High stakes tax reform back on center stage on Capitol Hill
The effort to pass a tax reform bill by Thanksgiving continues this week on Capitol Hill. Last week the House Ways and Means Committee approved the Republican plan and sent it to the House floor for a possible vote this week.
In the Senate, debate begins on their version. Even both bills would somehow emerge, prospects are considered unlikely the differences between the two chambers could be hashed out that quickly, if at all.
Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo, one of Florida’s two representatives on the committee, touted the final product. He provided a chart detailing the average tax cut for constituents of each committee member with four-member families. The cut would be around $1,448 for Curbelo’s district.
“After a week of spirited debate, my colleagues and I completed Committee consideration of the first major tax reform plan in over 30 years,” Curbelo said in a statement. “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act puts middle-income American families first with a larger child tax credit and a new family flexibility credit that will help them keep more of their hard-earned paychecks.”
Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan, one of the committee’s most senior members, also lauded the bill’s emergence from the committee.
“Not only will the average family of four receive a tax cut, but small businesses will finally be taxed at a rate that allows them to expand and create good-paying jobs,” Buchanan said in a statement. “Passage of today’s bill is a positive step toward getting our economy back on track.”
Democrats portray the bill as “massive tax cuts for the rich and big corporations,” but some Republicans in New York, California and other high tax stakes could develop heartburn over the cutting of the state and local tax deduction.
Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Boca Raton, referred to the bill by the new hashtag #GOPTaxScam. “I oppose the bill because it will force automatic Medicare cuts of $28 billion, cheating seniors out of the secure retirement they have earned.”
Orlando Democrat Darren Soto tweeted “American workers oppose #GOPTaxScam bc its global min tax helps companies to ship jobs overseas.”
As the Senate begins its work, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will keep his pledge and submit an amendment to raise the Child Tax Credit to $2,000. The House bill has it at $1,600.
“The Senate is not going to pass a bill that isn’t clearly pro-family, so we look forward to working with our colleagues to get there,” he said in a statement.
On Monday, the Senate bill got a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Taxation (see below), but a lot of acrimony still lies ahead.
The GOP is at a crossroads. Pundits and several Republicans themselves say if tax reform fails, they are headed for an #EpicFail at the polls in 2018.
That means Democrats will give it all they’ve got to ensure it flops. Republicans might end up lending them a hand.
Nelson: Sanction entire Venezuelan assembly
The noose is tightening around Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro and his regime, but Florida’s senior Senator wants to wrap it around a few more times for good measure. With the Donald Trump Administration adding 10 more officials to the sanctions list and the European Union approving their own, Nelson is urging even more drastic action.
The three-term Democrat, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, called on the Trump Administration to sanction Venezuela’s entire 545-member constituent assembly. He also urged a halt on the importing of Venezuelan oil.
“In July you stated that ‘anyone elected to the constituent assembly should know that their role in undermining the democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential sanctions,’” Nelson wrote. “Only a handful of members from this illegal body, however, have been sanctioned; and I urge you to sanction all members as soon as possible.”
Both Nelson and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio have repeatedly urged the Trump Administration to impose even harsher sanctions than those already in place. The October elections in that oil-rich nation were considered a sham by most observers.
“Additionally, I urge the department to continue targeting Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and consider banning the import of Venezuelan crude to the United States until constitutional order has been restored in Venezuela.”
Rubio claims bureaucrats undercutting Trump Cuba policy
Despite President Donald Trump’s intention to crack down on the Cuban government through travel restrictions, bureaucrats are not fully carrying out his orders says Florida’s junior Senator. Last week, the Treasury Department announced the specifics of Trump’s tougher policy, but Rubio indicates the president’s intention to target the Raul Castro regime is being held back by the agency in charge of foreign policy.
The Treasury announcement includes a list of 180 sanctioned Cuban businesses (Cuba Restricted List) that includes some famous tourist hotels. The new policy is intended to “seek to channel economic activities away from the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services” without cutting off engagement with the Cuban people.
“Unfortunately, however, bureaucrats in the State Department who oppose the President’s Cuba policy refused to fully implement it when they omitted from the Cuba Restricted List several entities and sub-entities that are controlled by or act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence or security services,” Rubio said in a statement.
