By Aaron Blevins, 10/25/2012
Foster care and African relations are top priorities
If re-elected in November, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-California) hopes to build upon the foundation she has created in her work in Africa and within the nation’s foster care system.
In her first term, Bass created the Foster Care Caucus and successfully recruited 70 members of Congress to join. She said the issue of foster care is an important one that affects the nation’s crime rates and inmate population.
“Foster care is one of those very solvable problems in our community,” Bass said. “If we could put our arms around a half-million kids in our country that are in the foster care system, we could really reduce the prison population. Because a huge percentage of people who are in prison started in the child welfare system.”
Therefore, the caucus has been traveling the country, learning about foster care systems in other states. Bass, a nurse who has more than 20 years invested in foster care work, said the system doesn’t require a lot more money, but instead needs structural changes that would alter the way the system is financed.
“We want to continue that work,” she said, adding that she hopes to push new legislation in her next term.
In Africa, Bass is charged with promoting U.S. business involvement on the continent, which is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. She said there are 54 countries in Africa, yet people only hear about the troubled nations.
“We just think of Africa as a hopeless charity case with various wars and child soldiers and Kony,” Bass said. “The Indians, the Brazilians, the Chinese know that this is where we should be investing and this is where we have incredible business opportunities. …The United States is really late to the party.”
She has worked primarily in Botswana and Gabon, both of which are “desperately” looking for U.S. business involvement. In Botswana, officials are building a modern airport like LAX, and had contracted with the Chinese for the construction. However, Bass said the Botswana government became upset with the contractors, fired them and sought new bids. She gave Botswana officials the information for a California business.
“Hopefully, [they] will follow up and put a bid on that contract,” Bass added.
Botswana is also home to a growing eco-friendly tourism industry. The congresswoman said the country has constructed “five-star” huts with a going rate of $750 per night, which may be of interest to eco-friendly tourists in Los Angeles, who now frequent Costa Rica for such excursions. She said a particular village in Botswana hires firms to create the high-end resorts, which earn the village a profit and allow them to rise out of poverty.
Gabon and Botswana have democratic societies, which is part of the requirement for U.S. involvement. Bass said both countries have been rated as having the lowest government corruption ratings in the world. While Africa has its share of troubles, the wars and violence occur in other parts of the continent, she said.
“These countries are nowhere near what’s been happening,” Bass added.
The congresswoman said both countries have plenty of resources; Gabon has oil and the world’s largest rainforest, while Botswana has diamonds, coal and big game animals. She said the effort to increase U.S. business involvement in Africa, like foster care, is bipartisan.
However, through her transition from the California Assembly to Congress, Bass has learned that federal policymaking is a very slow process. In California, when a legislator introduces a bill, they usually know whether the bill is going to fail or pass before the session is over.
“When you introduce a bill in Congress, it goes into space, and you never know where it goes after that,” Bass said.
While in Washington, D.C., she was able to get an amendment passed that prohibits the U.S. Department of Defense from contracting with overseas groups that deal in human trafficking. Bass was also able to get an amendment passed that improved training for adoption and foster care parents.
The former Assembly speaker has a good vantage point of the presidential race in D.C. She said she feels good about President Barack Obama’s chance to defeat Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“I definitely don’t want to be overconfident,” Bass said.
While some fear that the healthcare reform bill would be repealed if Romney took office, the congresswoman said it would need to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. If the Democrats did lose the Senate and the bill is repealed, it would be disastrous, she said.
“I also think people would be mad,” Bass added. “It’s one of those things where you don’t realize what you have until it’s taken away.”
As a nurse, Bass said the bill is especially helpful for young people looking to stay on their parents’ insurance, seniors who don’t have to pay for preventative exams and children with pre-existing conditions. She is anticipating 2014, when provisions for adults with pre-existing conditions take effect.
“As a person who’s been in healthcare — people die every day because of pre-existing conditions and not being able to get healthcare,” Bass said.
She said Romney is “absolutely clueless” when it comes to how average people live and receive healthcare. Bass said he believes that those without healthcare can simply go to the emergency room, which is the most expensive form of healthcare available.
The congresswoman said Romney would strive to cover pre-existing conditions if a person’s insurance stayed continuous, despite their employment. What he fails to understand is that some people can’t afford healthcare coverage, she said.
“It’s like you didn’t have healthcare because you chose not to have healthcare,” Bass said. “What he doesn’t realize … is that millions of people work every day and have no healthcare. So, what about them?”
Another issue in this year’s election is quantifying how much the country has rebounded financially since 2008. Bass said she believes the U.S. still has a long way to go, but the California economy has stabilized.
“Four years ago, I was in charge here [as the California Assembly speaker], and we were in an absolute freefall,” she said. “We didn’t know when it was going to end.”
Bass held a foreclosure workshop for her constituents recently, and plans to do more. She said the situation is improving, largely due to California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ work to reach a mortgage settlement with major banks.
“The banks are still giving people a hard time and letting people go into foreclosure,” Bass added.
The congresswoman is actually fighting to stay in her own office at the moment. Due to redistricting, if re-elected, Bass’ Los Angeles office will be across the street from her new district lines, and taxpayers would have to foot the bill to move her office.
“We are formally objecting. …I just think it’s a perfect example of government waste,” she added. “Why would you do that?”
Bass said she has received some help and guidance from the House’s rules committee chairman, David Dreier (R-California). She said she will likely need to get a letter from Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California) that states he doesn’t object to her operating in his district.
“I think it’s one of those ideas that might make sense in some settings,” Bass said. “But in our setting, who knows where our district boundaries are to begin with? I can literally look out of my window and [say], ‘Oh there’s my district.’”