The Delegation for 9.21.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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Repeal and replace: It’s back!

While most of the Florida delegation is busy helping constituents deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, a common issue is arising from the ashes. Whether one wishes to call it Son of Trumpcare, Repeal and Replace 2.0, or Obamacare-lite, one thing is sure:

It’s back and appears to be gaining momentum.

The legislation, officially known as Graham-Cassidy, calls for sending huge sums to states via block grants instead of a federal government-driven entity. It is named after South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy.

What has changed to give this a chance to pass? One of the sponsors might have something to do with it.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy try one more time to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Graham and Arizona Republican John McCain are kindred spirits. McCain, one of three GOP Senators who combined to kill the earlier effort, can expect an impassioned pitch from his close friend, Graham.

McCain previously said the opinion of Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey would be important to him. On Monday, Ducey offered his support of the bill.

Despite that, McCain said he needs “a lot more information.”

The other two “no” votes, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and Maine Republican Susan Collins, have not committed.

A new thorn has developed in the name of Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. After voting in favor of the last bill, Paul described the current offering as “Obamacare-lite” and will not support it.

Republicans could hope that moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are persuadable, but the pressure — or coercion — from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other colleagues would be enormous.

Democrats could lose a sure no-vote if the trial of Robert Menendez of New Jersey is still ongoing or he is found guilty of corruption. Menendez is staying in New Jersey for at least as long as the trial goes on. Cynics might suggest Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could schedule a vote with that thought in mind.

Providing Hurricane Maria stays on a track that would seem to take it away from Florida, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson would both be expected to all be in Washington should a vote be called. If none of the four hesitant Republicans are flipped, there won’t be a vote.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Graham-Cassidy “our best, last chance.” He indicated the House would likely pass the measure — without amendments — if it clears the Senate.

AARP is telling senators that the bill “would increase health care costs for older Americans” and “jeopardize the ability of older Americans and people with disabilities to stay in their own homes.” Rubio said he needed to see the bill “but returning power to the states is something I’ve long believed in.”

Things are about to heat up. Again.

Rubio establishes Irma recovery centers around the state

The week, Florida’s junior senator dispatched his staff around the state, hosting Hurricane Irma Recovery Assistance Centers. They will be on hand to help affected residents sign up for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Among the many private and public organizations taking part is Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. The CFO will host an “insurance village” at each center where property insurance companies will be on hand to help policyholders file claims or ask questions.

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson hand out food to Glades residents affected by Hurricane Irma.

“My office stands ready to assist the people of Florida as they recover and rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Irma,” Rubio said in a release announcing the centers. “The people of Florida are resilient, and I know that together we will get through these tough times. My office and I are here to help you.”

Centers opening this week are located in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Naples, Fort Myers and Immokalee.

Participants range from the Red Cross, United Way, Catholic Charities of Florida, the Small Business Administration, several Florida state agencies, and numerous nonprofits, public entities and private corporations.

 

What role will Irma or climate change have in a Scott vs. Nelson matchup?

Via Ledyard King of USA TODAY: Irma has left Florida, but its destructive wake could blow political winds into next year’s Senate election when GOP Gov. Rick Scott is expected to challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

From his disciplined requests that coastal residents evacuate before Irma landed to his tours around the state examining damage-scarred communities, Scott has generally won plaudits as a capable, empathetic commander in chief.

“The job he’s done is incredible,” President Donald Trump said of his close political ally during a stop last week in Fort Myers to tour hurricane damage. “I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate.”

“The job he’s done is incredible,” Donald Trump said during a stop last week in Fort Myers. “I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate.”

For Nelson, the size and intensity of the storm have afforded him an opportunity to spotlight the threat of climate change, a topic he’s increasingly emphasized as parts of the state face frequent flooding.

“The whole state has experienced this hurricane, and it’s going to be a reminder (about) the effects of the earth heating up,” Nelson said during an interview with USA TODAY. “It’s so obvious.”

Pundits say it’s too early to determine just how Irma will play out next November. And both Nelson and Scott have resisted invitations from reporters to connect Irma to next year’s campaign.

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Tallahassee, said such speculation about Irma’s influence on next year’s election is overblown. He also thinks climate change, while a compelling issue, will be overshadowed by Floridians’ attitudes toward Trump.

“Off-year election cycles have been much more of a matter of referendums on what’s happening in Washington and the presidency than local issues,” he said. “The desire of Americans for more of the same or change after two years of Trump probably will define that race a hell of a lot more than debates over climate change or how Scott did over Irma.”

Paulson’s Principles: Disaster relief or just plain disaster

Disaster relief packages in Congress are items members generally love to approve. They can bring billions of dollars to their constituents and claim credit for its passage.

But, what if the disaster is not in your district or state. Do you support disaster relief because at some future point your district may need help, and you want other members to be there for you?  Or, do you vote for disaster relief based on what is in or, not in the disaster relief package?

