other purposes.

S.2752 – A bill to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to protect civil rights and otherwise prevent meaningful harm to third parties, and for other purposes.

S.2726 – Public Transportation Expansion Act

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2756 – A bill to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal, in commemoration of the service members who perished as a result of the attack in Afghanistan on August 26, 2021, during the evacuation of citizens of the United States and Afghan allies at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and for other purposes.

S.2752 – A bill to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to protect civil rights and otherwise prevent meaningful harm to third parties, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5243 – To modernize the Fallon Range Training Complex in Churchill County, Nevada, through the withdrawal and reservation of additional public lands for military use, to provide for transfer of ownership of certain Federal lands in northern Nevada, to authorize the disposal of certain Federal lands in northern Nevada for economic development, to promote conservation in northern Nevada, and for other purposes.

Indy DC Download: Congressional delegation pushes to extend sunsetting downwinders law

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Nevada’s congressional delegation is looking at ways to extend an expiring law that provides compensation to those exposed to radiation from nuclear tests in Nevada.  

The Radiation Compensation Exposure Act (RECA) expires on July 11, 2022. The law, enacted in 1990, provides $50,000 to persons who developed certain cancers and were in parts of Nevada near the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site, during nuclear testing.

Those areas include Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye and White Pine Counties. It also covers specific areas of northern Clark County. 

“It’s not a mission accomplished thing,” said Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), who is optimistic the law can be extended before it expires. 

In an interview, he suggested that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual military policy bill, is the likeliest vehicle to continue the compensation program.

Amodei's comments came as the House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the NDAA, including adding $24 billion to President Joe Biden's $415 billion budget request. 

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), a member of the military policy panel, backed the Republican amendment to add the funding because it would benefit Nevada’s military posts. 

“In total, the fiscal year 2022 defense budget will make our military stronger, safer, and more responsive to the needs of our servicemembers,” Horsford said in a release following the passage of the NDAA.

The House panel's debate saw several amendments critical of Biden for the nation's tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Congressional Democrats with tough re-election races next year, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), have sought to take a harder line with the administration as Republicans have ramped up the criticism of Biden and, by extension, Democrats. 

With both the full House and Senate in recess, no votes floor votes were taken.

RECA

Amodei said he is looking at supporting legislation that would expand the areas covered by the law. 

“It’s a statewide issue,” Amodei said, adding that the fallout from nuclear tests likely contaminated the food supply.

A bill introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) would include Mohave County, just to the east of the state's southern tip and all of Clark County. The legislation also would extend the RECA trust fund for five more years. 

Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) has a similar bill that is cosponsored by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV). The two were the only cosponsors listed for the measure.

Horsford’s office said he is planning to cosponsor legislation that has yet to be introduced. 

In the Senate, Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also support extending the law.

According to her office, Cortez Masto sees the NDAA and the budget reconciliation package as two possible vehicles. The reconciliation bill is currently being drafted and would carry parts of the Democratic agenda, such as providing family and medical leave, that Republicans would not support.

Rosen is a cosponsor of legislation introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to extend the benefits to those in Mohave and Clark Counties. 

The bill would “take an important step to extend the geographic boundaries of areas eligible for compensation,” Rosen said in a statement provided by her office. 

Benefits under RECA are also available to certain uranium miners, mill workers and ore transporters who worked in the uranium industry between 1942 and 1971, when the federal government stopped its uranium procurement for the atomic weapons program, according to Amodei's office.

Along with the $50,000 one-time payment for individuals residing or working "downwind" of the Nevada Test Site, workers participating in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests that developed certain cancers are eligible for a single $75,000 payment and uranium miners, millers and ore transporters who develop particular cancers can receive a one-time $100,000 payment. 

RECA has awarded over $2.4 billion in benefits to more than 37,000 claimants since its inception in 1990.

According to the Atomic Heritage Foundation, the federal government conducted 1,021 nuclear tests at the test site between 1951 and 1992. Of the tests, 100 were atmospheric, and 921 were underground. Test facilities for nuclear rocket and ramjet engines were also constructed and used from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.

NDAA

The committee approved the NDAA on a 57-to-two vote after a roughly 16-hour markup that began Wednesday morning.

Horsford touted provisions in the measure for Nevada, including $20 million for the planning and design of a dormitory at Nellis Air Force Base.

“This dormitory is badly needed to address the housing shortfall currently faced by young Airmen, who are often forced to live off base,” Horsford said. 

Cortez Masto and Rosen have sought $7.2 million for the project in the annual  military construction appropriations bill. 

The MQ-9 Reapers program, which manages remotely piloted drone aircraft, many stationed at and operated from Creech Air Force Base, received $158 million for procurement, $129.7 million for modernization and $103 million for research and development. The program got another $53 million for maintenance.

Horsford was among the 14 Democrats on the committee to back the Republican amendment adding the $24 billion to the Pentagon budget. The amendment passed 42 to 17. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar provision in its version of the bill in July.

“The $23.9 billion funding increase in the FY 2022 defense budget will help us keep pace with China and maintain our counterterrorism efforts around the world,” he said, adding that it would  provide direct benefits to his district, including beefing up the MQ-9 program.

Horsford voted for an amendment seeking a report on why the military closed Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, which could have aided with evacuation.

He also voted for an amendment requiring an interagency report detailing that the withdrawal will not impede the nation's counterterrorism mission or endanger national security. 

Horsford also delivered a speech that reflected a tough stance on how the administration handled the withdrawal but that praised the administration for ending the war.

