May 16, 2014
Boston Harbor Dredging
This week we learned that an Army Corps of Engineers project to dredge the Boston Harbor is included in the reauthorization of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, authorized for $310 million. The conference report for this legislation was filed this week and is expected to pass the House next week. I have been working to advance this dredging work for several years and thank my colleagues on the conference committee for making it a priority. This project is necessary to deepen Boston Harborís navigation channels so that it can accommodate newer, larger ships and create more jobs in Boston. The economic benefit of doing this work will be felt throughout the region.
I am deeply troubled by the Boko Haramís kidnapping of young Nigerian women from their school. I wrote the President this week thanking him for working to assist in their safe recovery and expressing support for more forceful action should it become necessary.
I told the President I would support an authorization to use military force against Boko Haram should he seek Congressional approval for such action. Many of you are familiar with my record of opposition to the use of our military on many occasions. In this case, however, I believe that the leader of Boko Haram, Abubaker Shekau, has by his own public statements identified himself as hostis humani generis, an enemy of humankind against whom lethal force may lawfully be used. The world has already heard him boast that he will sell the captive girls into slavery. Boko Haram also has a violent history of slaughter. They recently murdered 59 boys who, like their sisters, simply sought an education.
I also requested that the President direct the State Department to identify countries willing to work with us to combat human trafficking so we can support capacity building in those countries. I urged the President to accept President FranÁois Hollandeís invitation to attend a security summit of African nations threatened by Boko Haram and Western allies united in opposition to slavery. It is time for every person and every nation committed to the abolition of slavery to take action in our day, as our forebears did in theirs.
This week was a district work period and one of the businesses I spent time with was Greentown Labs in Somerville. Greentown Labs supports more than two dozen organizations focused on developing renewable energy and clean technology. Greentown Labs provides the resources that small start-ups often need access to but cannot initially afford on their own. These resources range from lab and office space to event facilities and networking opportunities. Lab staff also offers use of a range of tools and the on-site certification needed to operate them. At Greentown Labs, start-ups can utilize soldering stations, a digital logic analyzer, grinding wheels, a drill press and other resources while testing their energy and technology ideas. In a short time, the companies of Greentown Labs have created more than 100 jobs.
I was very impressed both with the range of research being conducted and the array of services available to help young companies succeed. It is not easy to bring a good idea to fruition and Greentown Labs creates an ideal supportive environment. One of the initiatives I learned about was research to make solar energy more affordable for homeowners. If costs can be reduced, more property owners will have access to this clean energy option. I enjoyed the afternoon and thank Greentown Labs for the hospitality.
I met Tuesday with Common Cause to discuss campaign finance reform. Meeting participants were concerned by the direction of Supreme Court rulings with regard to political finance and they were especially concerned about the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. FEC. The Court held, 5-4, that the overall limit on how much an individual can contribute to political campaigns is unconstitutional. Before this ruling, individuals could donate the maximum amount permitted by law to as many candidates and committees as they wished per year up to $123,200. Now that limit is gone. We all agreed that this ruling further weakened campaign finance law. It has some unfortunate consequences because now there is no limit to how much money wealthy individuals can contribute, giving them a bigger political platform.
I spoke with Common Cause about efforts to strengthen campaign finance laws and we agreed that, at least in the current political climate, our battle is a difficult one. One bill I been filing since 2006 would lower the amount of money someone can donate to an individual candidate. Currently the allowed contribution limit is $5,200 per candidate, per election cycle. My legislation reduces this amount to $2,000 equally divided between the primary and the general election. We also talked about the impact of the Supreme Courtís Citizens United ruling and how to best respond legislatively.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Taza Chocolate Factory in Somerville this week. The company offers a variety of stone ground organic chocolate which is produced on site. Visitors can tour the chocolate factory, watch products being made and learn about the process of turning cacao beans into delicious treats. I took the factory tour and met with staff as well as one of Tazaís co-founders. During district work periods I look forward to spending time with local businesses like this one. It gives me a chance to hear directly from small business owners about how the economy is impacting them and how they think Congress can help to create more job opportunities.
I met with state transportation officials to learn more about plans to essentially straighten a section of the Massachusetts Turnpike in Allston. Roads, bridges and train tracks all require repair or reconstruction as they age, and this section of the highway is approaching the point where it will need work. As part of that process, officials are looking at ways to improve the area for commuters and create opportunities for pedestrians. I am certainly intrigued by the possibility of improving travel on the Massachusetts Turnpike and opening up dozens of acres of land for alternative use. Plenty of ideas are being considered, from bike and pedestrian paths, to housing and other development. I expressed my support for efforts to rethink this area but cautioned that the money available for transportation initiatives is limited and demands on it are endless. I look forward to learning more about what the Allston-Brighton community envisions for this area.
Women in Hedge Funds
Last night, I participated in a discussion about financial services matters organized by the Boston Chapter of 100 Women in Hedge Funds. This international organization is open to women in the financial services industry and offers educational programming as well as professional development initiatives. We talked about some of the issues that the House Financial Services Committee has focused on this year and the role that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will have in implementing some of the directives of Congress. We covered a range of topics, including the SECís approach to enforcement, concerns over a delay in implementation of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act and the relationship between the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the SEC. It was a lively discussion and I appreciated the invitation to share my thoughts.
New England Council
This morning I participated in the New England Councilís Congressional Roundtable. Over 100 attendees gathered for a wide ranging discussion about issues impacting the region. I talked about how implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law is going and the chances in the current environment for any meaningful progress on other financial reform efforts. Participants were also interested in hearing more about the status of transportation infrastructure funding and National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding. We were all in agreement that significant legislation, such as immigration reform, is unlikely to advance in the current Congress.
Whatís Up Next Week
Next House votes will take place on Monday May 19th. The House is expected to consider the conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.