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Mitch Perry Report for 12.16.16 – Friday follies

Good morning to you all on this, the last Friday MPR I’ll be filing in 2016 …

Good news for those of us on the Affordable Care Act: While the GOP-led House of Representative promise to repeal the ACA within the first 100 days of the Trump administration, the date that the provisions of the act will be delayed, according to a report in today’s New York Times, by as “short as two years or as long as three or four years.”

The GOP always said it would repeal and replace — they just didn’t say how long it would take.

With just three days left before members of the Electoral College vote for president, time is running out for those Democratic electors who want Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to brief them on the latest news about the Russian email hack.

Ain’t going to happen, obviously, and that’s the way it should be, says Florida Senator Bill Nelson. At a news conference in Tampa yesterday, he said, “They’re going to have to go on and do their constitutional duty, regardless of them being able to be briefed on intelligence matters. Just to be able to receive classified information, a person has to go thru an extreme vetting process to make sure that there’s nothing in their background that would then compromise that information in the future. That’s simply not going to happen between now and next Monday.”

Matt Drudge has a link to a Daily Caller story this morning regarding the fact that six Hispanic surnames were among the top 15 common last names in 2010, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Deal with it, America — the country is getting browner by the day.

Keith Ellison, a leading candidate to run the Democratic National Committee next year, is throwing his support behind real estate mogul Stephen Bittel in next week’s race for Miami-Dade County party chair, Patricia Mazzei reports in the Miami Herald.

Speaking of Bittel, though he says he’s trying to be low-key about it all, the above mentioned Senator Nelson seems dead set behind Bittel taking over the Florida Democratic Party next year as well. 

In other news.

Nelson and Kathy Castor reacted with strong rhetoric yesterday regarding the reported Russian intrusion into hacking DNC emails.

Will St. Pete Pride move from the Grand Central District to downtown St. Pete?

Deb Tamargo and Jonny Torres are in a torrid contest to see who leads the Hillsborough County Republican Party over the next two years.

And in Tampa yesterday, union activists say its time for Wal-Mart to start having to pay for all of those calls for service to the police.

In Tampa, Bill Nelson calls Russia hack on DNC email server “closer to an act of war”

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson on Thursday called the Russian hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s email system an unprecedented outrage that is “closer and closer to an act of war.”

Speaking to reporters at his Tampa district office, the Florida Democrat made his most outspoken comments about the continuing to evolve story, which a new level of attention last Friday, when the Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.

“Not only is this an outrage, this is unprecedented. This is crossing the line, closer and closer to an act of war,” Nelson said, adding that hacking information to influence an election is damaging to the integrity of an election.

“I think there’s going to be serious ramifications of this, regardless of where you hear that different people in the intelligence community have differing opinions,” he said. “Listen: When there is a high consensus of high confidence, that’s the highest level of acceptance of intelligence. And that consensus is out of the CIA? I believe it.”

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor was also condemning the hacking into the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email server account on Thursday.

“The United States must hold Russia accountable for cyberattacks against our country, our electoral system and the private intellectual property of American businesses,” she said in a statement. “These Russian cyberattacks were not a move against any one party, they were a move against our nation and all Americans. The United States also should consider broader sanctions against the Russian government following a robust, bipartisan investigation to confirm the extent and identities of responsible individuals, including Vladimir Putin himself. “

Castor also lashed out at President-elect Trump’s laissez faire attitude towards the Russians in this story. “President-Elect Trump should reassess his knowledge and rhetoric towards Russia and be more circumspect in maintaining the dignity of the office upon which he is about to enter,” she said. “America must stand strong and not capitulate to Russia and President Putin and their often malicious ends.”

At his press conference, Nelson was asked by this reporter if any of Trump’s selections to his Cabinet gave him pause. Nelson referred to Arizona Senator John McCain’s concerns, but not his own.

“You take John McCain – he’s got some serious problems so we want to see what through the examination of the testimony to what degree does his friendship and past business dealings with Russia and Putin how would that possibly affect him in representing the national securith of this interests as Secretary of State, and I look forward to that inquiry.”