“I wholeheartedly supported President Biden's courageous decision to end our mission in Afghanistan,” Horsford said. “In doing so he pulled thousands of our troops out of harm's way and did what previous administrations failed to do.”

“However, like many I was horrified by the tragic displays of desperation we witnessed in the final weeks of our mission,” he continued. “There is no question that in the final stages of this conflict we failed to fully uphold our moral obligations to our citizens and allies still stranded in Afghanistan.” 

Democrats seek distance

Horsford’s comments came as Cortez Masto marked the nation’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence in the Middle Eastern country by calling on Biden’s administration to work with Congress to “get Americans and our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan and out of harm's way.”

Her comments reflect a position that congressional Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns are increasingly taking to try to distance themselves from Biden and his sagging poll numbers, according to Axios

According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Thursday, Biden’s approval rating fell to 46 percent, the lowest since he took office and six points below a July poll

Thursday’s poll also showed that Biden is losing independents. The share of independents that approve of the job Biden is doing fell to 36 percent from 46 percent in July.

That could be unwelcome news for Cortez Masto, as Nevada voter registration is trending more nonpartisan. Recently, the share of non-major party voters, 34.8 percent, overtook Democrats and Republicans in the state, at 34.78 percent and 30.4 percent, respectively.

Representing a state former President Donald Trump lost by two percentage points, Cortez Masto is a target for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, who are seeking to win back the majority. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between the parties.

The NRSC has called on Cortez Masto to take a harder position against Biden for the withdrawal, which saw 13 American soldiers killed on a suicide attack outside Kabul airport.

Her opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, an Iraq war veteran, wrote an op-ed Friday in The Washington Examiner that argued for a change in the makeup of Congress to hold Biden accountable.  

“It's time for investigations, resignations, and real change,” Laxalt wrote. “It's time to fire Democratic leadership in Congress so we can hold this administration accountable for its failure.” 

Cortez Masto’s campaign pointed to comments she’s made that have been critical of the administration for the chaotic withdrawal.

“I’ve never seen a plan,” Cortez Masto told KSNV in Las Vegas in August. “I asked the Trump administration for a plan — never got anything. I asked this administration — never received anything. And so, yeah, I do have questions. What happened?” 

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

Despite federal eviction ban lifting, Nevada housing advocates say not to panic

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Biden Administration's most recent pause on evictions, Nevada housing advocates and state officials had one message to share: Do not panic.

Though the high court’s late Thursday decision places hundreds of thousands of tenants across the country at risk of eviction amid a slow rollout of federal rent relief funds tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants in Nevada are still protected by AB486, Nevada Legal Services Senior Attorney Daniel Hansen said. The law, passed during the 2021 legislative session, aims to ensure that landlords do not evict individuals because of backlogs in rental aid disbursement.

"For the most part, AB486 does cover basically everything the CDC moratorium did, and in some cases is a stronger protection than the CDC moratorium was," Hansen said in an interview Friday. "It did create additional requirements because it adds mediation protection; it does create a cause of action against landlords who are extremely bad actors. There are repercussions under AB486."

Under the state’s eviction prevention measure, tenants cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent as long as they are actively pursuing rental assistance, or if a landlord is not cooperating with the rental assistance process or has refused to accept rental assistance. The law also establishes a path for landlords looking to recoup rents lost because of the pandemic. 

Jim Berchtold, the directing attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada's Consumer Rights project, said the CDC moratorium only protected a tiny sliver of evictions not covered under AB486, including those who were denied rental assistance.

"The question really for those [denied] people is: What happens now?" Berchtold said. "Now there are these cases, this bucket of cases that have been stayed under the CDC moratorium that is no longer valid. So we just don't know how the court is going to deal with those cases."

It remains to be seen whether landlords in those cases will have to go back and ask for an eviction order to be reissued or whether the court will do it automatically, Berchtold said.

"We're trying to obviously get out information to tenants to let them know that this has happened," he said. "There's no point in getting a CDC declaration anymore, and if you have a declaration, it doesn't protect you. The message is 486, 486, 486."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest ban on evictions was enacted on Aug. 3 in response to the emergence of the Delta variant and the rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, and amid pressure by Democrats after the Biden administration allowed the prior moratorium to lapse. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had said the ban would provide time for relief to reach renters and increase vaccination rates.

The new moratorium followed the expiration of the federal moratorium at the end of July — and an announcement from Gov. Steve Sisolak that he would not be extending the state-directed moratorium further.

Members of the state's congressional delegation also pointed to state measures to deflect concerns over the brunt of the ruling. 

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said she was concerned about the decision, but that “the state enacted AB486, which protects eligible tenants who are awaiting rental assistance from being evicted.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote to Democratic members of the House on Friday to highlight actions taken by the Treasury Department Wednesday to help expedite getting more of the $46.5 billion in rental aid to those who need it. Those actions included allowing self-attestation with regard to financial hardship, risk of homelessness or housing instability and income.

Pelosi also said Congress would continue to look at legislative options, though an effort to extend the moratorium before it expired failed. 

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) also called for Congress to act. 

“Days before the expiration of the July 31st moratorium, I wrote to congressional leadership urging swift action to extend the moratorium. My stance hasn’t changed; we need to protect millions of Americans at risk of homelessness as COVID spreads,” Titus said.

But a legislative solution appears out of reach, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“If there were enough votes to pass an eviction moratorium in Congress, it would have happened. It hasn't happened,” Psaki said Friday, adding that Biden would welcome a legislative extension.

