WASHINGTON — What surprised Rep. Julia Brownley most about her first year in the House was seeing how Congress works.
Or doesn’t work.
“The dysfunction that I had been hearing about and then witnessing that firsthand, seeing it play out, I think, has been a reality check,” the Westlake Village Democrat said.
The most visible display of that dysfunction burst into headlines in October, when the federal government shut down for 16 days because Democrats and Republicans failed to pass a spending plan to keep agencies running.
But there were other notable examples as well, such as the House and Senate’s failure to compromise on a farm bill; House Speaker John Boehner’s refusal to call for a vote on immigration overhaul, even though the bill might have had the support needed to pass; and the lack of bipartisanship in a town where the two parties are supposed to work together to get things done.
“I served at a difficult time when I served in the Legislature,” said Brownley, who spent six years in the California Assembly before going to Washington. “But the dysfunction here is real. The focus on the tea party Republicans here in Congress, I think, prevents us from working in a bipartisan way to approach issues and problems in a compromising way and in a common-sense way. It’s very frustrating.”
But Brownley ends her first year in the House feeling that for the most part, “It has been a very good and positive year.”
“I think we’ve had some accomplishments, and I feel very, very good about that,” she said.
She arrived in Washington in January, becoming the first Democrat in 70 years to represent Ventura County in the House. She immediately landed a position as the ranking member, or top Democrat, on the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on health, a position she sought because of Naval Base Ventura County’s prominent role in the county.
In her first year in office, Brownley has written 10 bills dealing with such things as veterans’ benefits, business tax credits, biliteracy education and redistricting.
One has been enacted, and several are making their way through the legislative process. On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision by Brownley that would transfer land from the former Oxnard Air Force Base to the Ventura County.
Brownley also got two amendments added to a water resources development bill that she says could help make the case for more federal funding for dredging and other work needed to fight beach erosion in Port Hueneme.
One requires the Government Accountability Office to issue a report on the number of jobs created by Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects at small and medium-size ports. The trust fund pays for anti-erosion efforts in Port Hueneme. The other measure requires the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the Navy’s interests when setting priorities on how the trust fund money will be spent.
Both amendments were in the House version of the water bill, and the House and Senate are negotiating the bill’s final version.
Brownley said she also mentioned the beach erosion to Obama after he spoke in Washington this month.
“He said he wanted to help,” she said. The president referred her to his senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, with whom Brownley also discussed the issue.
In addition to advocating legislation, Brownley said her office has responded to more than 60,000 letters and inquiries from constituents needing help on matters such as veterans’ issues and Social Security benefits. Her aides estimate that her office has helped constituents receive about $700,000 in benefits.
In the coming year, Brownley said, her focus will remain the same: jobs and the economy.
“We want the economy to be running on all of its cylinders and strong, and I think we have turned the corner,” she said. “But there is more work to make sure we are moving at a very positive trajectory.
“From my perspective, it’s about the economy. It’s about jobs. It’s about our veterans — making sure that they get the benefits they need, but most importantly, that they get employed. It’s about comprehensive immigration reform. These are all really, really important issues that relate to jobs and the economy.”
Brownley said she plans to run for re-election next year and expects a competitive race. Two Republicans — Camarillo Assemblyman Jeff Gorell and real estate broker Rafael Dagnesses of Simi Valley — have announced plans to run for the seat.
Brownley said she expects a competitive race and will be prepared. But for now, she said, she plans to stay focused on her responsibilities as a congresswoman.
“I honestly believe that if I do my job and serve the people of Ventura County, I will be re-elected,” she said.
Rep. Julia Brownley has sponsored these bills over the past year:
Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act, which would guarantee adequate funding for veterans’ health care benefits.
Bipartisan resolution supporting the Joining Forces Initiative, which connects servicemen and woman, veterans and military spouses with the resources needed to find jobs.
Veterans Medical Access Act, which would give blind and severely disabled veterans access to health care.
A measure to transfer land near the Oxnard Airport from the Navy to Ventura County.
Helping Homeless Veterans Act, which would reauthorize programs for homeless veterans.
Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching (BEST) Act, which would help states create a State Seal of Biliteracy to recognize high school students graduating with proficiency in both English and a second language.
Fair and Independent Redistricting Act, which would encourage states to form a citizen-driven redistricting process.
American Job Opportunity Act, which would make permanent the work opportunity tax credit.
VOW to Hire Heroes Extension Act of 2013, which would expand and extend the work opportunity tax credit (WOTC) for hiring qualified veterans.
Innovation, Research and Manufacturing Act, which would expand and make permanent the research and development tax credit.
A bill that would repeal the provision in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement that reduces the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for military retirees under age 62.
Issues: 113th Congress