2014-02-13 / News

Issues facing Congress much the same

By Ken Shane

David Cicilline David Cicilline Rhode Island has just gotten more influential in the nation’s capital.

Second-term congressman David Cicilline has been appointed to a seat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee. The seat opened in May 2013 when U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, of North Carolina, was named by President Obama to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Cicilline, who also sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed his interest in the judiciary post to his chamber’s Democratic leadership.

He was confirmed by the Senate on Dec. 10, 2013.

The judiciary panel is a standing committee of the House. It’s responsible for overseeing federal law, courts and judges. The committee is also charged with the impeachment of federal officials. Because of the legal nature of the committee’s oversight, Cicilline’s background as a lawyer weighed in his favor. The Georgetown law grad says he’s had prior experience in some of the matters the committee faces today.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity,” he said.

For example, Cicilline says defending intellectual property is particularly appealing to him. The committee has been discussing the matter.

“I’m interested in protecting American innovators,” Cicilline said. “It’s important to Rhode Island’s economy.”

The panel also has jurisdiction over immigration reform, which Cicilline considers one of the country’s most important priorities, as well as gun safety.

Cicilline maintains that his new post won’t alleviate his current workload. He says his local office continues to help his constituents in Rhode Island’s first congressional district, which includes Jamestown, if they are having problems with the federal government. Those complications range from accessing care at the VA, a Social Security check that hasn’t arrived, or issues with the IRS.

“Constituent work remains very important in a difficult economy,” he said. “A delay in a Social Security check, or reimbursement for a medical procedure, can lead to a lot more hardship.”

Cicilline also continues his work with the state’s congressional delegation to bring as many federal resources as possible back to Rhode Island.

Legislatively, the congressman is working on the comprehensive Make it in America agenda. His bills are among the 35 that make up the package that seeks to level the playing field for American manufacturing. He is also promoting a national infrastructure bank that would help rebuild crumbling roads and bridges. It would also put people back to work, he says.

Cicilline continues to work on bringing an immigration reform bill to the floor of the House, and wants to improve standards for workforce development.

“The jobs available are often from small business,” he said, “and they have problems finding people with the skills they need.”

Gun safety has been a longtime concern of Cicilline, dating back to his days as mayor of Providence. He plans to introduce a bill in the coming weeks that will prohibit people with serious mental illnesses from acquiring a gun. Also, he plans to introduce a bill this week that would prohibit members of Congress from becoming lobbyists.

Cicilline will also work in 2014 to protect women’s healthcare rights, Social Security and Medicare, as well as continue the fight to extend federal unemployment benefits.

“We’ve tried every maneuver we can to force the vote on this,” he said. “After people run out of unemployment benefits from their state, and they’ve used up a lot of their savings, this is their last protection as they continue to look for work.”

Cicilline says it’s a “disgrace” that Congress can’t agree to extend the benefits.

In the latest state budget proposal, Gov. Lincoln Chafee called for lowering the corporate tax rate from 9 percent to 6 percent. The reduction, however, is contingent on the passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act by the U.S. Congress. The act, which would require online retailers to charge sales tax, has passed the Senate. It awaits passage in the House. Cicilline thinks there may be consensus in his chamber, but is unsure if the act will come to a vote.

“It’s really something that we absolutely have to do,” Cicilline said. “It’s a question of fairness to the merchants on Main Street who are a very important part of the economy in our cities and towns. They contribute to property taxes, they hire people, and they’re put at an unfair disadvantage by companies who have only an Internet presence, avoid sales tax, and gain a competitive advantage.”

Cicilline said it’s about basic fairness. “Not only is it important to the states so that they can collect revenues from sales tax, but it’s also important because it’s undermining the job situation at small businesses.”

Congress is facing record-low approval ratings, and Cicilline agrees. He thinks Congress, overall, is not doing a good job, and people have a right to be frus- trated. He is somewhat optimistic, however, that progress can be made based on the recent bipartisan passage of the federal budget.

“It was not a perfect document,” he said. “Not everyone voted for it, including me, because it didn’t include unemployment benefits. But it was at least progress. We replaced much of the sequestration. I think that was an important event. I hope that we can build on that momentum.”

Just how much progress has been made will be seen in the next few weeks when Congress takes up the debt ceiling issue, according to Cicilline. He said members of Congress will have to face the voters in a few months, and that may provide the impetus to get things done.

Closer to home, Cicilline said the voters of Rhode Island are fortunate to have three excellent candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor. Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and military officer Clay Pell will be on the ballot. Cicilline says he will proudly support whichever candidate his party nominates.

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