There are now at least 54 of the 232 Democratic presidential electors who are now calling on national intelligence director James Clapper to authorize a briefing ahead of the Electoral College’s meeting on Dec. 19 to elect the next president. Only one Republican — Texas’ Chris Suprun — has joined their call.

Nelson said it wasn’t going to happen, and that it shouldn’t happen.

The electors are not going to be granted access to the deepest secrets of this country,” he summarily stated on Thursday. “They’re going to have to go on and do their constitutional duty, regardless of them being able to be briefed on intelligence matters. Just to be able to receive classified information, a person has to go thru an extreme vetting process to make sure that there’s nothing in their background that would then compromise that information in the future. That’s simply not going to happen between now and next Monday.”

Bill Nelson lauds Florida Democratic Party chair contender Stephen Bittel

Controversy continues to swirl around the selection process to determine who is eligible to run next month for the job of Florida Democratic Party chair,

Sen. Bill Nelson is now weighing in with his most effusive comments to date about Stephen Bittelthe Coconut Grove real-estate magnate and major political donor seeking to become the next chairman of the FDP.

Bittel is slated to face former state Sen. Dwight Bullard for a position in the Miami-Dade Democratic Party next Tuesday, with the winner expected to run for the party chair position made vacant after Allison Tant announced she would not run for another term last month.

There has been an uprising among some Democrats, however, who contend that the system is being rigged to allow him to be eligible for the position.

To run for FDP chair, one has to be an Executive Committee member of a county DEC.  To qualify for that, one must be a precinct captain.

Bittel was one of more than 100 people formerly sworn in as a member of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee last week, but critics contend that there was not a quorum present, and thus not binding.

Business consultant Bret Berlin was voted to be a state committeeman at the same event. However, Berlin then stepped down from his position, making it possible for Bittel to run for his seat and subsequently for FDP Chair, and leading to more not so wild conspiracy theories.

Many Democrats smell something nefarious in the machinations. Officers with the Brevard County DEC are requesting that the FDP launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding that Miami-Dade DEC reorganization meeting held last week.

“Based on reports in POLITICO and the Miami Herald, and first-hand accounts from fellow Party members in Miami-Dade, we believe there is reason to suspect rules violations that may inhibit our Party’s ability to fairly elect a Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair who truly represents the people of Florida, and may instead lead to the backdoor ascendancy of a big-money candidate for the office,” reads a letter sent to Tant by Brevard County officials.

There has been speculation that Nelson is backing Bittel for the party chair position.

During a news conference Thursday at his Tampa district office, Nelson was asked about this by FloridaPolitics.com.

“I have kept a low profile,” Nelson said. “Because I do not want to inject any thought that I am trying to strong-arm anybody, which I am not.”

He then continued by saying Bittel is now eligible to run for chairman.

“Having said that, it’s time for us to get a very professionally run Democratic Party that has a chance of standing up against a very organized and very well-funded Republican Party,” Nelson added. “As we go into this next cycle in electing a governor, a state cabinet as well as my position in the Senate. Not even to speak of all the other offices that are more local and district in nature.”

“I think Stephen Bittle would bring that type of professionalism to the organization,” Nelson concluded, making it pretty clear who the senator thinks he should run the party moving forward.

Bill Nelson warning about cyber attack vulnerability of toys

A number of popular internet-connected toys including children’s tablets, a talking stuffed bear and smart watches are vulnerable to hacking that could expose information about the child and the parents’ credit cards, according to a new cautionary report released Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Nelson’s report, “Children’s Connected Toys: Data Security and Privacy Concerns,” which he produced as ranking member of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, reports that a toy tablet maker already has been hacked and other popular smart toy products’  companies appear to have similar vulnerabilities.

The late 2015 hack was at VTech Electronics, a leading manufacturer of electronic learning toys and baby monitors, reportedly expensing the personal information of more than six million children around the globe, including their names, genders and birthdates, as well as photographs and account passwords.

