Harvey and Lamar: When global warming and bad policy collide

Hurricane Harvey unleashed a torrent of rain, causing devastating flooding in southeast Texas and Houston. In central Texas, we received rain and wind but escaped the worst of it. Many of us have been volunteering to assist those affected. It’s heartening to see Texans pitch in to help Texans.

As we reflect on this storm and its impact on the lives of our friends, family, and neighbors, let’s consider the ways in which climate change contributed to the intensity of the storm.

Melting glaciers and ice have caused seas to rise, which contributed to a higher storm surge. Sea level in Galveston has risen by six inches since 2000. Warmer ocean and atmospheric temperatures increased total rainfall. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico where Harvey intensified were 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than average temperatures a few decades ago. That relates to 3 to 5% more moisture in the atmosphere.

That large amount of moisture creates the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding. The combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing,” said atmospheric scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University. Andrew Dressler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M, said, “I’ve talked to many scientists over the last few days and none seriously dispute that global warming made impacts worse.”

Our District 21 Congressman Lamar Smith is in a powerful position to address the reality of human-caused global warming. Yet as the chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology committee, he has done the opposite by criticizing scientists, advocating for reduced funding, and supporting the Republican administration in rolling back policies that mitigate climate change.

Now is the time to call Lamar Smith with your personal story of a friend or family member affected by Hurricane Harvey. Remind him that he represents you and that you oppose his policies on climate change and global warming. For good measure, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a request for a public town hall.

Lamar Smith office phone numbers:

DC: 202-225-4236
San Antonio: 210-821-5024
Austin: 512-912-7508
Kerrville: 830-896-0154

5 Striking Things Rep. Smith Didn’t Do During the Congressional Recess

When Congress takes a break, it’s customary for members of the House and Senate to return to their districts and use the time to meet with constituents. This is how they hear what’s on the minds of the people they represent back home.

That didn’t happen here in Texas’ 21st Congressional District. Instead, here’s a brief list of things that Representative Lamar Smith skipped out on during his time in Texas last week.

  1. Visit tornado victims in the district.
    Hundreds of  San Antonio residents in the 21st District had their homes damaged by storms last Sunday night. Although Rep. Smith’s affected constituents reside only minutes from his district office in San Antonio, he did not stop by to check in on them or extend concerns about their well-being.
  2. Meet with hundreds of constituents who showed up to see him.
    All over the country members of Congress met with constituents at town hall events, but not here. Despite petitions, calls, and visits requesting his presence, Rep. Smith avoided our town hall that attracted an overflow crowd of 600 people.

  3. Talk to voters concerned about health insurance.
    Small business owner Eliot Kimber is among the people who wanted to find out about what Congress has planned for health care. Kimber says he got to start the consulting firm he runs today because the Affordable Care Act made it possible for him and his family to have coverage. He wanted to ask Smith how a plan to replace the law squares with ideas of helping businesses get ahead. Legislation expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives this week would leave hundreds of thousands of people like Kimber without affordable options.
  4. Answer his youngest constituents’ questions about their future.
    Children in the district were among the many concerned citizens who made Valentines for Rep. Smith this month to ask that he start showing some love for our planet. Our congressman has been denying the scientific consensus that the Earth is heating up in ways that threaten this generation and future generations especially. Unsurprisingly, this question came up at the town hall, too:

  5. Address real concerns about Russia, the travel ban, and where our country is headed.
    These are serious times, and people in the district have serious questions for Rep. Smith about what’s happening. The congressman chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which means he is in a position to help influence what happens next. Wouldn’t it have been nice to get some answers to questions like these?

Calls to Action for the Week of 2/6/17

MONDAY UPDATE

Thanks everyone for all your dedicated resistance – you are part of a nationwide movement, and we are having an impact!

News
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Thanks to all who listened in on yesterday’s conference call. If you weren’t able to make it you can listen to it here: http://bit.ly/2lgbU8V . And if you have questions that didn’t get answered feel free to put them in a comment on this post and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Actions
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If you live in Austin and haven’t signed up for a Lamar Smith office visit then go to the attached spreadsheet and take a slot (you will need to scroll right to find the current dates). Right now we especially need some more people to go tomorrow!

If you have some time to make some calls today and haven’t already called the Senators about the Betsy DeVos nomination then call them today! The vote is this afternoon, and they need to hear from you!

I don’t know if you heard, but our representative, Lamar Smith, will be holding hearings starting tomorrow on “Making the EPA great again.” So let’s light up his switchboard and let him know that you think the EPA is ALREADY great, and are opposed to any cuts to the agency!

Cruz – DC: (202) 224-5922
Austin: (512) 916-5834
San Antonio: 210-340-2885

Cornyn – DC: (202) 224-2934
Austin: (512) 469-6034
San Antonio: 210-224-7485
Houston: (713) 572-3337

Smith – DC: 202-225-4236
San Antonio: 210-821-5024
Austin: 512-912-7508
Kerrville: 830-896-0154
Fax: 202-225-8628

TUESDAY-FRIDAY ACTIONS COMING SOON

TX21 Indivisible Visits Lamar Smith’s SA Office, Makes MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show

February 2, 2017 – Members of TX21 Indivisible, along with Indivisible groups nationally, continue to push their representatives to hear the rising chorus of voices demanding transparency and accountability from their elected officials.