As for what the reversal of the moratorium means for landlords, Nevada State Apartment Association Executive Director Susy Vasquez said she and members of the association are waiting to see what will happen next.

“It's expired before, it's been extended before, so I think right now what we're mainly focusing on are those people that have already been evicted,” Vasquez said, explaining that she and members of the association are shifting their attention to guidance from the courts about tenants whose eviction proceedings were blocked by the extended moratorium.

In an emailed statement to The Nevada Independent, Sisolak's office said he and state lawmakers crafted the new law during the legislative session knowing that moratoriums would come to an end and that Nevadans would need continued assistance. 

His office added that state and local governments are working as quickly as possible to process rental assistance and distribute funds.

An estimated 61,000 households — or 12 percent of renter households in Nevada — are behind on rent, according to a National Equity Atlas analysis of June 2021 U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey data. As of July 31, the state has received around $208 million in federal rental assistance through the first round of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program and has distributed about $60.6 million, or roughly 29 percent of the funds to Nevada households.

The state’s distribution of rental assistance has picked up the pace in recent weeks, which Vasquez said is helping landlords and creating room for more dialogue between landlords and tenants.

“Recently we have seen an uptick in the amount of money that's coming out, and communication has also improved between the program and our members,” she said. “So we're hopeful that we're going to be able to retain a lot of our residents that we currently have housed.”

Since March 2020, more than 31,000 households in Clark County have received housing or utility assistance, including more than 9,000 who have received rental assistance. In addition, the county used CARES Act funds to pay past-due electric bills for more than 57,000 local households and past-due gas bills for about 6,300 local households. 

The county has 8,500 rental assistance applications pending and has denied around 5,200 applications. The reasons for denial include not submitting the proper documentation, not qualifying under the income guidelines and no longer residing at the address for which they sought assistance.

In Northern Nevada, the Reno Housing Authority received 4,525 rental assistance applications, approving 1,173 of those applications and denying 72 households, mainly because applicants exceeded the income requirements. As of last week, the organization was still processing 1,965 applications.

As of last week, 2,855 applicants from rural parts of the state have applied for the first round of ERA funding through the Rural Housing Authority, which has made assistance payments to 311 households. So far, 513 applications have been rejected or removed at the initial intake point primarily because they fell outside of the organization's jurisdiction or applicants failed to fully complete the application. Another 1,145 were rejected for other reasons, including ineligibility for program assistance or failure to respond to requests for documentation, and 886 applicants are in varying stages of processing, which includes a review for eligibility.

Hansen said that anyone behind on rent or facing an eviction notice should reach out to legal aid providers, apply for rental assistance and respond to all eviction notices by filing a tenant’s affidavit in court.

“At the end of the day, this doesn't change anything that people who were facing eviction should do,” he said. “They still need to assert their defenses.” 

House approves budget blueprint kicking off sprint to draft Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social programs bill

East front of the U.S. Capitol.

House Democrats approved their budget plan Tuesday after negotiating a deal with 10 moderates who threatened to kill the measure by withholding support until the House passed the Senate’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

The budget vote, 220 to 212, triggers the reconciliation process, allowing committees of jurisdiction to begin drafting a $3.5 trillion package that can pass the Senate with a simple majority, rather than with the 60 votes typically needed to overcome a filibuster.

The reconciliation package will include an extension of the child tax credit, paid family leave, and other pieces of President Joe Biden's agenda that Republicans were unlikely to support, as opposed to the funds for roads, bridges, airports and broadband in the $1.2 trillion package. The Senate passed the measure and the budget resolution on Aug. 9.

Despite the legislative victory, tough negotiations lie ahead for Democrats. They control 50 votes in the Senate and will need all of them to pass their agenda. But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten ​​Sinema (D-AZ) said that $3.5 trillion is too much to spend for the reconciliation package. Their desire for fiscal discipline will clash with other Democrats' desires, in both chambers, to spend the full amount called for in the resolution.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), who, as a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the House Budget Committee, will help write the reconciliation package, declined to say whether he thinks $3.5 trillion is the right amount.

"This is about providing child care to moms; it's about providing paid leave to working families; it's about providing more affordable housing which we desperately need in Nevada and other places in the country," Horsford said Tuesday in a brief interview when asked about the cost. 

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said Congress would determine the right amount, which she added should be offset with spending cuts or tax increases on the wealthy, proposed in the resolution. 

“The right amount is what we can get passed, what's going to help the American public and what we can get paid for,” Lee said off the House floor Tuesday.

The House vote came a few hours after Gov. Steve Sisolak participated in a Democratic National Committee event Tuesday at a barbershop in East Las Vegas as part of the “Build Back Better” national bus tour touting the Democratic plan by the same name.

Las Vegas Councilwoman, Erica Mosca founder of Leaders in Training and Paul Madrid, owner of Eastside Cutters Barbershop behind Gov. Steve Sisolak speaking at the Democratic National Committee “Build Back Better” national bus tour event in Las Vegas on Aug. 24, 2021. (Jannelle Calderon/ The Nevada Independent)

Community leaders including Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, Mi Familia Vota State Director Cecia Alvarado and Erica Mosca, founder of Leaders in Training, joined the governor to rally support for Biden’s agenda, including passage of the reconciliation bill.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris have just been absolutely terrific in terms of giving us the tools and the flexibility that we need to move forward and to move on,” Sisolak said at the event. 

Sisolak said that the funding could greatly benefit the state’s education system by adding mental health resources and improving teachers’ pay and the counselor to student ratio.