Nelson’s report also specifically cites  security flaws found in two other popular children’s toys – Fisher-Price’s Smart Toy Bear and hereO’s GPS watch – which could have exposed not only a child’s personal information, but in the case of the GPS watch, a child’s real-time physical location as well.

A hereO spokesman responded that the vulnerability the senator’s report referenced has been fixed, and that there no longer is any risk associated with the watches.

Nelson’s point was one of caution regardless.

“It’s frightening to think that our children’s toys can be used against them in this way,” Nelson, the Florida Democrat, stated in a press release Wednesday. “The companies that make these toys have to do more to safeguard the parents and children who use them.”

The report warns that there appears to be an increased in hacker activity targeting children, despite heightened federal law to protect children’s  privacy.

“A number of factors make children a particularly attractive target for identity thieves,” the report states. “A child’s identity is a “blank slate” that can be fraudulently used over a long period of time without detection. Parents generally do not monitor their children’s credit histories and thus may not know for years that an identity thief has victimized their child. Personal information about children may also be more readily available as children and parents often fail to appreciate the potential consequences of sharing this information through social media or connected toys and devices.”

Speaking for hereO, Matt de Leon of Van Communications in London said the concerns were initially raised by a watchdog group and addressed by the company a year ago, before any of the watches has been sold, and that the company not only considers a child’s safety paramount – the very reason for the products – it continues to take steps to make sure the watches are safe.

“Since addressing the issue, we’ve been working with two world-leading cyber security firms who carry out random penetration tests of the hereO watch, smartphone app and systems to ensure there will never, ever be privacy concerns or a situation where a child is put at risk,” de Leon wrote.

Nelson cautioned parents to consider the risks during the holiday season. According to the report, various internet-connected toys have been shown to collect and thereby put at risk a variety of information, including:

* a child’s name, birthdate, gender, profile picture, chat messages, call logs and internet history;

* parents’  email address, gender, profile picture, chat messages, credit card information, phone umber, wifi password and IP address.

Nelson’s report said other companies’ products also appear to be vulnerable.

He cautioned that, if possible, parents buying any smart toy should learn in advance what personal information the toy will collect, how that information will be used, whether it will be shared with others outside the toy manufacturer, and how long it will be retained. This information can usually be found in the toy’s privacy policy, the long, small-print legal statement many consumers typically ignore.

Parents, Nelson urged, also should change default passwords that come with toys and install any available software updates; and change, if possible, the toy’s default privacy settings to limit the amount of personal information it provides to the manufacturer, allowing only information necessary for the toy to function.

 

Senate passes NASA bill too late, but offers statement of Congress priorities

When the U.S. Senate passed a quadrennial NASA Authorization bill Saturday it was too late for it ever to get adopted, since the House of Representatives already had adjourned for the session, but the bipartisan bill with bi-cameral input was intended as a message to the Donald Trump White House about Congress’s priorities for NASA.

The bill made it clear that Congress – at least those who made up the legislature for the now-ended 114th Congress – wants continuity over the next few years for key space agency programs, notably those aimed at getting humans into deep space. That means continued progress on developing the Space Launch System deep-space rocket, the Orion deep-space astronaut capsule, and several other deep-space projects, including a satellite visit to the Jovian moon Europa.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act, Senate Bill 3346, on Saturday, which would have authorized $19.6 billion for NASA in 2017. The bill had been sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who chairs  Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Florida’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, were among eight co-sponsors.

“I am proud to have worked with my colleagues in introducing this bill, and look forward to advancing our nation’s space program in the next Congress,” Rubio stated afterwards.

With this bill, he and the 114th Congress left a priorities list for the 115th and for Trump, who has not spelled out much of his space policy yet.