As featured on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show:

TX21 Indivisible members visited and protested in front of U.S. Representative Lamar Smith’s San Antonio office on Tuesday, yet again demanding the Representative visit his district to meet with constituents. This visit, on the same day that thousands turned out in Austin in support of Texas Muslim Capitol Day, turns a spotlight on a rising progressive movement within Texas and across the country, to resist the Trump agenda and protect democratic values.

Twenty-five concerned citizens broke into two groups to alternately visit Mike Asmus, Lamar Smith’s District Director, while the other group remained outside protest on the access road. Jeanie Valenzuela, who led the delegation, explained “this was the second week in a row we met with [Asmus] asking the same questions” about when Smith will visit the district and getting the same answer that “there are no planned town halls in the foreseeable future.” Asmus assured the group he was passing their concerns on to the Representative but would not comment on whether he had received any response. The group insisted that Smith “is not serving as our representative in Washington if he doesn’t come back to hear what we think.”

In addition to demanding Smith return to his district to meet with constituents, TX21 Indivisible members expressed their extreme disappointment with cabinet confirmations and their opposition to Affordable Care Act repeal without a suitable replacement in place. Valenzuela says the group will be back next week, with an even better turnout, asking the same questions and holding Smith to account: “We need Lamar to stand up for the people, and for the morals of the country. He needs to come home and talk to us. He can’t keep hiding. We’ll keep going back until we get answers”

Article contributed by Claire Barnett – a TX21 Indivisible member

What TX21 Indivisible Means to Me

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My name is Jeanie Valenzuela, and you may have seen me on the TX21 Indivisible Facebook page, ran into me at Lamar Smith’s, Ted Cruz’s, or John Cornyn’s office, or shared your stories with me on Twitter.  I wanted to take a minute to applaud everyone who is on the ground fighting this administration, and to also let you know why I’m right there with all of you.

First of all, I am a United States citizen.  A United States citizen who is just as horrified as you are by what has happened to our country since November 8, 2016.

Secondly, I am a proud Independent Texas citizen who is represented by at least 7 government officials who stand for everything I am against.

Third, I am a registered voter who cast my vote proudly in November for a candidate who not only won the popular vote, but because of an antiquated system, does not sit in the White House today.

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Fourth, I am a constituent of the before mentioned 7 government officials who are completely ignoring my opinions, my requests; my absolute presence in this state.

And finally, after 44 years with my head in the sand, I am now wide awake, and an activist. 

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I am an activist who takes 2-8 hours out of my day 5 days a week to do everything I can to stop this illegitimate President from destroying our country.  I am talking to, emailing, calling, writing, and standing in front of anyone who will listen and telling them to stop being pawns and stand up for our country and her values. 

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I am part of TX21 Indivisible and her 1800+ members who are working just as hard, or even harder than I am, to grow our grassroots movement to a size that even the illegitimate President cannot ignore.

So, when you ask me what TX21 Indivisible means to me it’s this.  Everything. 

 What does TX21 Indivisible mean to you?  Please comment below.

Corresponding with Lamar Smith

I thought for my first blog post, it might be interesting to share some recent correspondence I have had with Lamar Smith (or more likely, someone in his office) about the Affordable Care Act. It started with his Newsletter of January 13th, when he posted this:

Repealing and Replacing Obamacare

The American people have spoken and today in the House of Representatives we took a major step in repealing the Affordable Care Act (see #3 below) – through the seldom-used budget reconciliation process. This process ensures that a simple majority – 51 votes – in the Senate can pass a bill, as opposed to the 60 votes traditionally needed to advance legislation. This process allows the House and Senate to repeal and replace the ACA in an expeditious manner and put a patient-centered health policy in place.

Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming put it well: “The Obamacare bridge is collapsing, and we’re sending in a rescue team. Then we’ll build new bridges to better health care, and finally, when these new bridges are finished, we’ll close the old bridge.”

Well, that sounded like maybe Enzi, at least, was under the impression that Congress was going to put together a replacement before repealing, so I thought I would write Lamar Smith and urge him not to repeal the ACA before the replacement was ready. I felt obliged to point out that the American people had, indeed, “spoken,” and that almost 3 million more of us had spoken in favor of Hillary Clinton. I also mentioned that recent polls indicated that only about 26% of Americans favored a full repeal of the ACA. And I must admit that I also asked him, “what would Jesus do?” which I thought might well end our conversation. To my surprise, however, I got a fairly lengthy response, which I will append at the bottom of this post. Here is the letter I just sent him this morning:

 