The Florida congressional delegation faced this issue when voting for disaster relief for Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Florida after Hurricane Irma.

Two members of the Florida congressional delegation, Republican Representatives Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho, voted against disaster relief for Texas and Florida. They argued that the bill was a bad political deal struck by President Trump and Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

The deal not only provided disaster relief from the hurricanes but also extended the debt ceiling for three months and included a short-term budget fix to keep the government running until the end of the year.

Gaetz and Yoho were among the 90 House members who rejected disaster relief. Both said they would have supported a clean bill just for disaster relief, but they could not back the additional provisions that were thrown into the bill. “Only Congress,” said Gaetz, “ can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion in new spending authority.

In fact, both Gaetz and Yoho voted for the original $8 billion stand-alone bill for disaster relief, but could not support the bill when funding was doubled and provisions extending the federal debt ceiling and budget provisions were added.

Neither Gaetz nor Yoho represent districts that were severely impacted by Irma. Eleven other members of the Florida delegation did not vote on the bill as they were in their districts preparing for Irma.

Miami’s Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the only member of the Florida delegation in office when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1994, sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to other members asking them to back the disaster aid package for Floridians.

In many ways, such assistance is more critical to Florida than other states, because Florida has over 1300 miles of coastline, more than any other state in the continental United States. Florida has 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, and only 42 percent are covered by flood insurance. In fact, over the past five years, the number of flood insurance policies in Florida has dropped by 15 percent.

Strangely, in 2012, 14 members of the Florida congressional delegation voted against disaster relief for New York and New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy struck, including nine members who still hold office. For some reason, most members of the Florida congressional delegation look at Hurricane Irma differently than they looked at Hurricane Sandy.

I wonder what the difference could be?

Nelson, Rubio get their priorities into defense spending bill

The Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday with a large bipartisan majority. Both Florida Senators were able to insert amendments into the $692 billion bill which reflected their priorities.

Nelson is championing the cause of climate change. He helped insert language which calls for the Department of Defense to assess the readiness and capabilities of the armed forces following climate-related events.

Calling the role of climate change “an issue for national security,” Nelson quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who said “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.”

The three-term Democrat spoke from the Senate floor while the debate on the bill was ongoing. He also praised the work of Federal Emergency Management Agency, the military, and those who played a role in helping victims from Hurricane Irma.

Rubio touted the insertion of three amendments to the bill. The first requires the Department of Defense to assess damage to military bases from natural disasters and to request funding to restore the installations.

“Our military bases and assets in Florida are a key part of protecting America, so this measure is critical not only for our state but also our nation,” Rubio said in a release.

The second-term Republican also called for assessments in training capabilities involving cyber warfare and another designed to help those leaving the military earn college credits for pertinent experience.

The bill passed 89-8 with Nelson voting in favor. Rubio, who was still in Florida, did not vote.

With the changes made to the House version already passed, both chambers will appoint members to a conference committee to develop the final bill for passage.

 HHS Secretary visits Keys amid concerns for public health

With fear that a public health crisis is possible in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation of the Florida Keys, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price visited the area with Gov. Scott earlier this week. On Saturday, an Everglades City man died with the cause of death suspected to be living in a home with contaminated water.

Price and Scott met with local and state officials in Monroe County to discuss the continuing response and recovery efforts in the Florida Keys. The Keys are receiving assistance from numerous branches of the state and federal government including National Guard, the Department of Environmental Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Price’s HHS.

Gov. Rick Scott listens as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price speaks during a visit to the Florida Keys.

Price, along with state and county officials, are dealing with issues of water infested with bacteria and mold that develops in houses made worse with 90-degree temperatures. Another Everglades City man nearly died after he cut his leg and waded through the water. The leg had to be amputated.

“To me, this is the scariest part of it,” said Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of the 25th District, who toured the area with Scott on Saturday. “Any cut right now has to be treated as a serious health issue.”

NRCC to run ads targeting Murphy, District 27 Dems

National Republicans are launching internet ads attacking the Winter Park Democrat and the Democrats running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District over votes against a defense and anti-terrorism spending bill.

The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) is launching four 30-second spots — two against Murphy and two generically against Democrats — that make it look and sound as if their no votes just made America far more vulnerable to terrorist and enemy attacks. They can be seen here and here.

Both ads, representing a six-figure buy funded by the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program, refer to House Resolution 3219, the defense spending act, dubbed “Make America Secure Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2018.” The House of Representatives approved the bill in July with an almost entirely partisan vote, so split because Republicans had included money for the U.S.-Mexico border wall sought by President Trump.

“House Democrats’ refusal to hold hostile actors accountable is simply irresponsible,” said NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers, a Congressman from Southern Ohio. “Our NRCC ads will ensure voters in their districts know that their representative voted to leave our country vulnerable.”