“Our education system is woefully underfunded. We need to get more money into our schools and actually into the classrooms,” Sisolak said. “Teachers do an absolutely incredible job but they're overworked and underpaid for the work that they do. We need to do more.”

The Democratic-drafted budget resolution, typically used by the majority party to outline its priorities, received no Republican votes. 

Democratic members of Nevada's congressional delegation celebrated House passage of the plan, which they argued would help Nevada, including universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds. 

“I think the biggest bang for an education dollar is early childhood education,” Lee said.

“There're a lot of great things in this package that are going to help all of our middle-class families in Nevada who have been struggling,” Lee continued.

The vote came after hours of intense negotiations between Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and nine other centrist Democrats, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ended the standoff that threatened to derail the Democrats’ agenda. 

The moderates agreed to support the budget resolution and the speaker agreed to hold a vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. 

While not among the 10 House Democratic centrists who threatened to vote against the budget, Lee, who had also advocated for immediate House action on the bipartisan Senate bill, said she was pleased with the compromise. 

“I believe that this bipartisan package is something that was negotiated with the Senate, with the president, that we negotiated for months and months,” adding that Pelosi’s assurance of a vote at the end of September date-certain House action on the bipartisan bill. 

Lee is a member of the bipartisan group of moderates known as the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Senate bipartisan bill is similar to a proposal the Problem Solvers released in June.

Horsford said that the dispute was much ado about nothing since any funds from the bipartisan bill could not be spent until Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. 

“Nothing can even be spent in the bipartisan bill until after October, so we're really really arguing over semantics at this point,” Horsford said before the deal was finalized. 

Correction posted at 9:08 a.m. on 8/25/2021: This story has been updated to reflect that Sen. Kyrsten ​​Sinema represents Arizona, not Nevada.

Indy DC Download: Cortez Masto and Rosen seek $205 million for 71 projects, including $31.6 million to pave a 24-mile Nye County road

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Interactive tables and charts breaking down all delegation earmark requests can be found at the bottom of this page after the vote tracker.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) requested more than $205 million for 71 projects across Nevada under Congress’ revived earmarking system, which allows members to direct spending to specific projects from the 12 annual appropriations bills. 

Earmarks were banned beginning in 2011, when Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) first became House speaker following a few high-profile scandals, including the construction of a bridge in Alaska that was dubbed “the bridge to nowhere.” 

But the practice has long had its proponents, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). He argued that, with the ban, Congress relinquished part of its power of the purse to the White House, which would make those spending decisions at the agency level. 

Reid even crossed President Barack Obama on the issue when the former president sided with newly elected Tea Party-backed House Republicans, who called for an end to earmarks.

“I have been a fan of earmarks since I got here the first day. Keep in mind that’s what the country has done for more than 200 years, except for the brief period of time in recent years that we haven’t done these,” Reid told reporters in 2014, adding of Obama: “He’s wrong.” 

Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee renamed the practice “Community Project Funding.” They also instituted a series of reforms, including requiring public disclosure of each member’s request and barring for-profit companies from receiving funds.

Republicans have mostly embraced the return of the practice. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) had all of the $9.5 million he requested for 10 projects in his district funded in the nine spending bills approved by the House late last month. He voted against the bills over concern with Democratic priorities included in the measures.

He separately requested and secured $21 million for five other projects in the House transportation infrastructure bill passed by the House in early July. It’s unclear what the fate of those will be. The Senate’s recently approved $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure did not include member-directed funding for specific projects. 

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), who secured $17.3 million for four transportation projects in the House bill, has raised concerns about the funding for her projects as the House moves to take a procedural vote on the bipartisan Senate measure next week. 

While the House has passed nine of the 12 annual spending bills, the Senate spending panel is still working on getting the bills to the floor. 

The Capitol is bracing for a spending fight next month when Congress will have to pass a short-term spending extension before the end of September, or the federal government would shut down due to a lack of authority to access funds.

Top $ earmarks

Cortez Masto’s and Rosen’s fiscal year 2022 earmarks lists were identical. 

Both sought $31.6 million—the largest sought of the 71 projects—to pave a 24-mile road from the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe's reservation to the Eureka County line. The tribe is located in the Railroad Valley in the northern tip of Nye County. 

Ely would receive the second-highest amount requested. The Ely Downtown Upgrade Project would receive $26 million. The project, led by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), includes improving most storm drains to NDOT design standards and installing a major storm drain from the Courthouse Park to where Murry Creek crosses the railroad. The project would help mitigate flooding.

Another $14 million would go to the County Road 34 Rehabilitation in Washoe. The project would rehabilitate 14 total miles of roadway in the rural portion of northern Washoe County to support economic growth in the region, local communities and the annual Burning Man festival. 

The two senators called for $7.2 million to design a 240-room dormitory at Nellis Air Force Base. Future appropriations would fund construction. The additional housing will help with a housing shortage for junior enlisted airmen at Nellis.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office was also in line to get $6 million to design and equip a new infirmary to provide medical and mental health treatment. 

Churchill County would receive $5 million to construct a new rural road with water and sewer infrastructure that would connect the commercial center of Fallon to the Coleman Road Development project.

DRI, UNR, UNLV

The Desert Research Institute (DRI), the nonprofit research campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education, would receive $8 million from three separate requests. 