Among them:

* Continued progress in developing the SLS rocket and Orion, keeping NASA shooting for an unmanned launch of the pair in late 2018, and a crewed launch to go around the moon in 2021. In addition, the bill pushes for a “heavy lift” version of the SLS rocket, which would use addition rocket boosters, essentially from the space shuttle program, to give the rocket the ability to send very big items into deep space.

The bill says Congress wants a strategic plan out of NASA by the end of 2017 explaining how it intends to get humans onto Mars by the 2030s.

* Eventually, the bill states, NASA needs to look at longterm goals  to create a permanent human presence beyond lower-Earth orbit, even a “peaceful settlement of a location in space or another celestial body,” according to a committee report filed by U.S. Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican.

Consequently, the bill had proposed increasing funding 12 percent for NASA’s space exploration directorate, while making trims elsewhere in the space agency’s budget, notably in NASA’s Earth science programs.

Naturally, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a lobbying group that represents many of the interests and corporations involved in developing the SLS, Orion and other deep space programs, expressed strong support.

“There is no clearer signal of the continued Congressional support for NASA’s human exploration and deep space science programs than the Senate’s passage of the NASA Transition Authorization Act,” Mary Lynne Dittmar, the coalition’s executive director, stated in a news release Monday. “This bill is the product of hard work by Senators Thune, Nelson, Cruz and [Michigan’s Democrat Gary] Peters, as well as the full Commerce & Transportation Committee and their staff, and their work to pass this bill before the 114th Congress adjourns shows their commitment to NASA and ensuring continued progress on NASA’s core exploration capabilities.”

* Continued development of the James Webb  Space Telescope, NASA’s planned but over-budget and behind-schedule replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope.

* Continued support of the International Space Station through the year 2024.

* Continued support of NASA’s commercial resupply program, which has SpaceX, Orbital ATK and soon Sierra Nevada Corp. running delivery services to the space station. And continued support of NASA’s commercial crew program, which is to soon have SpaceX and Boeing running a taxi service for astronauts headed to and from the space station.

* Continued support for the 2020 Mars Rover mission, and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, a planned space observatory that would be used to delve into deep physics questions.

* Continued support for NASA to continue transforming Kennedy Space Center and the space agency’s launch center in Virginia into multi-user space ports open to private companies’ launches and landings.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio applaud NIH funding bill passage; Moffitt money preserved

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson both applauded passage Wednesday by the U.S. Senate of a bill that heads off potential cuts in cancer research at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Senate approved H.R. 34, entitled the “21st Century Cures Act,” by a 94-5 vote Wednesday. The House of Representatives approved it earlier.

“This bill makes a lot of improvements to our nation’s medical research programs, but the most important thing it provides is hope — hope for patients affected by thousands of diseases, hope for people battling mental illness, and hope for families scarred by the ravages of opioid addiction,” Rubio stated in a news release issued by his office. “This legislation combines some of the best ideas for advancing medical treatment and research, speeding up the development of lifesaving drugs, and reforming our mental health system. It also funds the fight against the heroin epidemic and overdoses sweeping through far too many communities in Florida and around the country.”

The bill provides the National Institutes of Health an additional $4.8 billion over the next ten years.

“This funding will help us retain some of the nation’s best and brightest medical researchers and allow them to continue working on several important projects such as cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s,” Nelson stated in a news release from his office.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.7.16 – The Hillsborough County DEC melts down

“Image is everything” that great philosopher, Andre Agassi, once said in a series of television ads for Canon in the early 1990’s.

Though a bit of an exaggeration, there’s no question that the image of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee has taken a significant body blow following its reorganization meeting on Monday night.

To recap: Party Chair Ione Townsend concluded that the party’s by-laws precluded Democrats elected to nonpartisan positions from voting in the local DEC elections. The upshot was that the local party, in effect, “disenfranchised” some of the most prominent Democrats in the county – specifically five members of the Tampa City Council and two Hillsborough County School Board members, who did not take their banishment very calmly, let’s say.

