Rob and Bob Back on the Job

congressCongress is back in session after two weeks. Over the recess, members of congress have time to connect with their constituents. This post will review Rob and Bob’s recess activities and look ahead to the key issues they will be facing as Congress resumes its work.

Working from Home

Rob Portman

Rob Portman was in the news in Ohio over the break. He spoke at UT about human trafficking and met with local officials at a Massillon drug treatment center, where officials made the case to protect the Medicaid expansion in Ohio. Portman also spoke about the deportation case of Maribel Trujillo Diaz from Cincinnati; he did work with Sherrod Brown to find a solution besides deportation, but ultimately issued a bland statement expressing “disappointment” in the outcome of this sad story.

So, Rob was doing some work in the State, though it is certainly disappointing that he still has not held a town hall, despite many calls from constituents to do so.

Bob Latta

Bob Latta had a busy day on Tuesday, April 4, just before the recess. He introduced the “Great Lakes & Fresh Water Algal Blooms Information Act” and he held a surprise tele-town hall at 7pm, just as Gov. Kasich’s State of the State speech was getting underway.

While the bill is a nice idea–it calls for compiling a database of research and actions taken related to the algal bloom growth in Lake Erie–it would be even better if it supported new research into this problem. Or if it even required the collection of this information into a comprehensive database. Instead, as the bill itself states, it does not “grant any authority to the [NOAA] Administrator, including any authority to require submission of data.” Seems like a toothless effort by Rep. Latta to convince voters he’s doing something to protect the environment.

As for that tele town hall, it wasn’t a sincere effort at a dialogue with voters; just more one-way communication. Unsurprisingly, Rep. Latta did not hold an actual town hall, and his scheduler did not respond to requests for individual meetings with voters during the break.

Upcoming Issues

There are some pressing issues as Congress resumes its work. A few to keep an eye on are negotiations about the budget and Republicans’ continued deregulation efforts that usually occur with less fanfare. There are many details in each of these broad categories that deserve attention, but here are a few to start with:

EPA Region 5 Office

region5Region 5 is the EPA office that serves 5 states, including Ohio, and the Great Lakes. This office is in danger of being closed due to EPA budget cuts. Recently, lawmakers delivered a letter to EPA Secretary Pruitt expressing their “grave concern” about the possible closure of this facility. In the letter, they explain the importance of this office, including its role in “upgrading the drinking water treatment facilities” in Ohio and Michigan “to protect citizens” and the office’s oversight role in ensuring international obligations of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are kept.

The good news is that Rob Portman signed on to this letter, along with 37 other Senators and Representatives from the five states the Region 5 Office serves.

The bad news is that Rob was the only Republican to join this effort. Even though many voters in District 5 have expressed their grave concerns about EPA funding and the environment–especially the lake and other fresh water sources–to Bob Latta’s staffers during weekly visits to his various offices, the message has not gotten through.

The de-funding has not happened yet, so it’s important to let Rob and Bob know how you feel about EPA funding cuts.

Bob and Net Neutrality

net-neutralityBob Latta has recently taken on responsibility as the chair of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection. So, he’s a key player in keeping the internet a tool of democracy rather than (more) of a cash cow for corporations.

It was disappointing when Bob backed the repeal of the Obama-era rule that protected the privacy of broadband consumers. But even worse is Latta’s recent Orwellian “Statement on FCC Internet Freedom Announcement.”

Here, Bob gives an atta boy to new FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who wants to reclassify internet access so that net neutrality can become voluntary instead of mandatory. What does all that mean? Basically, under Obama, internet service was classified as a public utility, like electricity or water service. This classification allows more oversight (in this case by the FCC) of how that service is provided–for example, it allows the government to prevent harmful monopolies, price gouging, and unfair business practices. When it comes to the internet, that would mean providers can’t play games with how content is delivered.

For example, without net neutrality, telecom companies would have nothing to stop them from blocking content from competitors or demanding content providers pay higher prices for better streaming services or risk having their content put on a slow track (constant buffering instead of smooth streaming). Inevitably these costs would be passed on to consumers.

This is a real concern, and Bob Latta is one of the key players in Congress on this issue, so let him know that you don’t want him to help pull the plug on net neutrality.

Update

John Oliver did a great segment on this issue (see below). You can go to gofccyourself.com to send comments directly to the FCC.