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January 12, 2013

2012 file photo/The Associated Press

A fishing boat returns to the damaged Belford port in Middletown N.J., on Dec. 12, 2012. The port sustained nearly $1 million in damages from Superstorm Sandy, some of which its owners hope to recoup through federal storm aid.

Washington Notebook: Superstorm Sandy aid tops House agenda

By Kevin Miller
kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - House lawmakers will return to the Capitol this week, and topping their agenda will be another disaster relief bill for areas hit hard by Superstorm Sandy.

Much of the debate will likely focus on the size and scope of the relief package. And part of that discussion will affect Maine fishermen who were largely spared Sandy's wrath but are struggling with their own economic disaster.

A Senate-passed bill for $60.4 billion in aid contained $150 million in relief for New England's groundfishery and economic disasters in three other regions. The House's first stripped-down, $9.7 billion bill did not include any fisheries money, and neither would a bill for an additional $17 billion that is expected to come to the House floor Tuesday.

On Monday, three Massachusetts Democrats will urge the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee to include $116 million to $150 million for fisheries in the Sandy relief bill expected to come before the House this week.

The three Democrats -- Reps. Edward Markey, John Tierney and Bill Keating -- are each taking a different approach in hopes of winning committee support to allow the amendments.

But even if their amendments make it to the House floor, they will have to overcome opposition from Republicans who argue that items unrelated to the October superstorm -- such as funding for New England's struggling cod and groundfish industry as well as for wildfires and an Amtrak expansion -- have no place in the bill.

"Our fishing communities face real and stark economic concerns and this emergency funding is critical to many of their survival," the three Massachusetts representatives said in a joint statement. "We urge the Republican-led Rules Committee to recognize the issues facing these small business owners, and allow the House to vote on our amendments."

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is a co-sponsor of Tierney's amendment.

GUN DEBATE COMING

The debate over gun control will intensify this week.

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to present President Obama with recommendations on reducing gun violence. The list is expected to include a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines as well as closing the so-called "gun show loophole" for background checks. House Democratic leaders, who are in the minority, plan to hold a hearing on guns Wednesday.

Maine has a rich hunting tradition, a large number of firearms and relatively few incidents of gun violence, so any gun control measures can be politically tricky for the state's congressional delegation.

Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree said in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings that bans on assault weapons and large ammunition clips should be on the table for discussion. This was a noticeable shift for King since the campaign.

Maine's two other delegation members -- Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud -- have remained mum on what they would support or oppose. And it's safe to say that their votes will be closely tracked by both sides.

Michaud's 2nd District includes much of rural Maine, and the Democrat has received strong support from the National Rifle Association. Collins hails from Aroostook County -- where hunting and guns are part of the heritage -- but has been on both sides of gun control measures. Due to her status as one of the few remaining moderate Republicans, The Washington Post named Collins one of the five senators "who will play key roles in determining the fate of any gun legislation."

KING TO JOIN 'PROBLEM SOLVERS'

Sen. Angus King will be in New York City on Monday to attend an event organized by No Labels, a group working to bridge the partisan divide on major issues.

King's participation in the Meeting to Make America Work will be his first appearance as part of No Labels' "Problem Solvers in Congress" group, which is comprised of Republicans, Democrats and independents who say they are committed to working across party lines.

King will appear along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and former Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah. Former Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler -- an independent who is friends with King -- has been heavily involved in No Labels as well.

PINGREE BACKS FRANK

Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine is among the progressives urging Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint Barney Frank -- Pingree's former House colleague and a personal friend -- to the U.S. Senate.

Frank has been publicly lobbying for Patrick, a Democrat, to appoint him to serve the remainder of Sen. John Kerry's term if the full Senate approves Kerry's nomination for secretary of state. An unapologetic liberal and floor speech firebrand, Frank retired earlier this month after more than 30 years in the House. He has said he would not seek election to the Senate.

Pingree wrote in an opinion piece for The Huffington Post last week that Frank has the political skills needed to help Democrats in the upcoming budget battles over Social Security, Medicare and the national debt limit. Other progressive groups, including Moveon.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are also clamoring for Frank's appointment.

"As Democrats in Congress, we need to be ready and willing to take on this fight to protect the benefits that our seniors have earned," Pingree wrote in a blog on the liberal news and opinion site. "We need courage. And conviction. We need Barney Frank."

The first openly gay member of Congress, Frank recently wed longtime partner Jim Ready of Ogunquit. Frank also has close ties to Pingree and her husband, billionaire hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman, who is also a major donor to progressive and Democratic causes. Sussman is the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville.

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @KevinMillerDC





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