Another round of budget “chicken”? Florida farmers on verge of disaster relief
With the GOP tax cut/reform bill rolling toward a pre-Christmas enactment, other issues remain to be addressed. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the disaster aid bill (panned by the Florida and Texas delegations) are just two must-pass items.
Lest we forget, the government (again) runs out of spending authority on Friday night. The exercise has become all-too-common during the era of the national debt climbing trillion-by-trillion.
Politics always comes into play in what turns out to be a game of chicken. When Barack Obama was president, Democrats wanted clean spending bills while Republicans sought offsets.
The GOP seemingly always wound up as the loser in the games of political brinkmanship. Recently, they had simply nodded “yes” when more spending authority came before them.
As the latest showdown looms, House Republicans seem to be on a path of re-engaging. Their strategy is fraught with peril.
According to The Hill, the GOP is set to pass a spending bill they are almost certain will be rejected by the Senate. They propose to fully fund military spending for a year while subsidizing the rest of the government for only another month.
House Speaker Paul Ryan knows he is dealing with a large herd of Republican cats on this issue. Rounding them up is always a challenge, but this time the stakes are higher than ever. Depending on what the Senate does, some difficult options remain.
“If the Senate sends back a clean CR, you’d lose some Republican votes. You presumably would get some Democratic votes,” said Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole, the chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee. “But you’re not going to be able to make that call until we go through the motions.”
The dreaded words “government shutdown” are again beginning to make their way onto the pages of talking points for both sides. House Republicans are already set to turn on their colleagues in the Senate if all of this goes south.
“It’s not all worked out. As usual, it all hinges on the Senate,” said GOP Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, on Thursday. “They goofed up health care. We’ve had 12 appropriations bills over there for 90 days, and now they’re not ready to go on this. We’re just waiting on, what are they going to do?”
Whether or not one agrees with House Republicans’ strategy, they are doing some good things. On Monday, they unveiled an $81 billion disaster relief package, up from the $44 million proposed by the Trump Administration.
Included in the funding is $26 billion in block grants to states like Florida and Texas, as well as for Puerto Rico, to help in the ongoing recovery. The Florida delegation has pushed hard for dramatic assistance for citrus farmers.
“It’s a big win for Florida’s agriculture,” said Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney.
Will it get caught up in the last minute budget drama? Stay tuned.
Nelson calls for Congress to restore net neutrality
The three-term Democrat has routinely been among the most vocal in demanding the Federal Communications Commission not overturn Obama-era net neutrality rules. It was all in vain as the FCC voted 3-2 to return the internet to pre-2015 rules.
“The Republican-led FCC turned its back on consumers today,” Nelson said in a video statement. “By voting to give internet providers the ability to decide what websites their customers see, how fast they see them, and how much they are going to have to pay for access, the FCC just ended the internet as we know it.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai took issue with Nelson’s characterization.
“This is not going to end the internet as we know it,” he said. “It is not going to kill democracy, and it’s not going to stifle free expression online. We are helping consumers and promoting competition.”
A movement led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, is maneuvering to force a vote in the Senate designed to overturn the FCC decision. He has Nelson’s support.
“Congress needs to fix the mess the FCC has now created with a lasting solution that will fully protect consumers and preserve the FCC’s authority,” Nelson said.
A few among delegation Democrats joined Nelson in decrying the FCC’s action. Among those was St. Petersburg’s Charlie Crist, who described the entire process as “deeply flawed” and joined Nelson in the call for Congress to pass legislation “putting the people first and preserving net neutrality.”
Rubio relishes CTC victory; hometown paper — not so much
For those who haven’t heard, the GOP tax bill is poised to pass both houses of Congress this week. For a brief period, Florida’s junior senator was a “no” vote unless an increase in the Child Tax Credit (CTC) was fortified in the final bill.
House and Senate negotiators got the message, sweetened the pot, and Rubio indicated he would vote for the measure.
