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Florida Congress members react to GOP health care plan defeat

As U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was gathering his conference and then announcing the failure of the Republican health care plan, many Florida Democrats were swiftly calling for bipartisan work to improve the Affordable Care Act instead.

Republicans who opposed the bill also responded swiftly, calling for a better bill to be crafted, and some even called for some bipartisan work but showed  no interest in using the Democrats’ Affordable Care Act as a starting point.

Many Florida Democrats, recognizing the ACA remains in trouble as is, are acknowledging the concerns, and offering to work across the aisle on it – after criticizing the Republican bill.

“This is a win for the American people,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “It was a bad bill, plain and simple. It would have harmed our seniors, and particularly those who often don’t have a voice in the debate – ‘the least among us’ if you will, the poor and the disabled. We have the opportunity now to drop the rhetoric, roll up our sleeves, and work together to fix what needs fixing to bring down costs, expand access, and protect the most vulnerable in our society. I’m an optimist, this was a teachable moment, and I think the lesson will be learned. Work together, put people above politics.”

Others were taking the same tack.

“I believe every American should have access to quality, affordable health care, which is why I’m pleased House leadership pulled this bill from consideration,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. We must reform the Affordable Care Act, but it should be done in a transparent, bipartisan way that lowers costs and strengthens coverage for all.”

“What we must do now is come together to work to improve the Affordable Care Act,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said in a statement. “It took us centuries to get to where we are now with our health care, and we’ve already helped 20 million people get the health care they need. Let’s improve the ACA to see how we can help even more people get the health care they need and deserve.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor also called for some bipartisan work, just not on ObamaCare.

“My main concern has been, and will continue to be, making sure my constituents have access to the best possible health care,” he stated. “Our efforts do not stop here to ensure our nation’s health care system is stronger, more affordable, and truly patient-centered. That is my goal, and I will keep working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to accomplish it.”

Others, though, suggested bipartisan efforts as unlikely, giving no quarter for the ACA. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, was the first Florida Republican to jump in, showing that the GOP bill’s opponents on the right could be just as critical of it as Democrats, without being less critical of ObamaCare.

“The House health care bill is a flawed piece of legislation produced by a hasty process and it shows: by leaving the core architecture of ObamaCare in place, it does very little to address the core problems of rising health insurance premiums and lack of consumer choice that have harmed so many Americans,” DeSantis declared. “In fact, it very well may have caused insurance premiums to increase 15-20 percent over and above the anticipated ObamaCare increases over the next several years, which is unacceptable.”

“There was no reason to rush this bill through the House to begin with,” DeSantis added. “Congress should take its time and pass a good bill that actually repeals ObamaCare, puts a downward pressure on insurance premiums and expands competition in the marketplace. Failure is not an option.”

Representative U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont had a similar response.

“For six years, I have advocated for repealing the [un]Affordable Care Act and replacing it with real healthcare reform. Obamacare is collapsing across the country – currently 4.7 million people are without an insurer. This failed policy is raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go,” Webster predicted.

“As I have said, I have concerns with the bill that was to come up for a vote today. In particular, it does not provide the dollars needed for the Medicaid-funded nursing home beds that many of our seniors rely on. I have expressed these concerns to House leadership and the administration,” Webster added.

“It is my hope that House and Senate leadership and the administration will work together and bring to the floor the conservative, common-sense healthcare reform that Americans deserve,” Webster concluded.

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz blasted Republicans in the House of Representatives for letting down Trump and the American people.

“We did so in the most cowardly, craven way possible — by failing to vote on the repeal of Obamacare. I share the frustration and disappointment of Northwest Floridians who expected and deserved action. We should know who was willing to stand with President Trump and who wasn’t. Now we never will,” Gaetz said in a statement.

He promised not to give up, pledging, “In the weeks and months ahead the Republican party must demonstrate the competence to govern. It is possible.

“I plan to redouble my efforts to bring a renewed sense of urgency to this corrupt and disconnected town. In the face of this setback, we need bold, conservative reform more than ever. The fate of our nation is at stake,” Gaetz concluded.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville saw repeal of ObamaCare as the first priority, but without the criticism of Congress.

“Maintaining a status quo is not an option. There is a widespread consensus that President Obama’s signature health care law is broken and unsustainable. I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare to improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable health coverage.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City focused on how ObamaCare remains a problem. And he use his Army experience to say, essentially, that the war is not over with the first shot.