The State Department countered that those included on the list were those where direct financial transactions would substantially benefit the government, military and intelligence services. Rubio isn’t buying the explanation.
“I remain confident that this effort by some in the State Department to undermine the president’s directive will be addressed,” he said.
Middle-class ‘big winners’ in GOP tax plan, say Republicans blasting Nelson
Senate Republicans are touting a new report from the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), showing that middle-class families will be the biggest winners under the Senate tax relief proposal.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee asks: Whose side is Bill Nelson on?
While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is warning red state Democrats to toe the line on taxes — which Republicans blast as “obstructionist” — the JCT is saying the middle class stands to benefit the most from Senate GOP plan.
Nelson’s choice is clear, the NRSC says. He must either stick with Schumer or work to give Florida families the “tax cut they want and need.”
“Cutting taxes for middle-class Florida families should be an easy call for Bill Nelson, but he still refuses to take a stance,” said NRSC’s Katie Martin in a statement. “If Bill Nelson lacks the political courage to stand up to Chuck Schumer on tax relief, what exactly can Florida count on him for?”
An Army directive sure to generate controversy
After each mass shooting, cries of more gun control comes from Democrats. Republicans counter that new laws will not solve the problem and more attention must be paid to mental health issues.
An issue that involves both guns and mental health may be developing.
On Monday, USA Today published an exclusive story documenting the U.S. Army’s new guidelines on recruiting. In an unannounced policy change dating back to August, the Army is now considering waivers to the current ban on recruits suffering from mental disorders.
In some cases, waivers can be granted for those suffering from bipolar disorder, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, and those who have a history of mutilating themselves. According to the story, the Army has a recruiting goal of 80,000 new soldiers by September 2018.
“The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available,” said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Randy Taylor in a statement. “These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories.”
Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee will likely invite the civilian leadership to Capitol Hill. With no current Secretary of the Army, acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy will have to suffice. Secretary of Defense James Mattis should also expect a question or two.
If the committees and leadership did know about this, they can expect to hear from constituents.
Sen. Nelson is a member of the Senate committee, while Republican Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy are members of the House committee.
How does Corrine Brown’s sentencing postponement affect her successor?
Former Congresswoman Brown was due to be sentenced this week after being convicted on 18 counts. It has now been pushed back to December 4, which also affects other political calculations in Congressional District 5.
Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee was elected to the seat one year ago after defeating Brown in the Democratic primary. Following her sentencing, another Brown was expected to step up and announce a challenge to Lawson.
Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has been talking to consultants and lining up fundraising strategies in anticipation of an announcement to challenge Lawson in the 2018 primary. At a recent meeting of Duval Democrats, Alvin Brown reportedly said: “The best is yet to come for Duval — you will see my name on the ballot.”
Brown was not specific about which place on the ballot his name would be located, but significant speculation centers on Lawson. He told a prominent Jacksonville Democrat that his plan was to launch a campaign after Corrine Brown was out of the news.
After the sentencing delay, that is not likely to occur until the end of the year. Alvin Brown is a proven fundraiser, while Lawson raised only $32,000 in the third quarter and had $97,000 cash on hand as of September 30.
Despite voters’ awareness of the scandals, Corrine Brown swamped Lawson by a three-to-one margin in the district’s largest county of Duval. Lawson made up the difference in counties west of Jacksonville, where he is far better known than either Corrine or Alvin Brown.
If Brown does choose to challenge Lawson, a January announcement is now more likely.
CNN: Murphy primary race one of 9 to watch in 2018
According to CNN political reporter Gregory Krieg, the first-term Democrat from Winter Park is one of 9 Congressional races to watch in 2018. Krieg is referring to the District 7 Democratic primary.
It is well known that state Rep. Mike Miller and businessman Scott Sturgill are running on the Republican side. Murphy’s primary opponent, former ACLU of Central Florida board president Chardo Richardson, is a long shot but has the backing of a group that pulled off a major upset in California.
“Richardson is seeking to outflank” Murphy,” said Krieg. He pointed to the group Justice Democrats, a progressive organization that helped California Democrat Ro Khanna upset longtime Democratic incumbent Mike Honda for a San Francisco Bay Area seat.