“The increased Child Tax Credit, along with the strong pro-growth, pro-American jobs provisions already contained in the legislation, makes me an enthusiastic YES vote for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” he tweeted.
He thanked Senate Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Tim Scott of South Carolina, as well as Ivanka Trump for backing the effort.
His hometown paper, the Miami Herald, is giving him some credit but is convinced he will now be voting for a lousy bill.
While commending him for his stance on the CTC, the Herald wrote: “it was a safe bet that he would get at least some of what he was demanding and look heroic while not standing in the way of a tax plan poised to bring immeasurable harm to working — and middle-class Americans anyway.”
Short-lived hysteria grips Capitol Hill on Mueller pre-Christmas firing rumors
Over the weekend, the political world was abuzz that President Donald Trump would be firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigation Russian interference in the 2016 election. California Democrat Jackie Speier said she was hearing rumors to that effect.
If Speier intended to gin up attention for the Sunday shows, it worked. She is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
President Obama’s ethics czar, Walter Schaub, was stocking up on “gear needed for when we take the streets.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted that firing Mueller would cross an “ABSOLUTE RED LINE” that calls for “mass popular, peaceful” demonstrations.
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has long warned Trump not to fire Mueller, whose investigation is coming under scrutiny for bias among some of its members.
“When my colleagues refer to the special counsel’s investigation as a ‘coup d’etat,’ it really undermines the rule of law in this country,” he said. “They ought to be careful, they ought to stop it, and they ought to let this investigation proceed for the benefit of the American people.”
On Sunday night, someone got around to asking Trump if he was planning on firing Mueller.
“No, I’m not,” he said before pointing toward another controversy surrounding the way Mueller obtained thousands of emails from the Trump Transition.
GOP tax bill includes incentives for Florida farmers
The hurricane aid package has almost nothing for Florida agriculture, but the GOP tax bill lends a hand to Florida farmers reeling from Hurricane Irma and the deadly citrus greening disease. The bill, expected to pass this week, includes a provision inserted by Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, co-chair of the delegation.
The measure, co-sponsored by every member of the Florida Congressional delegation, provides tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace damaged trees. It will allow those farmers to tap investors to raise capital for replanting crops instead of bearing the full cost alone, as current law requires for the tax break.
“Immediate tax relief is crucial to help Florida citrus growers rebuild and get back on their feet,” Buchanan said. “I’m pleased that my bill to help farmers recover from Hurricane Irma has been included in this key legislation.”
While citrus greening has devastated citrus farmers over the past decade in Florida, the Lakeland Ledger reported that in August, an industry consultant’s new estimates for the 2018 crop ran 10 percent above production for 2017. These figures, measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, marked the first upswing in output in five years.
Then came Hurricane Irma, which Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam calls “a major calamity” for Florida citrus farmers.
Buchanan’s legislation is included in Section 13207 of the final “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” conference report — the product of negotiations between a joint House-Senate conference committee.
In addition to Governor candidates, Graham trolls outspoken Mueller critics
Former Congresswoman and current Democratic candidate for Governor Gwen Graham is looking to make some political hay regarding the Russian collusion investigation going on in Congress. Among her delegation targets are Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis.
Both have advocated looking deeply into the conduct of the FBI in both the current investigation and the one conducted on Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016. Gaetz supports the removal of special counsel Mueller.
Graham tweeted Gaetz asking him “what are you so afraid of Mueller uncovering? Calls to fire him undermine the fundamental rule of law.”
Not long after, Gaetz engaged.
“Gwen, your opinion on the subject could have really mattered,” he said on Twitter. “But then you left Congress after one term to pursue higher office … I’m gonna stick around awhile and fight.”
Graham decided to not seek another term after redistricting left Congressional District 2 with a more significant Republican majority.
In a release, Graham said: “DeSantis, who is presumed by many to lead the president’s personal primary, recently flew with Trump to support Roy Moore in Pensacola.”