“I’ve heard over and over again about the incredible burden that ObamaCare has placed on 18th District families. Because of Obamacare, two of our counties now have only one insurer on the individual exchange, while premiums and deductibles have become beyond unaffordable.

“Our broken healthcare system will not be fixed overnight,” Mast said. As I have said from the beginning, the only way we can fix the failures of ObamaCare is through a fully transparent process that engages voices all across the country. Moving forward, I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in working to improve our nation’s healthcare system to ensure that everyone has the liberty to choose the health care that is best for their life.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City also focused on his desire to replace ObamaCare.

“Obamacare will continue to harm Americans with higher costs, lost coverage, and fewer choices. That’s unacceptable,” Dunn stated. “We were sent here with orders to end this law and replace it with a patient-centered approach that actually lowers the cost of care. Today’s events will not deter or discourage us from honoring the commitment we made to the voters that elected us.”

Some Democrats gave no quarter on the ACA either, praising it while offering harsh criticism of the American Health Care Act plan that Ryan and President Donald Trump had pushed through to a vote, only to see Ryan pull it at the last moment when its death on the floor was inevitable.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston suggested the Republicans should be thinking about reaching out to the Democrats now.

“America’s seniors, women, children and families scored a major victory today. Trumpcare was a horrible bill from the start, and was only made worse the more it was amended. The lack of transparency, hearings and proper vetting was appalling. President Trump obviously didn’t do his homework, and Republicans are clearly at war with themselves. This defeat was earned and well deserved,” Wasserman Schultz began in a statement.

“More importantly, for millions of individual Americans, Trumpcare would have been devastating. It reduced coverage for millions, gutted benefits and massively increased costs, and added what amounted to an “age tax” for older Americans. It was the worst bill for women’s health in a generation. In fact, for the entire health care system, it would have been a nightmare. The solvency of Medicare would have been weakened, Medicaid would have been gutted, and safety-net hospitals would have been further burdened to truly distressing levels. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and nearly every major medical or health advocacy group opposed it, with good reason.,” she added.

“Hopefully,” Wasserman Schultz concluded, “Republicans will now reach out to Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act in a serious, meaningful way. We’re more than ready to participate if it means truly improving our health care system.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando said in a written statement that the “voices of the American people were heard.”

“Republicans have been promising to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better for seven years, but the destructive bill that they proposed would force people to pay more for less coverage, erase protections for preexisting conditions, deny veterans additional benefits, force seniors to pay more for care and prescriptions, and shorten the life of Medicare,” Demings said. “I will continue to stand strong for my constituents in my fight to protect the Affordable Care Act.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa called for continued vigilance by Democrats to protect the Affordable Care Act and its coverage.

“Today, my neighbors in Florida and hardworking families across America can breathe a sigh of relief that the Republican TrumpCare bill failed thanks to the outpouring of opposition from citizens, doctors, nurses, hospitals and advocates. They knew it would rip coverage away, raise costs and provide a massive tax break to wealthy special interests,” Castor declared.

“Although we must remain vigilant about future Republican attempts to weaken health care in America, the failure of the Republican bill will allow millions of families to keep their health care and peace of mind. Hopefully we can work together to build on the success of the Affordable Care Act that has dropped the number of uninsured Americans to its lowest in history and ended discrimination against our neighbors with pre-existing conditions,” she continued.

“Republicans tried to ram TrumpCare through the House without a single hearing and then traded consumer protections away with damaging changes to bring the right-wing tea party faction of the U.S. House on board. It collapsed under its own weight and the unmasking of the huge tax breaks to wealthy special interests while raising costs for everyday Americans and weakening Medicare and Medicaid health services,” Castor added.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton declared that “President Trump and Speaker Ryan should be ashamed of themselves for trying to force through a disastrous bill that would have ripped away health coverage from tens of millions of Americans, dramatically increased premiums, and severely cut Medicare and Medicaid. The American people spoke loud and clear; they do not support gutting their own health benefits in order to give massive tax cuts to health insurance companies. House Republicans need to start working with Democrats on real policy solutions that will benefit the American people.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar offered to work with Republicans, but first slammed their plan.

“House Republicans and President Trump tried to takeaway healthcare from millions of Americans and they failed. Today’s defeat of TrumpCare is a victory for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, families, children, women, and every one of the 24 million people who would have had their health coverage stripped from them under the Republican plan.