One request seeks $5 million for research to protect Lake Tahoe. The Sustaining Recreation and Healthy Ecosystems at Lake Tahoe Project is a joint project between the DRI and UNR to fund research to create a long-term sustainable recreation program that can guide future management decisions and reduce the anthropogenic impacts in and around Lake Tahoe.

Another $2 million is sought for the DRI Geoengineering Project. It would allow the DRI to expand its research in climate geoengineering-a field focused on applying engineering to seek solutions to climate change. 

The third request would provide $1 million for DRI's Leeside Risks Initiative. The project would assess extreme winter storm risks to mountain and leeside communities, which sit on the east side of major mountain ranges. The research would be used to develop a common set of tools, models and modes of engagement to help emergency planners assess extreme storm risks and implement mitigation actions in leeside rural and urban communities in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest.

UNR would receive $4.5 million for two projects, including $3.1 for the school of medicine to establish a state toxicological laboratory that would provide drug testing, confirmation and consultation to public health and public safety agencies.

The senators are seeking another $1.37 million to create an agricultural center in Fallon, which would increase research and food production capabilities in the region. The facility would allow for research activities related to developing new varietals and growing techniques to improve food production and processing under changing climatic conditions.

UNLV was poised to receive $4.6 million for four projects, including $2 million for the dental school to create an outpatient dental clinic devoted to patients with advanced care needs.

Another $1.56 would go to the medical school to acquire two mobile clinics to expand care to the medically underserved in the community. UNLV is also seeking $550,000 to obtain a scanning electron microscope to provide high-resolution images for rapid assessment of the characters and phases in a material.

Half a million was requested for UNLV to purchase a Micro-CT scanner, which uses a 3D imaging technique to allow researchers to see the inside of an object. The technology is critical to researchers studying tissue and organs, composite materials, batteries, and other related items.

Miscellany

Along with $7.2 million to design a 240 room dormitory at Nellis, Creech Air Force Base would receive $4.1 million for two projects. 

Creech would get $2.2 million to design a 44,035 square foot indoor fitness center. The center would provide “a key quality of life improvement from the stressors of the Creech mission, ensure Airmen maintain physical fitness, and positively impact retention and readiness,” the request said.

The senators requested $3.06 million for erosion control of the lower Wash. The Las Vegas Wash is a 12-mile channel that connects the Colorado River to Lake Mead. Erosion control structures will protect existing infrastructure, restore surrounding wetlands and improve drinking water quality for the Southern Nevada region. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) also made the same request. 

The two also requested $4 million for North Las Vegas to replace all street lights with LED bulbs, about 26,500 bulbs. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) requested and secured $12 million for the LED conversion in the House-approved transportation infrastructure bill.

The Nevada System of Higher Education would get $2.66 million for a mental health care pilot project. The pilot will focus on three service areas: crisis hotlines/online resources, additional and targeted personnel and training, workshop development, and information. The funds would also be used to conduct a systemwide assessment of mental health services.

Nevada State College in Henderson would receive $4.1 million for three projects. Nearly $2 million would expand mental health and wellness services and $1.6 million would go to establish an inclusive preschool program for three to five-year-olds. Another $648,000 would allow the college's Nursing Technology Enhancement Project to fund technology enhancements, including training models that use simulation scenarios and virtual reality and give students real-time feedback. 

The College of Southern Nevada (CSN) was tapped to receive $315,000, including $223,000 to equip CSN's Advanced Manufacturing Lab and an eLearning Library. Another $92,000 would be used to purchase lab equipment for a new training facility at the CSN's Sahara West Center campus.

.For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

Indy DC Download: Senate Democrats lay the groundwork to pass $3.5 trillion soft infrastructure spending package

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy DC Download newsletter, a weekly look at what's going on in the nation's capitol as it relates to Nevada.

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The U.S. Senate approved a budget plan that called for drafting a $3.5 trillion package mainly focused on social safety net programs after the chamber passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill targeting roads, transit, airports and broadband. 

The so-called budget resolution passed on a party-line 50 to 49 vote Wednesday morning and directed congressional committees to turn the spending framework into legislation by mid-September. The bipartisan package was approved Tuesday, 69 to 30. 

The Senate spending blueprint calls for $3.5 trillion legislation to include provisions for universal Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds; free community college for two years; funding for drought, wildfire, and Interior Department investments; green cards for millions of immigrant workers and families and border security technology.

The resolution also calls on the Senate Finance Committee to write its section to raise taxes on corporations and high-income individuals while cutting taxes for those earning less than $400,000 a year. 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), a member of the tax panel, said she believes the legislation could be historic and help boost] middle class as the economy recovers from the pandemic.  

“It will be, if we get it right...the biggest tax cut in a generation,” Cortez Masto said in a brief interview Tuesday.  

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also highlighted tax benefits in the spending blueprint, including extending enhancements to the child tax credit, the earned income tax credits and the child and dependent care tax credit enacted in March.

“The legislation also outlines plans to support hard-working families in Nevada and across our nation by cutting taxes for working families, by extending the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and also by establishing a first-ever federal paid family and medical leave benefit,” Rosen said in a release.

Rosen, chair of a congressional panel focused on boosting travel and tourism, also recently said that she is eyeing the $3.5 trillion package as a vehicle to help the industry.

“There isn't a state in this nation that doesn't have somewhere beautiful and wonderful to go visit,” Rosen said in a brief interview, adding that it is likely among the top five economic drivers in every state “in some form or fashion.”

“It's important to all of us...and I hope to play a big role,” Rosen said.

Their comments came as former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, said Wednesday that he does not intend to announce a run for Senate against Cortez Masto at his Basque Fry on Saturday.

