Lawmakers, community members say RECA expansion is needed to help the ‘unknowing, unwilling, uncompensated victims of the Cold War’

As the years have passed and people have died of cancer, Navajo Nation communities impacted by uranium mining have lost hope that they will someday receive compensation for the medical conditions resulting from exposure to radioactivity, Phil Harrison said during a press conference on Wednesday. “We are here in Washington to tell America how freedom was established,” Harrison, a former miner and a member of the Navajo Uranium Radiation Victims Committee, said. People like Harrison who were exposed to radiation as a result of uranium mining as well as the downwinders who were exposed to radiation after the Trinity nuclear detonation in areas like New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin are closer to receiving compensation than ever before after the U.S. Senate approved an expansion to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act earlier this year as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Now members of the U.S. House of Representatives including Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat from New Mexico and James Moylan, a Republican non-voting member who represents Guam, are pushing to have that body of Congress approve the expansion. U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, and Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, hosted a press conference on Wednesday and were joined by their colleagues Leger Fernández, Moylan and Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Missouri, as well as various people from communities impacted by the radiation exposure. Many of the people who attended, including Harrison, wore yellow shirts that read: “We are the unknowing, unwilling, uncompensated victims of the Cold War.”

‘We’re dealing with death’

Harrison said the miners were largely uneducated and couldn’t read and write.

Debt crisis averted: NM delegation responds to debt ceiling deal

The debt ceiling saga neared its end this week after both the U.S. House and Senate approved a deal to raise the debt limit, with provisions. The U.S. The Senate voted Thursday night 63-36  to pass a bipartisan bill reflecting a deal made between President Joe Biden and House Republican leadership. The U.S. The House of Representatives voted 314-117 to approve the deal on Wednesday. The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 suspends the federal debt limit through January 1, 2025 and adds new discretionary spending limits for FY24 and FY25. Members of the New Mexico congressional delegation released statements about the bill and their votes.

Luján proposes legislation to make Hatch Act violation decisions more transparent

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced a bill that would require Congress to be notified of alleged Hatch Act violations. The Hatch Act regulates partisan political activities for most federal executive branch employees and some state and local employees. “The Hatch Act was signed into law to prevent public officials from using their position for political gain while protecting federal employees from political influence,” Luján said in a news release. “However, when potential violations do occur, the Office of Special Counsel has failed to investigate and prosecute some of the most serious claims, undermining the American people and the rule of law.”

Luján’s bill, which has not been assigned a number yet, would require the OSC to report to Congress in the event it declines to investigate an alleged Hatch Act violation and to provide an annual report to the Chair and Ranking Members Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The proposed public report would include the number of allegations received by the Special Counsel in the previous year and the number of allegations that resulted in an investigation, with separate data sets for political appointees and career federal workers.

New Mexico could lose 37,500 jobs if gov’t defaults

If the federal government defaults on its debt for a prolonged period of time, New Mexico could lose up to 37,500 jobs, according to a new report by Moody’s Analytics released May 10. This report details two possible outcomes: should the U.S. default and then correct itself in the immediate aftermath and in the event of a prolonged default.

“We now assign a 10 percent probability to a breach,” the report states. “If there is a breach, it is much more likely to be a short one than a prolonged one. But even a lengthy standoff no longer has a zero probability. What once seemed unimaginable now seems a real threat.”

The expected deadline to prevent default is June 8 although due to the nature of economics, the date is subject to change, the report states.

The debt ceiling debate and what it means to New Mexicans

Two dueling bills in Congress attempt to address the debt ceiling and these actions could include harsh cuts that may affect New Mexicans. One of the bills would eliminate the debt ceiling altogether while the other expands the debt ceiling and imposes deep cuts, including to social programs like food assistance. These proposed cuts in the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023, which was proposed by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, on April 19, include recalling unspent pandemic-related funding, ending President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, repealing green tax credits, cutting funding to the IRS and limiting other discretionary spending. The bill’s cuts seek to save taxpayers $45 trillion. “The spending limits are not draconian.

Stansbury wins special election

New Mexico state Rep. Melanie Stansbury will soon officially become a U.S. Representative. 

Stansbury won easily on Tuesday over three other opponents on the ballot in a special election: Republican Mark Moores, Libertarian Chris Manning and independent candidate Aubrey Dunn. 

The special election was held in order to replace former congresswoman Deb Halaand after she was appointed and confirmed to the position of U..S. Secretary of the Interior earlier this year. 

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, as of 11:46 p.m. Tuesday night, Stansbury’s votes accounted for 60 percent of all votes cast, while Moores had slightly 36 percent, Manning had one percent and Dunn had three percent. 