In February, the NRCC targeted 36 Democrats for defeat in next year’s midterm elections. Murphy and St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist was on that list.

Nine of the 10 targets of the Young Guns ads are on the February list. While Murphy did vote against the measure, Crist was the only Florida Democrat to vote for the measure, leaving the group no avenue to target him with the ads. The generic ads for District 27 are the only ones where the group is trying to play defense for what will be an open seat, following the retirement of Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Gaetz does not regret voting against hurricane aid package

Less than two weeks ago, the Republican from Fort Walton Beach was one of 90 GOP members voting against a $15 billion appropriation for Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide hurricane relief. The funding was lumped together with a three-month extension of the debt ceiling that now exceeds $20 trillion.

Gaetz, joined by Gainesville Republican Yoho in voting against the package, called the linkage “generational theft.” He said: “Only Congress can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion new dollars in spending authority.”

“Generational theft” … Matt Gaetz has no regrets voting against an aid package for Hurricane Irma.

More than a week later, Gaetz still has no regrets for his vote. He pointed to his vote for $7.5 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency in a stand-alone bill and would have voted for the full amount had it not been tied to the debt ceiling increase.

“The federal government obviously has a role in debt relief,” Gaetz was quoted by USA TODAY. “Congress relaxed its belt for over $1 trillion in spending authority. The debt ceiling is the only tool left for debt hawks to force entitlement reform. There’s no other tool.”

The first-term representative from District 1 also added he would vote for an additional relief package if it is not tied to raising the debt ceiling again. The federal government is currently funded until Dec. 8.

Gaetz announces $750,000 in grants for health clinics

The GOP Congressman from District 1 announced federal grants totaling $350,700 for health clinics in Escambia and Walton County in the Panhandle. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the supplemental funding to expand mental health services and substance abuse services focusing on treatment and prevention of opioid abuse.

Chandra Smiley, Executive Director of Escambia County Clinics Inc., said with the funding “our health center has the potential to positively affect the rate of drug-related deaths in our community.” Jamie Carmichael of the Florida Department of Health, Walton County added the assistance will “impact the onset or recurrence of mental health and substance abuse” and provide support for the underserved population of the county.

“I am beyond pleased to see public health practitioners in Northwest Florida taking full advantage of the resources available to boost mental health services and substance abuse treatment,” Gaetz said in a release announcing the grants. “Opioid abuse has ruined communities and families across many parts of the country.”

The Walton County facility will receive $350,000 and the Escambia County facility $350,700.

Congressmen join forces to host Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery assistance event

Three members of the delegation are coming together Thursday to help constituents affected by Hurricane Irma. Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross, Orlando Democrat Darren Soto and Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney will provide answers to those needing assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency to help them recover from their losses.

Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinators will be at the event to answer questions and provide direct assistance to those needing aid.

The event takes place at the Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center on the campus of Polk State College in Bartow. The event is scheduled for 3-5 p.m.

Soto named to Democrats’ jobs task force

The first-term Democrat from Orlando Soto has been named one of four co-chairs of a new jobs task force created by the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Soto joins U.S. Reps. Susan DelBene of Washington, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois as co-chairs of the newly-formed House Democratic Caucus New Economy Task Force, Soto’s office announced Wednesday.

“In developing legislation to strengthen our economy, we need to think long-term — beyond the next election cycle and beyond the present,” Soto stated in a news release. “Our priority must be on preparing the American workforce for the jobs of the 21st century.”

The Democratic Caucus charged the New Economy Taskforce with, “looking at rapidly advancing technology, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, and ensuring workers are trained for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Bilirakis to host roundtable on protecting seniors during disasters

The Republican from Palm Harbor will host a roundtable focusing on issues facing seniors and vulnerable Floridians during hurricanes. With the tragedy that occurred at the Hollywood, Florida nursing home, Bilirakis is looking for ideas to prevent Florida’s elderly population from being placed in dangerous situations.

“While common sense should dictate appropriate planning for our most vulnerable populations during emergencies, we have seen that this is not happening on a consistent basis throughout the state and here locally,” Bilirakis said. “The time for action is now in order to prevent future suffering and even death, which is why I am assembling leadership at all levels of government and among stakeholders in affected industries to facilitate much-needed changes.”

The invited included state elected officials, first responders, hospitals, elder advocates, directors of nursing homes, and others. The roundtable is set for Friday at 10 a.m. at the Pinellas County office of Bilirakis in Palm Harbor.

Crist tells National Weather Service employees he’s on their side

The first-term Democrat from St. Petersburg was already well aware of how unhappy National Weather Service (NWS) employees were about budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

But the St. Petersburg Democrat learned a whole lot more Monday about the concerns of career agency staffers over personnel reductions — specifically in Alaska. They say such cuts could damage the accuracy in forecasting storms and other major weather events.