“No plans to announce anything at the Basque Fry,” Laxalt told Las Vegas-based radio host Kevin Wall. “It's a state PAC event, and it’s focused on these great speakers and what they’ve got to tell our great voters across the state.” 

But he also did not rule out announcing a run for higher office at some point.

"You know, it's so humbling to have people come up every day and ask me to get back in the arena and represent them," Laxalt said when asked about his plans. "People feel like there's no one representing them either in the state or in the country, frankly. There are so few leaders that are standing up and so that means a lot to me." 

“But I've got a young family, an eight-year-old, a five-year-old and a three-year-old and, you know, we've just got a lot on our plate so these are not easy decisions,” he continued. “I don't take them lightly, but I'm certainly very concerned about the direction our country's headed.”

The House to return

Following the Senate action on the budget bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will bring the U.S. House back from the recess the week of Aug. 23 to vote on the Senate budget and on voting rights legislation. 

The House needs to pass the same budget resolution as the Senate to invoke reconciliation, a budget process that allows the Senate to pass revenue and spending legislation on a simple majority. That would allow Senate Democrats to avoid a filibuster of the $3.5 trillion social safety net package.

Pelosi now faces the challenge of winning over enough Democrats to pass the Senate budget measure. She can lose no more than three Democrats and still pass the legislation if all Republicans vote no.  

The speaker has said she would not hold a vote on the bipartisan bill until the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package is passed, a strategy progressives and some other Democrats have urged her to employ.

Pelosi reiterated that plan on a call with Democrats Wednesday, noting that support for both bills is intertwined. 

“The votes in the House and Senate depend on us having both bills,” Pelosi said on the call, according to reports.

But Friday, a group of nine House Democrats, moderates mostly from swing congressional districts, wrote to Pelosi threatening to vote against the budget unless the House first votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. They are all members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which consists of 28 Democrats and 28 Republicans who look to work across party lines. 

There is a similar split between Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), but it’s unclear whether either would be willing to vote against the bipartisan bill or the budget.  

Titus is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and she helped draft and pass the $760 billion infrastructure bill approved by the House in July.

She’s raised concerns that the bipartisan bill does not do enough to address climate change and over the $20 million in funding for specific projects in her district that she secured in the House bill.

“This bill does fall short of addressing some of the most pressing issues facing us at this moment,” Titus said in a release. 

On Monday, she signed a letter that took issue with $7.5 billion for electric vehicle (EV) charging in the bipartisan infrastructure package and instead called for $85 billion. The letter argued that the move would create jobs and help reduce carbon pollution.

Lee, on the other hand, also a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, signed a letter Tuesday calling on the speaker to hold an immediate vote on the bipartisan bill, which is similar to legislation introduced by the Problem Solvers in June. 

But Lee notably did not sign onto the Friday letter threatening not to support the budget resolution.

Divisions are also emerging among Senate Democrats over the $3.5 trillion package.

After the budget was approved, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he is not comfortable with the reconciliation bill's $3.5 trillion price tag.

“Given the current state of the economic recovery, it is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession — not an economy that is on the verge of overheating,” Manchin said in a release

Vote-a-rama

With consideration of the budget, the Senate launched into its vote-a-rama beginning Tuesday afternoon and ending about 4:00 a.m. Wednesday. 

The vote-a-rama comes when the budget gets considered on the Senate floor and members are permitted to offer an unlimited number of amendments to the spending blueprint. The amendments are non-binding as the budget is a spending guide and does not become law.

It’s typically used by the parties to generate fodder for political attack ads. 

Senate Republicans, who have targeted Cortez Masto in her 2022 re-election bid, forced votes on amendments relating to defunding the police, the green new deal, critical race theory and a host of other issues.

But first, she had dueling amendments with Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the minority whip, over a White House proposal to repeal a tax break on inherited assets that have appreciated, including property. 

The break allows heirs to avoid paying capital gains on the appreciation. The rule is known as stepped-up basis, as the cost basis of an inherited asset is “stepped up” to its value at the time of the owner’s death instead of at the time of purchase by the original owner. 

Cortez Masto offered an amendment that called for an exemption for family farms, ranches, and small businesses from losing the exemption if it’s repealed. It failed 50 to 49. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) was the only Democrat to join with all Republicans to vote against the amendment. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are committed to protecting these family-owned businesses while ensuring that the top one percent of corporations pay their fair share,” Cortez Masto said on the floor.

Thune’s amendment called for preserving the inheritance tax policy as is. It passed 99 to 0. 

Her office said she backed the amendment because she doesn’t want small ranches and the like to be adversely affected by a blanket repeal.

Cortez Masto voted with all other 98 senators in favor of an amendment calling for reducing federal funding for local jurisdictions that defund the police. (Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) missed the vote-a-rama to be with his wife, who is undergoing cancer treatment.)

She voted with all other 98 senators calling for the prohibition of enacting the Green New Deal.

She joined all but one Democrat opposing an amendment that called for prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in pre-kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools.

Miscellany

Laxalt was also critical of the Democratic agenda, which includes the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and the broader $3.5 trillion safety net measure.

“Here there was an opportunity to legitimately pass a very narrow, pure infrastructure bill,” Laxalt said. “Americans aren't stupid. They can't change these definitions. They're trying to, and the media, of course, is helping them by not pointing out that the infrastructure bill is anything but infrastructure.” 