Even though there were four candidates in the running, much of the unusually timed and expedited election cycle was largely focused on Moores and Stansbury. Both Stansbury and Moores are state legislators, Moores in the state Senate and Stansbury in the House, each serving moderate districts in Albuquerque. Two other candidates qualified as write-in candidates. At an event in Old Town Albuquerque, where Stansbury supporters gathered to watch the results, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández rallied the crowd with chants of “¡Que viva Melanie Stansbury!”

In her victory speech, Stansbury spoke about tearing up when she saw Halaand sworn in as Secretary of Interior, signalling what Stansbury said is a movement towards progressive change.

NM congressional candidates take part in the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative forum

Three candidates running in the race to fill the 1st Congressional district vacancy fielded questions on Tuesday night in the election’s first public forum. The New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative organized and moderated the forum, which took place just hours after a Minnesota jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. 

Democratic candidate and current state Representative Melanie Stansbury, Libertarian candidate Chris Manning and independent candidate and former state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn took part in the forum. Republican candidate and current state Senator Mark Moores was notably absent from the forum. According to a press release from the Black Voters Collaborative prior to the forum, Moores originally agreed to participate but later withdrew. 

Questions for the candidates mostly covered ongoing issues in the state and country and how they impact people of color. While the candidates kept a civil tone with one another, they still had different opinions on the issues. 

When asked about police brutality towards people of color and the high rates of death at the hands of police, all three candidates said they were in favor of ending qualified immunity, a judicial doctrine that is often used to protect police from facing civil legal action. 

Dunn said he thinks money towards police training should be a priority and that police who violate the law should be held accountable. 

“I know we have a serious problem and we need to make it a priority and it’s gone for years,” Dunn said. 

Manning said in addition to ending qualified immunity, he would like to see more trust from the public in the justice system. 

“We also need to have faith in our system, that even those who are accused of the most egregious crimes, they get their day in court,” Manning said.

NM’s congressional race is on a tight deadline

In about three weeks, registered voters in the 1st Congressional District can start casting ballots to fill the vacant seat. The rushed and non-traditional nature of this election could prove difficult for the candidates. 

Complicating issues, the state is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that emerged last year, meaning candidates may not see the normal kind of campaign rally turn-out and some will likely not hold in-person rallies at all. Of the candidates for the Albuquerque-area seat that NM Political Report spoke to, only one cited the expedited timeline as a possible challenge to their campaign. Others anticipated their biggest challenges will be getting the word out about their campaigns and raising money. 

Melanie Stansbury, who currently serves as a Democratic legislator in the New Mexico House of Representatives, said the short election period may end up being her biggest challenge. 

“It is a scramble to get out the vote and help educate the public to know that a special election is happening, to introduce ourselves to the broader community and make sure that people know the election is happening and when and how to vote,” Stansbury said. 

Stansbury is currently serving her second term in the state Legislature, but previously worked in the White House as well as a U.S. Senate staffer. 

Republican candidate Mark Moores also serves in the Legislature, as a state senator. Despite numerous scheduling attempts from NM Political Report, Moores could not be reached for an interview. 

Aubrey Dunn, who is running as an independent candidate, seemed to agree that getting people out to vote would also be a challenge, but he said he thinks his biggest challenge will be fundraising.

Lujan Grisham: States need more fiscal help from DC for COVID-19 recovery

During a hearing of the House Committee on Financial Services, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other governors from across the country asked for more aid from the federal government because of the costs incurred from dealing with COVID-19, and said if none comes that the results would be dire. Lujan Grisham, speaking from New Mexico during the online session, described spending $400 million in direct COVID-19 costs including PPE and testing materials, $520 million in costs for K-12 education and much more indirect costs already incurred and an “exponential” loss in tax revenue because of the pandemic. “These are not static data points,” she said. “The pandemic is ongoing, the storm is raging and those winds of fiscal damage are not dying down.”

She said that without more federal aid to “replace and backfill lost revenue” the state would need to make “drastic, difficult cuts to essential services.”

Lujan Grisham said that aid needs to be sent to small businesses and local governments, noting that grants are better for small businesses since those in New Mexico largely cannot afford to add on more debt. She also said the state has delivered more than $2 billion in unemployment benefits, including emergency funds made available by the federal government, but that the trust fund that provides funding from the state is “depleted” and needs help to be replenished.

Are surprises ahead for legislation to curb surprise medical bills?

Surprise medical bills — those unexpected and often pricey bills patients face when they get care from a doctor or hospital that isn’t in their insurance network — are the health care problem du jour in Washington, with congressional lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and the White House calling for action. These policymakers agree on the need to take patients out of the middle of the fight over charges, but crafting a legislative solution will not be easy. A hearing of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee Tuesday, for example, quickly devolved into finger-pointing as providers’ and insurers’ testimony showed how much they don’t see eye to eye. “I’m disappointed that all participants that are going to be here from critical sectors of our economy could not come to find a way to work together to protect patients from these huge surprise bills,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said in his opening statement. As Congress weighs how to address the problem, here’s a guide to the bills and what to watch.