Around Washington for Monday, June 3, 2013

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

Southern Louisiana is coming to Washington this week in the form of the 69th annual Radio and Television Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and others from the state are coming up for the Wednesday dinner, which this year carries the theme of “Laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll — New Orleans style.

While the event is not quite as exclusive as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Barack Obama and about 1,500 other lawmakers, journalists and news leaders are invited to attend the dinner at the National Building Museum.

The museum is expected to have French Quarter and New Orleans Garden District decorations, while chef Emeril Lagasse is creating the menu.

Amendment ‘hypocritical’

The Senate is resuming debate on the federal farm bill on Monday, but Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has already won a political victory on one matter that is raising eyebrows after it was approved without a single Democrat in opposition.

Vitter successfully had an amendment attached to the bill by “unanimous consent” — without objection — that would ban people who were convicted of felonies like murder, rape and sexual assault from ever receiving food stamps long after they are released from prison. Some states already have this ban in place.

Although many may call the amendment logical, the argument presented by critics is that someone convicted of a horrible crime at age 19 or so should not be punished indefinitely after paying his or her dues to society.

Writer David Dayen penned a column on Salon.com calling it a “hypocritical, punitive, horrible” amendment by Vitter.

“While the amendment may sound like common sense, it’s actually a harshly punitive, counterproductive policy that will only increase crime and trap people in the criminal justice system,” Dayen wrote.

The example would be of a convicted felon released from prison after 20 years or so and becoming a single father unable to acquire food stamps for his children while working minimum-wage jobs.

But, for something to change, Senate Democrats would have to work to undo the amendment on the omnibus farm bill legislation.

Concern over pricing

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, are among the members of Congress expressing concerns about federal Medicare laws pricing out community and rural pharmacies.

The concern centers on the Medicare Part D program that sets up preferred pharmacy networks to offer more affordable drug costs to seniors.

But the exclusion of many rural and independent pharmacies from the networks is making them less competitive and less financially viable, according to Landrieu, Alexander and others who have written recent letters on the topic.

They asked the government to outline steps to avoid such problems.

Vitter bill endorsed

The Washington Post and The New York Times both wrote editorials this week effectively endorsing the bipartisan legislation by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to update the nation’s chemical safety laws for the first time in decades.

While both newspapers argued the bill, which was filed last month, could be improved through tweaks, they said the Congress should not let the opportunity pass to approve such sweeping legislation to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 that both industry and environmentalists consider to be woefully outdated.

“Yet it (the 1976 law) is such a shambles that, in all that time, the agency has used it to ban only five chemicals,” The Washington Post wrote. “The law allowed thousands of chemicals to stay on the market with no review, and it made the process of vetting new ones so difficult that they have been barely regulated at all.”

The New York Times noted that some, such as Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are concerned the bill could undercut stronger chemical safety laws that states like California have adopted.

“Her task, and that of her committee, is to figure out how to strengthen the bill without torpedoing its chances for bipartisan support,” the editorial stated.

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