“I hope that people are seeing and I hope that people understand that they simply do partisan politics, they push their agenda,” Laxalt continued.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will likely be touted by Senate Democrats and Republicans on the campaign trail. Nineteen Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), backed the bill. 

“I’ve never felt that we ought to be perceived as being opposed to everything,” McConnell told The Washington Post after the measure passed.

The Senate GOP support came despite calls from former President Donald Trump for Republicans to oppose the bill. It’s unclear how many, if any, House Republicans will back the measure.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Census Bureau released data to kick out the decennial redrawing of congressional districts. 

The data showed an increase in the Latinos population in Clark and Washoe Counties, which reflected the trend nationally.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2702 A bill to protect the voting rights of Native American and Alaska Native voters.

S.2688 A bill to require consultations on reuniting Korean Americans with family members in North Korea.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2700 A bill to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to improve the detection, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues among public safety officers, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2702 A bill to protect the voting rights of Native American and Alaska Native voters.

Indy Q&A: Transportation Secretary Buttigieg on infrastructure bill’s perks for Nevadans

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill making its way through Congress could make the biggest difference in a fast-growing state such as Nevada, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during a visit to Henderson City Hall on Wednesday. 

The bill would fund various public works projects across the country ranging from road improvements to more electric vehicle charging stations. It also includes $65 billion in funding for broadband internet infrastructure and $55 billion for water infrastructure projects such as the Large Scale Water Recycling Project Investment Act, a piece of legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) in June that would recycle water in Nevada and 16 other western states.

After weeks of discussions between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, the Senate approved the bipartisan infrastructure bill (69-30) on Tuesday, with 19 Republicans – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – in favor. While progressives said the package doesn’t go far enough in implementing Biden’s priorities and conservatives said the bill was too costly, lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum were able to come together in a rare instance of compromise and agreement. 

In an interview with NPR in April, Buttigieg called the plan a “common sense investment” that would benefit the American economy and create long-term jobs for people. It will be funded by unspent federal COVID-19 relief aid, federal unemployment insurance aid and other existing federal pots of money

Buttigieg also visited Boulder Highway, a notorious road that is the site of 10 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the state. The city of Henderson was given a $40 million federal grant to make improvements to the highway in June. 

Although the grant is separate from the infrastructure bill that still awaits approval by the House and must then be signed into law by President Joe Biden, it is symbolic of the type of infrastructure improvements the bill would enact across the nation, Buttigieg said. 

But what else can Nevadans expect from this bill? And how would the measure address the state’s unique challenges? Buttigieg provided more details about what’s in the bill for Nevadans in an interview for the IndyMatters podcast. 

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Rep. Susie Lee (NV-03), left, talks to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during a news conference in Henderson discussing the $40 million grant for the City of Henderson Reimagine Boulder Highway Project on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Jeff Scheid / The Nevada Independent)

How will drought and the effects of climate change in Nevada affect the state’s critical energy infrastructure, such as the Hoover Dam, and how does the bill address this issue?

The droughts that we're seeing in Nevada and across the West reflect both the impact of climate change and the need for greater resiliency. So there are a couple of things I would point to in this infrastructure package. 

One is that it has over $50 billion specifically assigned for resiliency efforts. That's droughts, fires, floods, and preparing for the impact that they're going to have on our critical infrastructure, whether we're talking about the example [of] the Hoover Dam … stress on the [electric] grid, things that happened to transit systems like in Portland where the heat wave threatened to melt the cables that power their transit systems so they had to shut it down, or the roads that we see washed out – all of this is evidence that we need to invest in [resilience efforts]. 

Of course, the other thing we need to do is stop catastrophic climate change from getting any worse, and that's also an important part of this bill. So when you see funding for electric vehicle charging stations, when you see funding for public transit which enables us to get more cars off the road by giving people alternatives … those are about making sure that we slow climate change.

Speaking of electric vehicles, rural and low-income communities are often the hardest places to sell these vehicles for various reasons. What specific strategies do you have, or does the bill include, to make these vehicles more accessible to these communities? 

Rural and low-income Americans are among those with the most to gain from the electric vehicle (EV) revolution. And I say that because, first of all, if you're low-income, then gas is often a bigger share of your family budget, and so you'll save a whole lot of gas money if you have an electric vehicle … If you're in a rural community or [a] more spread-out community, you drive more, which means of course you use more gas and again you'll save more money with an EV. 

The challenge often is the upfront cost, and that's why the president's jobs plan proposed rebates and incentives to lower that upfront cost. 

Eventually, over the years, this might not be such a problem because the more we make them here in America, the cheaper they're going to get, but right now, they're still viewed as a luxury item, and we've got to buy down that cost difference. That's something that, again, was in the president's plan. It's being discussed actively right now in the context of the budget resolution that's coming on the heels of the bipartisan deal. 

But I would also mention that in the bipartisan deal are charging station infrastructure grants and funds which are going to be important for tearing down another barrier to EV adoption, which is range anxiety and the concern about whether you can get to where you need to be.

These things can go hundreds of miles, but in a rural area or desert area where you really need to make sure that range is there, it can make a big difference to make sure that there is a corridor with those kinds of charging stations along the way so that you'll never be short.

We’ve been hearing about potential high-speed rail service between Las Vegas and Southern California for years now. Under this infrastructure bill, do you think we’ll finally see this project come to reality? 

Certainly a project like that has a much better chance of becoming a reality if we get the funding that's been proposed for our rail network. 

