Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 | 2 a.m.
It’s August, and that means Nevada’s federal lawmakers are on a five-week summer break from Washington (although they’re quick to point out that they’re not taking a break from work, instead keeping busy hosting roundtables, neighborhood walks and media events all month.)
Both Democrats and Republicans acknowledge it has been a frustrating year. Both sides say they regret not passing meaningful immigration reform and failing to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
The chances for either bill to pass when Congress returns in September look grim, too.
Congress has just a few weeks in session before the Nov. 4 midterm elections and likely will avoid any major decisions until after voters head to the polls.
Still, our lawmakers were relatively upbeat about their jobs.
What were their proudest moments? And their missteps? The delegation reflected on the year so far.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat
The good: At the eleventh hour, Reid pulled together his colleagues to pass a Veterans Affairs reform bill and give more funding to Israel’s missile defense — two political musts for both sides of the aisle. He also continues to send federal housing and education grants Nevada’s way.
The bad: Reid said in a Senate floor speech that he’s frustrated the Senate couldn’t agree on a defense spending bill, reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank (which provides taxpayer-funded loans to American businesses that export American products), extending tax breaks and much, much more.
On his to-do list: Reid isn’t up for re-election in November, but several Senate Democrats are. He will do as much as he can between now and then to protect his vulnerable colleagues from tough votes and Republican attacks.
Sen. Dean Heller, Republican
The good: An advocate for extending unemployment benefits, Heller said he has enjoyed working with Democrats on the issue. He also is proud to have been so heavily involved in shaping a Veterans Affairs reform bill.
“It’s one of the few actual successes we’ve had here in Washington,” he said.
The bad: Immigration, particularly Congress’ inability to agree on a way to stop Central American children from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
“People are going to ask about border security and why we didn’t do anything about it,” Heller said.
On his to-do list: Expect Heller to continue trying to get Congress to extend unemployment benefits. It’s one of the reasons he’s in Washington, he said.
Rep. Dina Titus, Las Vegas, District 1 Democrat
The good: Three of Titus’ ideas to make life easier for veterans made it into a final bill Congress passed in response to a scandal involving poor treatment of patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals.
“That’s pretty rewarding,” she said. Titus also has been an advocate for loosening federal medical marijuana laws.
The bad: Titus wants Republican House leaders to bring immigration reform up for a vote.
“Not a lot has happened,” she said. “So much needs to be done, and so much could be done if it was brought up for a vote.”
On her to-do list: A long-term highway transportation bill that would give more money to local governments to organize their own projects.
“It has not moved here, but (in Nevada) it’s getting very favorable support,” she said.
Rep. Mark Amodei, Northern Nevada, District 2 Republican
The good: Amodei negotiated a compromise among House Republicans to bring back to life a lands bill for rural Nevada that will protect some wilderness and allow for economic development elsewhere. It now has a better chance to become law.
The bad: Amodei also is frustrated with his Republican colleagues for not bringing immigration reform bills to a vote.
“I can’t defend nothing,” he said.
On his to-do list: Finding a way to sufficiently protect the sage grouse, a bird that roams much of northern Nevada and is losing its habitat to wildfires. Nevada needs to convince the federal government by mid-2015 that it has done a good job protecting the bird or the state risks losing control of some of its land.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Amodei said.
Rep. Joe Heck, Henderson and Boulder City, District 2 Republican
The good: The president signed into law Heck’s bill to clean up an abandoned mine outside Henderson, setting the stage for future development there. Heck called it “my proudest legislative accomplishment ... this year.”
The bad: Yet again, immigration.
“I think we had opportunities that we didn’t leverage and take advantage of, and so now the issue continues to languish,” Heck said.
On his to-do list: Heck has three more pieces of legislation that have passed the House and are waiting for a vote in the Senate. He also is putting his energy into helping aging World War II Filipino-American veterans get paid for their service.
Oh, and winning re-election — he’s Nevada’s only congressional lawmaker in a contested race this year — is in there somewhere.
Rep. Steven Horsford, North Las Vegas and rural central Nevada, District 4 Democrat
The good: Horsford said he’s particularly proud of how he has been able to help constituents solve problems with federal agencies.
The bad: Focusing on folks back home is a particularly valuable tool when you’re a Democrat in a Republican-controlled House.
“There’s not as much movement on legislation as I would hope,” he said.
On his to-do list: Besides immigration reform, Horsford would like to see more lands bills passed that free up federal land in Nevada for development. He has been working with Amodei to allow residents in Yerington to build a copper mine, and he’s trying to advance national monument designation for Tule Springs.