Why would there even be by-laws that would do so? Allegedly it’s because nonpartisan officers, unlike Hillsborough County DEC members, don’t have to take a “loyalty oath,” which means not endorsing Republicans in partisan races. As was mentioned the other night, not every Democrat who wanted to vote in the election could say that (specifically Frank Reddick, who endorsed Republican Shawn Harrison over his former colleague, Lisa Montelione, in the recent House District 63 race).

I would argue that one of the reasons why people are turned off by political parties (and they are) is because one is forced to sign a “loyalty oath,” but that’s just my opinion.

A couple of other thoughts from the meeting.

Although I’d hardly call members of either the Hillsborough County School Board or Tampa City Council “elite,” (none make more than $41,000 annually), that’s apparently the perception of some of the members of the Hillsborough DEC, which had no qualms at all putting these elected officials in their place for having the temerity to question how their Democratic Party bonafides could be questioned.

And let’s not forget the anti-Alan Clendenin factor. In my reporting on his attempt to defeat the Debbie Wasserman Schultz/Bill Nelson establishment pick of Allison Tant to lead the Democrats to the promised land in the January of 2013 election, I learned that there were definitely some local folks who wanted to bring down Clendenin, a longtime Democrat who has been a committeeman at the Democratic National Committee, a local committeeman in Hillsborough County, and was given the (token) title of Florida Democratic Party Vice Chair after his loss to Tant.

There definitely seemed to be some of that same scent in the air for those who supported Hillsborough County DEC Chair’s decision to challenge the current by-laws regarding whether Democrats from nonpartisan races should be prohibited in voting in certain locations. The conventional wisdom is that all seven of those Democratic officials who attended Monday night’s meeting were pro-Clendenin votes. He ultimately lost by 12 votes to Russ Patterson, so technically the decision to ban them from not voting didn’t cost Clendenin the election to committeeman, which could have put him in position to run for state chair again last month.

Can you imagine if the margin had been by six votes or less?

Frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot of noble behavior on the part of Democrats regardless of where they stood on the issue on Monday night. The fact that the meeting was held at the Letter Carriers Union is proof that after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the electoral college last month, Democrats around here appear ready to want to participate more than ever in the process. But events like Monday night are why people don’t get involved – when it seems to be about personalities, or by-laws, instead of inclusion and changing policies.

In other news….

Luis Viera has defeated Jim Davison by just 65 votes in the special Tampa City Council District 7 run-off election last night.

Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan is warning President Obama not to pardon U.S. Army veteran Bowe Bergdahl before he leaves office next month.

Newly elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren has made his two first personnel selections to join his administration next year, including nabbing former HD 59 candidate Rena Frazier to be his communications chief.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is checking in with his constituents about his ambitious plans to have a streetcar run from Miami to Miami Beach.

 

Joe Henderson: Donald Trump ‘saves’ Indiana jobs; Eric Newman asks ‘why not us?’

Eric Newman read news reports of the fight by incoming president Donald Trump to keep the Carrier air conditioning company from moving jobs to Mexico and thought, hey, why not us?

Newman owns the J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Tampa and has been fighting the Food and Drug Administration over regulations that Newman says could put his 121-year-old operation out of business.

So when this lifelong Democrat saw what Trump was doing to save jobs in Indiana, he described himself as “cautiously optimistic.”

“If President Trump is true to his word that overregulation is killing small businesses, we are the poster child for that,” Newman said. “It’s still way too early to tell if he can help us, but I feel better about it now.”

At its peak, Tampa was home to about 150 cigar-making companies, but Newman’s is the last such operation in the city. Other companies folded under increased regulatory pressure by the FDA and health concerns about tobacco use.

But, Newman has always argued that cigars are different from cigarettes and shouldn’t be held in the same category as a cancer risk.

“You go outside an office building, and you’ll see people huddled around smoking cigarettes,” he said. “You don’t see them smoking cigars. It’s not the same thing.”

You can’t blame Newman for feeling his government is out to get him, though. In addition to stringent new FDA rules that restrict the development of new product lines, Newman pointed to an executive order by President Obama that benefited Cuban cigar-makers.

