VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
UPDATED: Official forced to resign had already announced retirement.
WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced Friday he had accepted the resignation of a top official but did not provide details on the aide’s connection to the 40 military retirees who died after being secretly wait-listed at a VA hospital.
Shinseki has ignored demands for his own resignation by key members of Congress including some from the Colorado delegation, and during testimony Thursday told a Senate panel he was “mad as Hell” over the scandal.
Shinseki said in a statement that he had accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, the heath undersecretary and a 40-year career employee, but did not elaborate on what role the official had in the secret wait-listing in Arizona.
Additionally, it was recently discovered that a VA official in Fort Collins was awarded a bonus for falsifying records. Read more »
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are scrutinizing state-based health insurance exchanges in light of reports Colorado plans to raise fees yet awarded a huge bonus to its director, and systems in other states are crumbling or have already failed.
“We need to have transparency and ultimately, accountability,” said Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.
Connect for Care Colorado CEO Patty Fontneau was awarded a $14,000 bonus and 2.5 percent pay raise this week in spite of threats consumer fees would be raised to cover a $13 million shortfall.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that Connect for Health is proposing huge user fees to Coloradans who are already paying too much under the president’s healthcare law, while handing out cash to their own executives,” said Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. Read more »
Patty Fontneau, executive director of Connect for Health Colorado
A Republican bill to audit Colorado’s health exchange was killed after its top official assured state lawmakers the oversight was not necessary because it had already undergone federal audits, but that’s not entirely accurate.
Documents obtained from Connect for Health Colorado show the federal government has not conducted audits on the award of $177 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars since the exchange was created in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.
The reports were obtained by The Observer in two separate requests to Connect for Health Colorado under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), based on statements from Executive Director Patty Fontneau to state lawmakers that the agency had gone through several federal audits. Read more »
Rep. Cory Gardner
WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Udall has announced plans to reintroduce energy legislation mirroring that of his Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner, claiming that input from Democrats on the House bill Wednesday had improved the measure.
However, a source familiar with the legislative process told The Colorado Observer three weeks ago that Udall’s staff already knew their bill was flawed and was already in the process of rewriting the measure.
The bill that Udall rushed to introduce on April 5 would speed the exportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Read more »
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration punted yet again on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline pushing it past the November election, but key Senate Democrats who support the project aren’t willing to drop the issue.
Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who recently took over as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, condemned the evasion and pledged to continue using her position of power to force the issue.
“This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu’s committee that includes Colorado Democrat Sen. Mark Udall plans to move forward with a hearing scheduled for May, despite the administration’s delay that it blamed on a Nebraska lawsuit over the pipeline’s route. Read more »
Rep. Cory Gardner
WASHINGTON — Rep. Cory Gardner is fighting back against a $1 million television advertising campaign launched this week by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) that criticizes the Republican Senate candidate for supporting the oil and gas industry.
The Washington, DC-based special interest group accused Gardner in a 30-second ad of accepting $450,000 contributions from the industry and said it was “the wrong way for Colorado.”
The Center for Responsive Politics says that Gardner received $60,000 from the oil and gas industry out of a total $841,000 raised, according to the year-end filing records. Read more »
Rep. Doug Lamborn
WASHINGTON — Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn has asked the Air Force to update its current rules to ensure that there are adequate protections in place for religious freedom for its personnel.
Lamborn led nearly two-dozen Republicans including Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman to sign a letter Tuesday to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James stating their concerns that the outdated regulations are the most restrictive policy of any military branch.
“Unfortunately, the August 2012 Air force regulations which govern religious freedom and expression are inconsistent with Congressional intent and current law,” the lawmakers said.
“The right to free speech and religion is a self-protecting right – not grounds for a bystander to silence a leader’s speech simply because the bystander objects to certain opinions,” the lawmakers said. Read more »
Rep. Cory Gardner
WASHINGTON — A critical measure by Rep. Cory Gardner advanced in the House Wednesday that would cut bureaucratic red tape and increase the exportation of natural gas to boost the U.S. economy as well as global competition.
Republicans passed the bill on a party-line vote of 15 to 11 in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power.
Gardner’s would also send a political message to Russia, which is threatening to cut off the energy supply to Ukraine, that gas from the U.S. would be available as an alternative energy source.
“Opposing this legislation would be like hanging up on a 911 call from our friends and allies abroad,” Gardner said.
“This bill will help many of our allies and trading partners all over the world, while providing jobs and economic growth here at home,” Gardner said. Read more »
Greater Sage Grouse
WASHINGTON — Colorado officials warned a House committee Tuesday that a lack of transparency in the Obama administration’s efforts to protect the sage grouse as an endangered species threatens the scientific validity of the process.
Rob Roy Ramey of Nederland, an independent biologist whose career has focused on species protection, told the House Natural Resources Committee that the process has been closed to the scientific community and that federal officials refuse to share certain data being used to make a final determination.
“It can be like pulling teeth to try and obtain that data,” Ramey said. “The (information) is shared among a good old boys club of people, and yet the data is not public and we’re about to spend billions, if not trillions of dollars on this listing.” Read more »
Rep. Doug Lamborn
WASHINGTON – Rep. Doug Lamborn on Wednesday blasted the Democratic-controlled Senate for blocking 220 bills passed by the House aimed mostly at creating jobs and boosting the economy as he dubbed the upper chamber a “productivity graveyard.”
“Senate Democrats’ sole concern seems to be with protecting themselves from taking votes, recorded votes that might anger their liberal donors or their voters,” the Colorado Republican said during a floor speech.
“They do this by closing off debate, eliminating amendments and writing their bills in secret shutting out Republican voices and input,” Lamborn said.
Since the current congressional session started in January 2013, the House has sent a total of 331 bills to the Senate. In stark contrast, the Senate has passed 67 votes on measures that were then sent to the House. Read more »