“I’ve noticed that it’s under attack, but sadly a lot of things that make a lot of good sense are under attack in the recommendations from the administration,” Crist told members of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The group was holding its annual convention this week in St. Petersburg.

Charlie Crist learned a whole lot more this week about personnel reductions at the National Weather Service.

Crist has been an advocate for the NWS since he was sworn in. In June, he wrote to President Trump asking him to name a director of the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), so that person can begin to fill vacancies in the weather service.

Within the letter, he praised the work of the meteorologists, but also pointed out that they are overworked and “morale is low.” The NOAA position remains unfilled.

Although Trump has proposed a budget cut of 5 percent to the NWS, officials with the agency say the reduction in hiring additional staffers goes back a decade, and they’re still not certain why.

Some NWS employees want Crist to push the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, to hold a hearing based on the study released by the Government Accounting Office confirming the vacancy rate in NWS operational units has reached a point where NWS employees are “unable at times to perform key tasks.”

House approves Buchanan’s request for funds to fight red tide

The Sarasota Republican is one step closer to achieving one of his funding priorities this year. The House of Representatives approved Buchanan’s amendment to add $8 billion to financing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the fight against red tide.

Buchanan not only sought the funding for environmental reasons but also because red tide impacts tourism. He cited statistics that red tide leads to $80 million in economic damages to tourism.

“Southwest Florida is a beautiful, vibrant place to live and we need to address any threat to our pristine environment and way of life,” he said after the bill passed. “We need to understand more about the toxins in red tide so we can stop their damaging effects.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Mast touts $21 million to fight algal blooms

The Republican from the 18th District is working on obtaining $21 million in funding to address the ongoing problem of algal blooms. While the problem occurs in different parts of the state, the areas around Lake Okeechobee, along with nearby rivers and lakes are negatively impacted.

Mast was able to insert several amendments designed to fund efforts conducted through the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and others.

“When the House passed my amendments in July to add more than $1 million in funding to combat harmful algal blooms, I promised that I’d keep fighting for more,” Mast said in a statement. “This money — more than $20 million — will go toward cost-effective solutions to this problem that has caused incalculable damage to our community.”

The amendments were part of the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act. It now moves on to the Senate for debate and amendments.

One day before Trump, F. Rooney calls for significant reform at the U.N.

The Naples Republican got a one-day jump on Trump by offering his view on the future of the United Nations. Trump offered his views on Tuesday.

One day before Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly, Rooney wrote an opinion piece that called for reform at the U.N. As Trump did in his speech on Tuesday, Rooney called out some of the inexplicable occurrences that take place.

“Venezuela, China and Cuba are among the worst human rights violators of the 47 (Human Rights Council) members,” Rooney wrote. “How can an organization supposedly devoted to human rights allow Venezuela membership while Nicolas Maduro is dismantling his nation’s democratic government and waging war on his people?”

Francis Rooney beat Donald Trump by a day in calling for reforms at the United Nations.

Rooney, like Trump, also questioned the U.N.’s effectiveness. He pointed to the growing bureaucracy while the U.S. continues to fund a significant share of U.N. operations.

“If the U.N. cannot quickly improve its legitimacy and effectiveness, the U.S. should reconsider the manner in which it funds and participates in the organization,” said Rooney, the former Ambassador to the Holy See.

Unlike Trump, Rooney did not weigh in on the issue of North Korea. The president now refers to North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and told the General Assembly the day could come when the U.S. would need to “totally destroy North Korea.”

He offered his hope that “Trump and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will continue to aggressively lead a transformation at the U.N.”

Personnel moves

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue spent some quality time in August with Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney. The Congressman from the 17th District toured areas of South Florida with Perdue to view ranchers’ efforts in land and water conservation.

At around that same time, Perdue announced a new press secretary for USDA. Meghan Rodgers, who had been serving as Rooney’s communications director, is already at work in her new role.

In addition to her time with Rooney, Rodgers also worked for Pennsylvania Republican Pat Meehan. She is a graduate of Villanova University.

A real-life battle in Washington

The political battles on Capitol Hill can sometimes best be described as “rough and tumble.” Especially these days.

Not far from the U.S. Capitol a real-life struggle pitted a 5-foot woman against two would-be muggers. When one of the two men involved tried to rob Roberta Rothstein, he got more than he bargained for.

Rothstein fought back, struggling long enough to attract the attention of neighbors, who came to her rescue. One of the men was quickly captured, while the other got away for the time being.

“Damn it, that’s going to change,” Rothstein said. “I’m not gonna make somebody coming up to me make me afraid; I’m not. That’s not gonna happen. My philosophy is if I don’t see a gun, I’m holding on to my stuff.”

This was the fifth mugging she has endured and was left with a black eye to prove it. But she kept her “stuff.”

 

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.