Jordan Blum Washington column for Dec. 24, 2012

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., filed a bipartisan “compromise” amendment this past week that would more narrowly tailor the proposed Drywall Safety Act of 2012 to win the support of the National Association of Home Builders, which opposes the bill in its current form.

Contamination for toxic Chinese drywall became an ongoing problem in southeastern Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and lawsuits remain pending from homeowners who unknowingly rebuilt homes with contaminated materials.

The Drywall Safety Act, which has already won House approval, sets chemical standards for domestic and imported drywall, and also establishes guidelines for its disposal.

The bill allows the Consumer Product Safety Commission to set rules to ensure that existing toxic drywall is properly disposed. The legislation also requires all drywall used in the country to be labeled with the manufacturer’s name.

The National Association of Home Builders opposes the current bill, arguing it was drafted too broadly, but the association is backing the Vitter amendment.

The newly proposed amendment by Vitter and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Ben Nelson, D-Fla., narrows the emphasis of the legislation to focus on high sulfur content, which can diminish the value of a home and makes the origin of the drywall traceable to the manufacturer.

The amendment also more narrowly tailors the role of the Consumer Product Safety Commission so business groups can have more of a say.

“I want to ensure that folks don’t experience the nightmare of building or repairing a home with toxic drywall,” Vitter said in the announcement. “This legislation will make sure unsafe drywall won’t be sold in the future, and that drywall manufacturers are held accountable.”

Congressmen watch Avondale

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, expressed renewed optimism about the future of the Avondale shipyard scheduled to shut down its operations by the end of 2013.

Landrieu and Richmond, who want to help convert the shipyard for other commercial possibilities, said they will soon meet with the president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls, Mike Petters, to discuss the future of the shipyard that the corporation operates.

The Huntington Ingalls leadership recently wrote to the AFL-CIO about the future of the Avondale shipyard and stated that operations could include heavy industrial manufacturing for the energy and infrastructure market, commercial shipbuilding for non-government clients or other commercial heavy manufacturing.

The letter invited the union to discuss these possibilities and the future of the Avondale shipyard, according to Landrieu.

“We were encouraged to hear that Huntington Ingalls continues to aggressively pursue alternatives for Avondale,” Landrieu and Richmond said in a joint statement.

“Throughout this process we have fought to keep Avondale open for business to ensure that our highly skilled shipbuilders can continue to contribute to our economy and national security.

“We look forward to meeting very soon with Mike Petters to discuss the future of the shipyard and working with him on continued progress.”

The Department of Navy also has indicated that any federal funds provided for the closure and conversion of the Avondale shipyard could be used for partnerships designed to bring more work to the facility.

Vitter teams with liberal

Vitter is again teaming with liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on fighting megabanks for being allegedly “too big to fail.”

They are seeking to require the Government Accountability Office to study whether massive financial institutions enjoy an economic benefit as a perk of their overwhelming size.

Vitter and Brown previously filed legislation attempting to simplify regulations and require the largest banks to raise their capital standards and have more money saved so they are no longer “too big to fail.”

Vitter and Brown — one of the most-conservative members of the Senate paired with one of the most liberal — have formed an unlikely tag-team partnership on the issue. Both of them sit on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee.

Leftover funds spent on vets

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, used some leftover campaign funds to buy eight prepaid mobile phones and minutes on Thursday for veterans at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“Members of our armed services recovering from injuries sustained on the battlefield will be able to call and stay in touch with their friends and family free of charge this holiday season with these prepaid mobile phones,” Boustany said in a prepared statement.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.