Dunn lauds training range funding in ‘must pass’ bill
The first-term Republican from Panama City is touting $30 million in defense funding affecting his district. The funds will accelerate improvements to the military training range in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Dunn introduced the amendment providing the funding, which was approved in July. Now it is attached to the legislation under development that would keep the government open past December 22.
“The Gulf Range is a one of a kind treasure that provides our military with a robust training area,” Dunn said in a release. “Nowhere else in the country does our military have the ability and area to carry out testing of state-of-the-art offensive technology. This important funding will ensure that upgrades are made to the Gulf Range promptly, further strengthening our military and national defense.”
The purpose of the funding is to improve test and training data collection on 5th and 6th generation weapons systems in the Joint Gulf Range Complex. According to Dunn, the lack of adequate instrumentation along Florida’s mid and Southern Gulf Coast restricts many missions to the northern portion of the range.
The 96th Test Wing, based at Eglin Air Force Base, estimates that 80 missions annually are not conducted because of airspace and infrastructure congestion.
Rutherford seeks answers from VA over doctor hiring practices
Following a recent investigation from USA Today on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hiring and retaining medical providers who are unfit or not legally authorize to serve, the Jacksonville Republican led a bipartisan congressional letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin requesting information on how the Department oversees and hires its health professionals. Current law prohibits the VA from hiring providers who have had their license revoked in any state, yet reports show the hiring of doctors with histories of malpractice and sexual misconduct.
“The hiring of doctors who have had their medical licenses revoked in any state is already prohibited, and clinical hires must be cleared through professional standards boards,” the letter stated. “However, it appears the laws and regulations establishing that prohibition are not being followed by VA medical facilities.”
Further, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report this month showing that the VA failed to report 90 percent of problematic providers to their national database designed to prevent doctors found guilty of malpractice from crossing state lines.
“I am appalled that the VA has hired felons, sexual predators, and medical providers with revoked licensures,” Rutherford said. “Not only does this malfeasance put our veterans in serious medical danger, but this astonishing mismanagement of the vetting process subjects veterans to pain and harm that is completely unacceptable.”
Among the letter’s 30 signees are Florida Republicans Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Neal Dunn of Panama City, and Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist also joined.
Soto, Mast seek to fund estuary protection
The two Florida lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Ryan urging continued full funding for Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Estuary Program and the South Florida Geographic Initiative. Soto, an Orlando Democrat, and Mast, a Palm City Republican, stressed the importance of their request in the letter to Ryan.
“Florida’s residents, and the millions of visitors to the state each year, depend on these programs to preserve and clean vulnerable watersheds. Investments in protecting these environments are critical to the health and economy of Florida,” states the letter. “Preserving our environment is not a partisan issue. These programs protect the health and prosperity of all Floridians.”
The National Estuary Program helps clean vulnerable watersheds, while the South Florida Geographic Initiative provides monitoring of potentially hazardous substances that could damage the state’s waters and marine life.
Frankel not accepting Gowdy’s refusal to investigate Trump
The Democrat from West Palm Beach and several of her female colleagues in the House of Representatives want an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Trump. Frankel and the Democratic Women’s Working Group expressed their dissatisfaction when House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Chairman Trey Gowdy declined their request.
Gowdy, a former prosecutor, responded by pointing to the fact “the specific allegations set forth in your letter constitute crimes,” he wrote. “This committee, nor any other committee of Congress does not, and cannot, prosecute crimes.
Frankel was unimpressed and fired back at Gowdy.
“Our request did not ask for a prosecution, but rather an investigation into serious allegations of sexual abuse by Donald Trump,” she wrote in response. Frankel and her co-signers, Michigan Democrat Brenda Lawrence and California Democrat Jackie Speier, mentioned prior investigations conducted by the committee.