We've got to do two things. First, we’ve got to take care of what we've already got. There's a huge repair backlog when it comes to our rail and other infrastructure. And the second thing we got to do is make sure there's enough funding to actually expand and add, including high-speed.  And certainly when you look at the population growth in Nevada and across the Southwest, it makes this area, in my view, a very good candidate for rail expansion projects. 

The bipartisan package represents the biggest new federal support for passenger rail since Amtrak was [first created].

Will the money be allocated to this specific project, though?

The bill isn't designed on a project-by-project basis. What it does is it sets up the funding that will make it possible for more projects to happen, or for the projects that are happening now to happen faster.

From the opportunities here in Nevada to so many things that need to happen around the country, we've been frankly falling behind for decades. This is our chance not just to make up for lost time, but to actually get ahead. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at a news conference in Henderson on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (Jeff Scheid / The Nevada Independent)

Would it be left up to state and local governments to decide what they use the money for, or are you speaking with them about specific projects? 

I would point to a couple of things. There are formulas that go out to every state, and that's part of how our transportation funding will grow, but we're also going to have competitive grants, and that's where communities or rail operators can apply based on ideas that they have. 

We're not looking to prescribe all of the answers from Washington. We recognize … that local leaders and states are often going to develop solutions that work for them. The answers don't all have to come from my department, but the funding should.

What is the timeline on Federal Aviation Administration approval of the renaming of McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport?

That's something I'd have to go back and check on, but what I'll say is I'm a huge fan of Harry Reid. [I] got to know him during my own many visits to Nevada during the presidential campaign and think he is just a towering figure in our country, and I'm always pleased to hear about ways for him to be acknowledged and honored.

What does the infrastructure bill mean for Nevada specifically, and what have you learned about Nevada while you were campaigning here?

What I would say about Nevada is that you have so many communities here that are fast-growing and that need the infrastructure to keep up. There are so many examples. We just saw one in Henderson. In that case, what you have is a highway that's unusually dangerous. It accounts for [almost] 10 percent of pedestrian fatalities … in the entire state just on this one [15-mile] stretch of highway, and local leaders have a vision for how to make it safer with this great state-local-federal partnership. 

We're funding it. It won a competitive grant called INFRA through my department, but we could be doing so much more on projects like this for safety benefits around Nevada and around the country. Now, when I do turn to the numbers, if you look, for example, at those formulas I was talking about earlier and what it means to get Nevada share – [for Nevada alone,] that's $2.5 billion for road funding through this bill [and] $460 million for public transportation ... There are over 1,000 miles of highway in poor condition [in Nevada].

This is a place where commute times have been growing as a result of that growth … And so, especially in a future-oriented area like this, it's one of the places where I think that infrastructure funding can make the biggest difference.

California and Nevada have been debating who is going to pay for the expansion of I-15, which is a highway that connects Southern Nevada and California and is often backed up with traffic on busy weekends. Do you think that money from the infrastructure bill could be earmarked for the expansion of this highway? 

Well, we’re always best able to support projects when there is alignment among the states, but that can be a challenge, and one of the things that takes some of the pressure off is when we have a bigger pot of funding to work with to begin with, which is what this bill represents. 

Now I'll also say that part of what often needs to be done to address congestion sometimes includes expansion of highways, but sometimes includes just creating alternatives. 

We want to make sure we're not inducing demand. In other words, adding lanes that simply induce more people to drive, and then a few years after spending a lot of money, you're just as congested as before. We need to be smart and give people options and alternatives. Yes, to be able to drive efficiently and safely, but also rail alternatives, transit alternatives, good ways to get to where they need to be so that no one piece of infrastructure gets overburdened or too strained.

I know the bill has included a lot of Amtrak expansions across the country. Do you see Amtrak coming back to Las Vegas under this new bill? 

I certainly think that Amtrak would be excited about serving Las Vegas in new ways and we want to make sure we're supporting those visions for growth. Now, part of what they need to do, again, is look after the existing assets that they have, but with this level of funding that's possible in this infrastructure package, I believe it will be possible to expand services to areas where it's either never been, or has been withdrawn or suspended in recent years.

I’m just trying to get a sense of what Nevada’s next steps are. You said that your department is ready to start deploying people on the ground and start getting these projects running as soon as the bill is signed into law. Are there any other specific projects that Nevadans can expect in the coming months under this bill? 

For INFRA, we got I think $6 to $7 billion worth of applications for only less than $1 billion worth of funding. So we would have been able to do ... that many more good projects that were ready to go [in addition to improving Boulder Highway]. 

If we [get] more funding to work with, I would envision that across Nevada, you're gonna see more projects applying to both our INFRA program and a program called RAISE, which used to be known as TIGER, which I know has made a difference around here as well, and also that formula that just allows more of the highway maintenance, bridge maintenance and other things to be looked after. 

I would also point to the broadband support that is going to make a difference here. We need to make sure that every American can have access to affordable, fast broadband. Especially during the pandemic era, we've seen how, if you don't have it, that's an obstacle to being able to participate in the economy or even just being able to do your homework. Part of what's exciting about this bill is an expanded vision of what infrastructure means that includes digital infrastructure, and I think that'll benefit a lot of Nevada residents. 

Bottom line, whether you're in the middle of one of our biggest cities ... a rural or tribal area, this bill will benefit your community, and I'm really excited to see what ideas Nevada comes forward with. But of course, first we gotta get this thing passed.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks about the $40 million grant for the City of Henderson Reimagine Boulder Highway Project during a news conference in Henderson on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (Jeff Scheid / The Nevada Independent)