January 27, 2017

Dear Congressman Smith,

Thank you for your recent reply to my letter requesting that you not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without first coming up with a replacement. In your reply, you say that your “priority is affordable, accessible and quality health care coverage for every one of [your] constituents,” and that “Congress is working on a new plan to improve health care for Americans that lowers health care costs, expands access to care and eliminates unfair mandates and penalties.” I heartily approve of this priority, but I am concerned that the Republican-controlled Congress will not be able to agree upon a replacement plan that will meet your stated goal of ensuring “that [I] and [my] family do not lose access to affordable and quality coverage.” After all, the Republicans have not been able to come up with such a plan for the past six years, so why should anyone believe that things will be different now? The uncertainty that Congress can come together on this kind of complex and controversial legislation is precisely why it so important that the ACA not be repealed without a viable replacement plan being ready to implement. It would be truly catastrophic if Congress went ahead and repealed the ACA, potentially causing millions of people to lose their insurance, and then was unable to agree upon a replacement.

While it is true that the ACA has had some problems, it has also had some undeniable successes. According to the Center for Disease Control’s latest report, approximately 28.4 million Americans were uninsured in the first half of 2016, while approximately 48.6 million were uninsured in 2010, at the time the ACA was enacted. That’s 20 million more people with insurance! Some of them could not have obtained insurance before, perhaps because they had a pre-existing condition, or simply couldn’t afford it. I am relieved to hear that you plan to support retaining the ACA’s mandate concerning pre-existing conditions, but let us not overlook the fact that just because people may have “access to affordable and quality coverage,” it does not mean they can actually afford it.

Finally, I would like to take issue with some specific things that you stated in your letter. First, you claim that “more than five million Americans received cancellation notices for the health care plans they were promised they could keep.” According to a report published by FactCheck.org, “the claim that ‘millions’ lost their insurance or their doctor is a longstanding GOP talking point based on the fact that many with individual market plans received cancellation notices in 2013, when their plans no longer met minimum benefit standards required under the ACA. But that talking point is misleading — those specific plans were discontinued; policyholders weren’t denied coverage.” Second, you state that “Americans are seeing their premiums and deductibles go up, not down.” True, but it is disingenuous to blame rising premiums on the ACA, when according to some objective analysts, premiums would have gone up faster without it. Here is some information about this that I found on HealthInsurance.org:

“Three years before the ACA took effect, health insurance premiums were increasing by 10 percent to 12 percent each year, and the rate of the uninsured was growing.

Today, even as news about big premium increases for 2017 raises concerns about the Affordable Care Act’s long-term health, an analysis released last week in the journal Health Affairs seeks to put things in perspective. The upshot: Things could be worse.

It turns out that the average premiums in the individual market actually dropped when the ACA was implemented.

‘Average premiums for the second-lowest cost silver-level (SLS) marketplace plan in 2014, which serves as a benchmark for ACA subsidies, were between 10 and 21 percent lower than average individual market premiums in 2013, before the ACA…,’ write researchers from the Brookings Institute.”

It is easy and tempting to blame everything wrong with our current healthcare system on Obama and the ACA, and I know that doing so excites some of your most conservative constituents, but until the Republicans can actually come up with a viable alternative, it would be irresponsible and reckless to simply repeal it.

Sincerely yours,

Russell Pinkston

—————

January 19, 2017

Dear Mr. Pinkston,

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. I appreciate hearing from you.

Obamacare is not working for Americans as it was promised.  In 2009, President Obama assured Americans that, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”  But this has not been the case for the more than five million Americans who received cancellation notices for the health care plans they were promised they could keep.  He also failed to mention its 21 different taxes on Americans and businesses at a cost of over one trillion dollars. Across the country, Americans are seeing their premiums and deductibles go up, not down, even though President Obama promised premiums would decline by $2,500 per family.

In 2015 alone, about eight million Americans opted to pay the mandate penalties totaling $1.7 billion.  The penalty will rise to $700 per person in 2017.   The number of Americans opting to forego health insurance and pay a penalty because of the cost demonstrates Obamacare’s failure.  Additionally, two of largest health care insurers stopped offering plans through Obamacare in Texas and dozens of other states.  This massive blow has left many Texans and Americans with only one health care option.  And this will be the case for over 1,000 counties across the country.  For these reasons and more, I support repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

My priority is affordable, accessible and quality health care coverage for every one of my constituents.  We are on the precipice of change and Congress is working on a new plan to improve health care for Americans that lowers health care costs, expands access to care and eliminates unfair mandates and penalties.  My goal throughout a repeal and replace process will be to ensure that you and your family do not lose access to affordable and quality coverage.

Preliminary discussions have indicated that replacement legislation will maintain policies for pre-existing conditions and an allowance for young adults to stay on a parent’s health plan until age 26.  I support these provisions.

The gravity of our health care situation is one that requires immediate attention, which is why the House and Senate have already passed reconciliation legislation to set in motion new heath care policy.  Please know I will consider your opinions and concerns on the issue, in addition to how any health care changes may affect you and your family.

For more information about federal issues, or to send me an email, please visit the 21st District’s website, http://lamarsmith.house.gov.

Sincerely,

Lamar Smith
Member of Congress