Included among those were the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton, the Fast and Furious inquiry into “gun-walking” allegations, and the investigation into the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
“Importantly, OGR has investigated serious allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and rape at multiple federal agencies,” the letter continued. “We urge you to reconsider our request and await your response.”
Gowdy must not be in a mood for more investigations. On Monday, he declined a request from Trump’s transition lawyers to investigate the manner in which special counsel Mueller obtained transition emails last week.
“These are issues to be briefed by the parties (or others with cognizable legal claims and standing) and decided by the court — not Congress,” said Gowdy’s spokesperson.
This would appear to close the door on Gowdy changing his mind on Frankel’s request.
Wasserman Schultz makes endorsement in CD 26 race.
The Democrat from Weston is supporting fellow Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in her campaign for Florida’s 26th Congressional District. Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo currently holds the seat.
“I am proud to endorse Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in her campaign for Congress,” said the former Democratic National Committee chair Sunday afternoon in a statement from the Mucarsel-Powell campaign. “Debbie has spent her career working to expand health care access to underserved communities in Miami. From fighting climate change to building an economy that puts the people first, Debbie has a bold vision for our future and will be a strong voice on behalf of the South Florida community.”
CD 26 runs from Miami to Key West. Curbelo has held the seat since he defeated one-term Democratic incumbent Joe Garcia in 2014. While Democrats have long considered CD 26 one of the ripest seats to convert from red to blue in 2018, Curbelo is raising significant funds to keep his place.
Through September 30, Curbelo had raised more than $1.7 million, ranking him 21st nationally, and had
$1.3 million cash on hand. Mucarsel-Powell reported raising $177,048 in her first quarter of fundraising and reported $161,762 cash on hand.
Ros-Lehtinen’s bill to aid Jordan’s ISIS fight heads to floor
The Miami Republican is making progress on a push to help a key U.S. ally in the Middle East get the upper hand on ISIS. Ros-Lehtinen has seen her legislation, the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act, head to the House floor for final passage.
The bill was launched in May and gained 11 co-sponsors. The first to join was Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. Late last week, it cleared the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
If enacted, the bill continues to make Jordan eligible for weapons support from the U.S. and increased military cooperation between the two nations. A similar bill in 2015, launched in the Senate by Republican Rubio, had similar goals along with helping Jordan handle the tremendous influx of Syrian refugees.
“On the front lines in the fight against terror and other regional crises, Jordan is one of our closest and most important partners in the Middle East,” she said on Thursday. “A key contributor to the anti-ISIS coalition, Jordan has also taken in over one million refugees from Syria and other neighboring countries, putting a significant strain on the kingdom’s economy, public services, infrastructure, and social cohesion.”
Ros-Lehtinen is the chairman emeritus of the committee and currently chairs the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. Deutch is the subcommittee’s ranking member.
Floridian named general counsel at EPA
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Matt Leopold as general counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency. Since 2015 Leopold has practiced law with the Tallahassee office of Carlton Fields focusing on environmental, energy and water law.
He previously served general counsel for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and also served with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
“Matt Leopold has tremendous experience in environmental litigation and is committed to the rule of law,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “I want to thank Leader (Mitch) McConnell and (Environment and Public Works Committee) Chairman (Tom) Barrasso for their assistance in ensuring Mr. Leopold’s confirmation, and I look forward to working with Matt to maintain the integrity and lawfulness of the Agency.”
Leopold holds and Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and earned his law degree from the Florida State University College of Law.
“Matt Leopold is superbly qualified to serve as General Counsel for the EPA,” said Carlton Fields President and CEO Gary L. Sasso. “He is an intelligent, thoughtful, and talented attorney with deep expertise from his service to the State of Florida and the Department of Justice. He has been an incredible asset to our clients, and we are sorry to give him up, but we are gratified that he will return to public service in this distinguished capacity. We wish him the very best.”
From the staff at Extensive Enterprises Media, merry Christmas and happy holidays. We will resume publishing with the next issue of The Delegation on January 3.