Friday, June 20, 2014 | 2 a.m.
What it really takes to get something done in Congress
Sometimes, being a member of Congress isn’t that glamorous.
Rep. Steven Horsford, a Democrat representing North Las Vegas and central Nevada, has spent his entire first year and a half in Congress trying to get a top Veterans Affairs official to sign a piece of paper.
Without the signature, construction can’t begin on a VA outpatient clinic in Pahrump, where 6,000 residents are veterans and currently using a temporary clinic.
We’ll spare you the bureaucratic details, but suffice to say that with the help of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and a national VA scandal, Horsford finally got confirmation this week from VA officials they will sign the paper. There’s no timeline on when, but it seems the long-awaited clinic can go forward — eventually. The slog is part of being a member of Congress, but Horsford said he enjoys it.
“Part of my job is to advocate on my constituents’ behalf to federal agencies who aren’t always responsive,” he said.
Land bills galore, because it's Nevada
Horsford also had a busy week introducing several land bills to help American Indian tribes and nonprofits expand in his district. Because the federal government owns so much land in Nevada, it takes an act of Congress to do something like allocate 25 acres in northwest Las Vegas for Opportunity Village, a nonprofit serving children and with disabilities, which Horsford introduced legislation to do.
Horsford and Reid are also teaming up to try to pass legislation adding 26,000 acres of federal land to the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians’ 75,000-acre reservation north of Las Vegas. Reid is hoping the Moapa tribe would use the land in part to expand its solar energy projects, slated to begin in 2015. But it’s not clear whether he can get stakeholders in Nevada or members of Congress to agree on the legislation — Nevada’s delegation has been burned in the past.
Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican representing Northern Nevada, has been working for the past year to expand reservations of eight tribes in his district. His bill, the Nevada Native Nations Land Act, advanced out of a key House of Representatives committee Thursday.
“These lands will enable the tribes to chart brighter futures for their communities and to better preserve their cultural heritage,” Amodei said in a statement.
“No budget, no pay”
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., had a slightly more glamorous week. After questioning Dr. Mehmet Oz of “The Dr. Oz Show” about dubious “miracle” fat-burning pills, Heller took to the Senate floor to deliver what’s become an annual proposal of his: Congress doesn’t get paid unless it passes all 12 budget bills for different agencies by the end of the fiscal year Oct. 1.
Heller’s been pushing the idea since 2011. Last year, Congress passed a similar proposal holding its paychecks in question, but it didn’t require lawmakers to pass a budget on time. (Which was a good thing, because they didn’t.)
Heller’s proposal probably won’t go anywhere, but it does reflect a growing frustration in Congress about how slowly things move in these hyper-partisan days.
“Nothing will happen if members of Congress don’t start feeling some pain,” he said.
How to fix the doctor shortage at Las Vegas’ VA hospital?
Las Vegas’ 2-year-old Veterans Affairs hospital has a shortage of doctors because of a bureaucratic blip that Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican representing Henderson and Boulder City, is trying to fix.
Doctors at Nellis Air Force Base, the previous home for area veterans, have to undergo a lengthy permitting process to serve in the new VA hospital. Heck said last week he’s working on legislation to allow doctors who practice at Nellis to skip the VA permitting process and practice at the new hospital.
Rep. Dina Titus, a Las Vegas Democrat, is also working on legislation to address the city’s overall doctor shortage. She wants to establish a medical residency program at the VA hospital that would train young doctors and, hopefully, entice them to stay in the city.
“If you do a residency there, you’re more likely to stay there,” she said last week.
Reid brings home the bacon for Nevada’s rural counties
And finally, some good news for Nevada’s rural counties.
Because the federal government owns so much land in much of the state, lawmakers say they’re losing out on potential tax revenue.
So in 2008, Reid maneuvered a government policy that actually pays counties in lieu of taxes (though he must fight for Congress to approve it every year). His office announced Thursday that 17 counties will receive a total of $25 million from the Department of the Interior, their biggest payout yet. Clark County is not part of the deal, but nearby Lincoln County will receive $869,000 and Nye County more than $3 million.