Silicon Valley congressmembers return from recess tackling big issues

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Silicon Valley’s congressional leaders returned to Capitol Hill this week after a two-week recess and the local delegation jumped into a number of critical issues, including a push to bolster election security, lower prescription drug prices, reduce access to e-cigarettes and continue waging the war on President Donald Trump.

    Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren a week ago introduced HR 4617, the “Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy Act” or SHIELD.

    It closes existing loopholes in federal election law by setting guidelines, clarifying appropriate behavior and establishing criminal penalties for allowing foreign nationals to interfere in U.S. elections.

    If passed, the bill would require campaign officials to report any contact from a foreign government with offers or nations, services, or information in connection with a federal election to the FBI within a week. Failure to do so would incur criminal penalties: a fine of up to $500,000, a sentence of no more than five years, or both.

    Another key portion of Lofgren’s bill, dubbed the “Honest Ads Act,” would increase transparency in online political advertising by requiring platforms to keep records of those seeking to buy an ad, a copy of the ad, information about the audience to which the ad was targeted — and making those records available to the public. Facebook already tracks online political ads and discloses that information in an online library for seven years.

    In addition, the law would require broadcasters and online platforms to make a “reasonable effort” to ensure that foreign nationals cannot purchase political advertising.

    Timing of the bill’s introduction coincided on the same day as the release of a troubling 85-page Senate Intelligence report that warned of continued foreign interference, even after the 2016 presidential election. The report offered measures to counteract any future foreign interference in elections, including “the Committee recommends that Congress examine legislative approaches to ensuring Americans know the sources of online political advertisements.”

    Markup for SHIELD is scheduled to begin on Wednesday afternoon.

    Impeachment investigations 

    It’s been three weeks since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would commence impeachment investigations into President Donald Trump. Despite Congress being on recess, key committees continued their investigations.

    One of the Bay Area’s legislators is leading the charge.

    Congressman Ro Khanna sits on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, one of the three committees conducting the investigations, as well as the House Budget and Armed Services committee. He’ll likely be in closed door meetings in the Oversight committee for most of the week.

    Khanna has been a vocal supporter for impeaching the president, frequently appearing on cable news to condemn Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations.

    Youth tobacco epidemic and e-cigarettes 

    On Wednesday morning, Rep. Lofgren and the rest of the House Judiciary committee will begin amendments on a handful of bills, one of which would prohibit the postal service from mailing “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” with the intent of preventing minors from buying e-cigarettes or vape pens online.

    That same morning, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo will be in a hearing considering legislation that would ban tobacco companies from advertising to minors and would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.

    Prescription drug prices 

    Last month, as Chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, Eshoo led the first hearing on a highly anticipated bill aimed at lowering prescription drug prices.

    The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, or HR 3, would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate the price of up to 250 medications per year with drugmakers. Those prices would then apply to Medicare and private insurance companies.

    Medicare is currently prohibited from negotiating with drug makers. The bill would cap out-of-pocket expenses on prescriptions for Medicare recipients at $2,000 per patient. Initial projections from the Congressional Budget Office estimate the bill would save Medicare $345 billion in its first six years; though the office also cited concerns that a decrease in revenue for drug companies would mean they could increase the price of drugs in other countries, limit their funding on research and possibly pull drugs from the market.

    It’s no secret that this bill is a priority for Pelosi. Republicans at the subcommittee meeting last month said the bill represents partisan politics at its finest. At the center of Republican frustration is the fact that the bill was largely written in secret and released only a week before the initial hearing was scheduled.

    “HR3 is a proposal that was drafted behind closed doors by Speaker Pelosi and her staff and it is being forced through this committee by the Chairman,” said Texas Congressman Michael Burgess.

    Several congressmembers lamented the subcommittee’s history of bipartisan collaboration in drafting legislation, including Congressman Greg Walden, a Republican representative for Oregon’s 2nd district. “There is no debate about the fact that Republicans and Democrats want to work together to lower drug costs for consumers,” said Walden. “I thought we were headed in good faith down that same path until the Speaker’s office dropped this partisan plan on our process. We were not privy to any of this and I’m not sure you all were.”

    Partisan politics notwithstanding, President Trump has publicly stated he wants to work with Congress to get a bill that would lower the cost of prescription drugs.

    Despite complaints of Pelosi’s role in writing the bill, Eshoo said the California Speaker’s efforts signaled how much House Democrats want to get this done.

    “The Speaker is second in line in the Constitution to the Presidency,” said Eshoo, “This is such a top priority for us that it came from there.”

    On Thursday, the committee will begin markup of the bill, where lawmakers can suggest amendments. Khanna issued a statement last month supporting Speaker Pelosi’s version of the bill.

    “I am pleased Speaker Pelosi’s plan takes on outrageously high drug prices through direct negotiation as opposed to private arbitration, as recommended by me and my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus,” Khanna said.

    Contact Elizabeth Mendez at [email protected] or follow @izziemae on Twitter.

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