The order allows travelers to bring all the Cuban cigars they want into the United States for personal consumption. Those cigars aren’t subject to the same regulations faced by Newman’s company.

“I have no problem competing with Cuban cigars on an equal footing,” Newman said. “But this exemption by President Obama gives such an advantage to the Cuban worker while screwing the American worker.

“We’re not looking for a handout. But one federal agency says cigars are bad for you, while another federal agency – in this case, the president – says it’s OK to bring in all the Cuban cigars you want. This whole thing with Cuba is just wacky.”

There have been attempts in Congress to address this issue, but despite bipartisan support from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, they haven’t gotten anywhere.

However, as Newman pointed out, “There will be a new sheriff in town.”

The Trump administration likely will mean an overhaul at the FDA and that gives Newman hope that the added fees and testing requirements that he says drives up his cost dramatically will be reduced or eliminated.

“It is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be screw the people.”

Alan Clendenin says he’s undecided on whether to run for Florida Democratic Party Chair

In January of 2013, DNC and Florida State Committeeman Alan Clendenin lost out to Allison Tant in an intensely fought contest to lead the Florida Democratic Party.

When Tant announced two weeks ago that she would not run again for party chair in 2017, a bevy of names were floated as possible candidates to succeed her. One of them was Clendenin, but as of now, he has yet to commit to the race.

“I  am still talking to folks and observing,” Clendenin told FloridaPolitics in an email on Tuesday. “I’ll make a decision before the end of December. Right now there is a lot of upheaval and of course people are manipulating and attempting to rig the election.”

He didn’t elaborate in his email, but he did address his feelings about Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s  involvement in his FDP election bid against Tant while addressing an overflow crowd of (many new) members at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting on Monday night.

“I was the first one to experience what Bernie felt,” he said, referring to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders contention that the Wasserman Schultz and the DNC had “rigged” the nomination for Hillary Clinton, a contention that appeared to be vindicated with the disclosure in July by WikiLeaks of thousands of DNC emails that prompted Wasserman Schultz to resign here position (though she continues to insist she didm’t rig anything).

Tant defeated Clendenin by just 80 votes, 587-507, in January of 2013. Tant received strong support from Wasserman Schultz, who recruited her to run for the position.

The tension from that vote between Clendenin and Wasserman Schultz never subsided from that election. Although a Clinton supporter, Clendenin sided with both Sanders and Martin O’Malley in criticizing the debate schedule Wasserman Schultz put together for the Democratic nominees for president in  the fall of 2015/winter 2016.

Tant was also supported by Senator Bill Nelson, who Clendenin said on Monday remains the “biggest influencer” in determining who the next DEC chair will be.

The Democratic National Committee is also searching for a new leader, with that election scheduled for February. But speaking to the Hillsborough Democrats on Monday night, Clendenin said, “If we don’t get our sh*t together at the local level and the state level, we are not going to do anything. Rather than focusing on what’s happening up there, let’s get our ducks in a row, talk to your friends and neighbors, and get them actively involved.”

“The power lies with the people in this room,” Clendenin added. “Things can only happen when people allow it to happen. If we stand up and pay attention, keep your eye on the ball, keep up that public pressure, it will work.”

In addition to Clendenin, there a number of other Democrats being mentioned as potential candidates to succeed Tant, including former state senator Dwight Bullard, Annette Taddeo, Dan Gelber and Ed Narain.

Although observers have noted that the bylaws state that only a state committee man or woman or party chair can be eligible to run for FDP chair, others say that those laws can  be “finessed” to make that happen (others prefer the term “rigged”). Bullard, who lost a bid for re-election earlier this month, is now running to be chair of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party on December 6. If he were to win, he would be eligible for the chair position in January.

 

PROMESA task force seeking to rescue Puerto Rico, but pain will come too, Bill Nelson says

Meeting with a bipartisan roundtable of Puerto Rican leaders in Kissimmee Tuesday, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson expressed both hope that current Puerto Rico “rescue” plans being developed will help, and concern that not all the details they want can be delivered.