Fundraising figures for the third quarter showed Murphy had raised more than $1 million, spent $300,000, with $700,000 cash on hand. Richardson had raised $12,000, spent $8,000 with $4,000 cash on hand.
While admitting the money gap, Krieg summarized “An upset here would signal a big shift — in the direction of the party’s progressive wing — for Sunshine State Democrats,” Krieg said.
To say the least.
Crist re-election now seems likely
Just weeks after being sworn in 10 months ago, the St. Petersburg Democrat was quickly a target for defeat by the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (NRCC). His narrow victory over David Jolly last November gave the GOP hope they could get the seat back.
One slight problem has developed. No one has signed up to run against Crist, prompting Inside Elections to re-categorize the race from “Tilt Democratic” to “Likely Democratic.”
“This rating change is further proof that Republicans have little credible chance to challenge Congressman Crist and his reelection prospects look better by the day,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesman Cole Leiter. “Frankly, it’s no surprise that there isn’t a single Republican who has stepped up to challenge Congressman Crist. He serves his constituents well and Republicans know their party’s agenda of hiking middle-class taxes and health care costs is too toxic to take on someone with Charlie Crist’s reputation as a fighter for middle-class families.”
Even if a Republican (it’s becoming apparent Jolly won’t seek a rematch) gets into the race, Crist is ready with a war chest totaling more than $1.4 million.
The NRCC’s other Florida target, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, is in a race labeled “Tilt Democratic” by Inside Elections. Murphy, with roughly $700,000 cash on hand has two Republicans, Mike Miller and Jonathan Sturgill, seeking the chance to run against her.
Buchanan urges Trump to “reconsider” decision to exit climate accord
With Syria signing on to the Paris climate accord, the U.S. remains the lone holdout, giving the Sarasota Republican an uneasy feeling. On Monday, he urged President Trump to reconsider his decision to pull the U.S. out of the deal.
“Climate change is a serious threat, especially for a state like Florida that has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters,” Buchanan said. “There is a reason why 196 nations around the globe support this voluntary and nonbinding agreement.”
Those who supported Trump’s decision cited the nonbinding nature of the agreement, which they said left other countries to ignore their pledges. Trump said it would cost American taxpayers $3 trillion and 6.5 million jobs.
Buchanan’s skeptics claim he is getting on the right side with environmentalists because a credible Democratic opponent for 2018 has emerged. Siesta Key attorney David Shapiro, who narrowly lost a state house election, announced a run against Buchanan in October.
Buchanan has the largest war chest among delegation members with $2 million cash on hand as of October 1. Trump won the 16th district by 11 points in 2016.
Bipartisan delegation members seek federal investigation into nursing home deaths
Two South Florida Members of Congress have called on the House Ways and Means Committee to conduct an investigation into the 14 deaths at a Hollywood nursing home following Hurricane Irma. Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson wrote to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, and Ranking Member Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, asking them to probe the actions of Florida officials.
In the letter, posted on a Ros-Lehtinen tweet, Wilson and Ros-Lehtinen cited multiple inspections by the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA). Those inspections often found deficiencies.
“Certainly the problems in this facility and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this tragedy were not unforeseen and could have been prevented,” they wrote.
The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which is a major part of any nursing home.
“This tragedy in Hollywood Hills has shocked our community and our nation and we must take steps to ensure it never happens again,” they continued. “It is critical that we take steps to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”
If Brady, Neal and the committee grant the request, they will be conducting a parallel investigation. At the request of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, the Senate Finance Committee agreed in October to look into the matter.
Paulson’s Politics: Democratic prospects in the 2018 Florida Congressional campaign
Democrats are back!
That’s the message of party leaders based on recent victories in Florida and Democratic gains in the recent election. The recent special election victory of Annette Taddeo over a strong Republican candidate, Jose Felix Diaz, in a state senate race and the victory of Democrat Rick Kriseman over former two-term mayor Rick Baker, has Democrats enthused over their prospects.
As Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel opined on election night: “Democrats just keep winning — grassroots enthusiasm is surging across the state and Florida Democrats are ready to compete in all 67 counties.”
