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Washington news in brief

by Frank E. Lockwood | April 4, 2021 at 3:43 a.m.

CARES Act panel still has no leader

The Congressional Oversight Commission, created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, still lacks a chairman, more than a year after the legislation's passage.

But one of its members, U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., said the body has performed its duties, despite the vacancy.

Last week, the commission released its 11th report on CARES-related lending programs.

"I don't think our work has been inhibited," the former Little Rock banker said.

The bipartisan body was designed to monitor up to $500 billion in covid-19-related relief funds that were earmarked for business loans, loan guarantees and other investments.

That money had been entrusted to the Treasury Department, which was working with the Federal Reserve to shore up an economy battered by the global health pandemic.

Since its formation, the commission has scrutinized many of the lending programs, including a fund of up to $17 billion that was targeted "for businesses critical to maintaining national security."

Under the legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were each authorized to appoint one member.

The chairman was supposed to be jointly selected by Pelosi and McConnell, but they failed to find a candidate who was acceptable to both leaders and willing to lead.

With Democrats in power, the task now falls to Pelosi and Schumer, the new Senate majority leader.

Cotton to join N.H. hopeful fundraiser

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., announced last week that he'll be participating in a "virtual fundraiser" for a state legislative candidate from Merrimack, N.H.

Bill Boyd, a member of the Merrimack Town Council, is vying for a seat left vacant by the death of New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch.

The Facebook Live event featuring Cotton is Monday.

New Hampshire is sparsely populated, with just 1.35 million residents, but it has a 400-seat House of Representatives.

It's also home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

This isn't the first time Cotton has shown interest in the Granite State.

He spoke remotely to a New Hampshire state Republican Party gathering in January.

In 2020, he traveled there at least twice.

During his virtual appearance in January, Cotton told New Hampshire Republicans that they will be seeing more of him. Cotton said he plans to return to the state "very, very soon," according to WMUR, the ABC affiliate in Manchester, N.H.

Bill seeks to help Vietnam veterans

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., introduced legislation last month aimed at helping veterans harmed by herbicides during the Vietnam War era.

The measure has 37 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., and has been assigned to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., had previously introduced a bill in the Senate. It has seven co-sponsors.

According to a news release from Military-Veterans Advocacy, a Louisiana-based nonprofit group, the bill would "create a presumption of service connection between the occurrence of a covered disease and exposure to a herbicide agent while serving in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam era at a military base in Thailand, without regard to where on the base the veteran was located or what military job specialty the veteran performed."

The organization's board chairman, retired Navy Cmdr. John B. Wells, is urging lawmakers to take action.

"This is critical legislation to cover tens of thousands of sick veterans who were exposed to deadly herbicide while serving in Thailand," he said. "I call on Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to bring this matter forward for a legislative hearing."

While pushing for action on Capitol Hill, Military-Veterans Advocacy is also battling on the legal front.

The organization has "federal litigation pending to force additional coverage for those who served in Thailand," the news release stated.

Planning to visit the nation's capital? Know something happening in Washington, D.C.? Please contact Frank Lockwood at (501) 908-5204 or flockwood@adgnewsroom.com. Want to get the latest from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Washington bureau? It's available on Twitter, @LockwoodFrank.

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