Nelson, Congressman-elect Darren Soto and Osceola County Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer met with 15 Orlando- and Kissimmee-area Puerto Ricans to hash out what they hope for through Congress and the Puerto Rico Oversight Board the lawmakers created last summer with the PROMESA Act.

The island territory is wracked in debt; a downward-spiraling economy; an exodus of people, particularly doctors, lawyers, and other professionals; and a double-whammy health care crisis combining lack of health care money and the rise of the Zika virus. Schools and hospitals are closing. Fire and police departments are cutting back. Business and jobs are draining away.

“Needless to say, they are suffering,” Nelson said.

But in speaking to the press earlier, Nelson cautioned, “The austerity measures are indeed hurting folks. But there has to be austerity measures because you can’t spend money that you don’t have, and that’s what’s been going on for the last several years.”

Janer brought it home.

“Osceola County is more than 50 percent Hispanic with most of them being Puerto Rican. I myself, I was born on the island and still have close family ties there. And I think that’s what this is all about. All of us in one way, shape or form is connected to the island of Puerto Rico,” she said. “When Puerto Rico is doing poorly, we’re doing poorly. When they succeed, we will succeed. We care what happens.”

The oversight board is a new federal authority charged with pushing through tough-love economic measures, many of which Congress will have to adopt. And while Nelson made it clear to the gathering the board will administer the economic rescue, he cautioned that many of the hopes of the people there, and their friends and relatives in Florida, will have to accept that bipartisan disagreements will lead to difficult compromises.

A bipartisan, bicameral task force in Congress, which includes both Nelson and Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, is overseeing the oversight board, and will recommend reforms to Congress. The task force must report by Dec. 31. Rubio held a similar roundtable in Orlando in October.

“What we are trying to do is a rescue package, and we, the task force, were given the task of coming up with the recommendations,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he hopes to see the first important reforms, “relative relief, uncontroversial measures,” passed in this Congress, through the budget bill. He said he expects it to only be a three-month continuing continuing resolution, but cited it as the best shot.

Among the key points Nelson and Soto said they expect will pass: some sort of increase in Medicaid funding for island residents, seeking to bring them into parity with stateside Medicaid recipients; childcare tax credits for Puerto Ricans; some sort of small business loan program to help entrepreneurs; and some way to address the Zika virus, which now has affected an estimated 20,000 island residents, including 2,500 pregnant women.

Other key issues, including how the territorial government will address $69 billion in debt to bondholders and a huge shortfall in its $43 billion pension system, remain uncertain challenges, and still others drew debate even among the roundtable panelists.

Some in the roundtable called for the need to protect corporate investors so they will feel comfortable investing in Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican business ventures in the future. Others insisted the territory must get the chance to refinance its debts. The Jones Act — the 96-year-old maritime law — was cited as costing the island and its residents enormous amounts of money. The corporate tax exemptions in Puerto Rico were debated. The prospect of a minimum-wage cut for islanders looms, under PROMESA.

“We are here simply because our brothers and sisters on the island of Puerto Rico need our help,” said Soto, the first Puerto Rican elected to Congress from Florida. His district includes all of Osceola County. “While we face recession, they face a catastrophe of monumental economic depression.”

Phillip Arroyo, a Democrat active in politics, decried what he said has been longstanding corporate exploitation on the island.

“If Congress, if this nation, bailed out Wall Street, I think Puerto Rico should be bailed out as well,” he said.

Anthony Suarez, a Republican active in politics, noted that Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla refused to enact austerity measures ordered by the oversight board, saying he is posturing, trying to make the board look like “the bad guy.”

All of it underscored Nelson’s and Soto’s warnings that the answers will require tough compromises that will hurt as they help.

Soto cautioned that there are those who want the relief to be distributed to the top and trickle down, and said, “I’m hopeful that economic relief will go directly to the people of the island.”

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