Democrats have every right to be thrilled with recent victories in Florida and across the nation, but they need to be cautious. The recent national victories in Virginia and New Jersey, were in states that are trending blue or have been solidly blue. In other words, the political battlefield was very favorable for Democrats, something that will not happen in 2018.
In addition, one must remember that Democrats have no place to go but up. They have been the minority party in Florida for three decades after controlling Florida for 120 years.
Nationally, the Democrats have not fared well nationally. They are in their worst congressional position since 1946. They control only 15 of the 50 governorships. They control only 31 of the 98 partisan state legislative bodies. During the eight years of the Obama administration, the Democrats lost 970 state legislative seats, leaving them with almost no field team to run for higher office.
The good news for Democrats is that almost all the important political factors indicate that Democrats are in a far better position than Republicans heading into 2018.
The party not holding the White House has lost seats in 36 of the 39 midterm elections since the Civil War. Republican have an advantage over Democrats in the House by about two dozen seats. The question is, can the Democrats flip the 24 seats needed to take control of the House? There is little doubt that Democrats will pick up seats.
President Donald Trump’s approval ratings hover in the mid-30s, a historic low for a president in his first year in office. Democrats need to be aware that Trump’s approval ratings were low in the Republican presidential primaries and against Hillary Clinton, but he managed to defeat a large Republican field, as well as Clinton.
The generic vote has been the best predictor of congressional election results, and the Democrats are leading the generic vote by 11 percent. The generic vote asks voters: If the election were held today, would you vote for the Democrat or the Republican candidate? As Harry Enten of the FiveThirtyEight notes: “Democrats are in a stronger position than any party without control of the House since 1942.”
Democrats are enthused and energized more than at any point since the election of President Obama. They are attracting quality candidates, while many Republicans have already announced they will not seek re-election.
A divided Republican Party, the failure of Republicans to pass any part of their legislative agenda and the growing unpopularity of Trump gives Democrats the opportunity to make major gains in 2918.
But, how many times have Democrats had a great opportunity, but failed to take advantage of it?
Ask Hillary Clinton about that.
NEXT WEEK: Republican prospects in the 2018 Florida Congressional campaign.
Florida Republicans mostly cautious with Roy Moore responses
The Republican nominee for Senate in Alabama has become well-known in Florida and the other 48 states for all of the wrong reasons. While Moore has admitted to dating teenagers while in his early 30s, he has denied the lewd accusations reported by The Washington Post and has threatened to sue the paper.
Condemnation from Democrats is expected, but eyes and ears have been on Republicans to weigh in. While Florida Republicans have been mostly cautious, the last two GOP presidential nominees had plenty to say.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 nominee, said Moore “should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of.”
Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney said “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio did allow for proving Moore guilty saying the “allegations against Mr. Moore are deeply disturbing and, if true, disqualifying.”
On Monday, former governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush weighed in during an interview on CNBC. He sided with McCain and Romney.
“This is not a question of innocence or guilt like in a criminal proceeding, this is a question of what’s right and what’s wrong,” said the two-term Republican governor. “And acknowledging that you’re dating teenagers when you’re 32 years old as assistant state attorney is wrong. It’s just plain wrong.”
More Florida Republicans could start weighing in as the pressure builds. On Monday, another woman came forward to accuse Moore of assaulting her in a locked car when she was 16.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Moore to quit the race. That number should grow in the coming days, especially as polls continue to head in the wrong direction.
Trump’s attempt at Twitter humor puts former Congressman over the top
President Trump is famously, and infamously, known for his propensity to tweet. Some of his more bombastic missives continue to elicit heated responses.
Among his many critics is former GOP Congressman David Jolly of St. Petersburg. Even Trump’s most recent attempt at Twitter humor, where he traded in “rocket man” for a more subtle insult directed at North Korea’s leader did not go over well.
Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017
“Why would Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me ‘old’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe someday that will happen.”
That was it for Jolly, a prolific tweeter in his own right. On Saturday he tweeted during the Miami/Notre Dame game “I know I swore off politics during college football, but this is the first time I’m actually comfortable tweeting #25thAmendmentNow” a hashtag site dedicated to impeaching Trump.
Perhaps Special Counsel Robert Mueller will look into this.