“When Congress reconvenes next week, Democrats will continue to stand up for the most vulnerable among us. There are many aspects where healthcare in America can be improved. For many of my constituents, the cost of care remains far too high, while for others, access to care remains a challenge. I, like all Democrats, want to make healthcare better for all Americans. If Republicans are willing to join this process in good faith, I would welcome the conversation and work to make improvements that benefit all Americans,” Hastings stated.

“President Trump’s plan failed today because his legislation did not prioritize the American people. It prioritized a select few – the millionaires and billionaires that President Trump has surrounded himself with – and ripped coverage away from millions of hard working and working poor Americans,” Hastings continued. “I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all Americans have access to the healthcare they need. I hope Republicans learn from this experience and begin the process of working Democrats moving forward.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also weighed in.

“Today’s debacle was another example of the so-called political leaders ignoring what is going on in the real lives of every American family. Instead of doing something real to deal with the crushing cost of healthcare, Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress pushed forward a plan that would have totally eliminated healthcare coverage for over 20 million Americans, taxed seniors, and forced working Americans to pay billions more straight out of the pocket,” she stated.

“This bill was much more than a failure of leadership — it was a missed opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to cut premiums, lower prescription drug cost, and improve Obamacare. It was simply political cowardice from the Republicans in Congress, who failed in their most basic responsibility and duty to stand up for the American people,” Graham continued.

“The thousands of Floridians who spoke out against TrumpCare should be proud of their efforts to stop this disastrous legislation. But we must also stand ready to fight back if Donald Trump and Paul Ryan try once again to ram this legislation through Congress,” she concluded.

Bill Nelson, bipartisan Florida Congress members urge drilling ban in Gulf

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has pulled together a bipartisan group of Florida congressmen to sign a letter urging the administration of President Donald Trump to not permit off-shore oil near Florida’s Gulf Coast.

In a letter sent Friday to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Nelson and 16 members of Florida’s congressional delegation urged the administration to maintain the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least the next five years.

Joining Nelson were Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Daniel Webster; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

Earlier this month, the administration announced it intended to keep the moratorium in place until at least 2022, but recent reports suggest that the administration may be considering a new plan, Nelson’s office reported in a news release Friday morning.

“It’s our understanding that your department may be considering a new Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022,” the lawmakers wrote. “If you do choose to draft a new plan, we strongly urge you to keep the eastern Gulf off limits.

“Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there,” the letter continues.

In 2006, Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act, which created a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The letter notes the Deepwater Horizon explosion seven years ago that killed 11 men, damaged the marine life ecosystem, and soiled an entire tourism season for Gulf states.

“This tragedy was a painful reminder that Florida’s beaches and economy are at risk even when oil rigs are hundreds of miles away from its shores,” the later states.

Joe Henderson: Gus Bilirakis keeps up fight to get medical drugs to market faster, easier

Anyone facing a dreaded disease themselves or watching a loved one go through it knows the frustration of seeking treatment. They want to know the system is on their side, but often it seems rigged against them.

I think it’s safe to conclude U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th District, is on their side. He has been a champion for increasing medical options.

In 2014, along with Democrat Kathy Castor, he was part of the congressional bipartisan 21st Century Cures initiative that sought to speed up the process for getting new life-saving drugs to market.

And while all the focus has been on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Bilirakis took the opportunity of a hearing about the over-abundance of regulations at the Food and Drug Administration to push for a measure that would provide incentives for drug companies to develop treatments for rare diseases affecting a small portion of the population.

It’s called the Open Act.

“Today, it takes 10 to 12 to even 15 years and upwards of $2 billion to move a drug or biological product from a good idea to an approved product,” Kay Holcombe, Senior Vice President, Science Policy, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said in a statement to the committee.

“During that lengthy period, unmet medical needs remain unmet and patients wait.”

And patients die.

Bilirakis asked, “There are about 500 approved rare disease drugs, but 7,000 rare diseases affecting some 30 million Americans.  They’re taking medication off-label, not knowing if their drugs are safe and effective for their conditions, or if it’s the proper dosage, and fighting with their insurance companies on coverage of their medications.

“Does it make sense to incentivize development for a targeted population when there are clearly defined needs?”

Holcombe answered simply: “Yes.”

Bilirakis has long argued that the lengthy development requirements hurt patient care and increase costs.

“This isn’t political at all,” Bilirakis told me during an interview about the 21st Century Cures initiative. “I want to take the politics out of it.”

Well, this is Washington, where politics is the milk on morning cereal. Diseases aren’t political, though, and there has to be a way to make it easier to develop these treatments and get them to market at prices people can afford. At least Bilirakis is trying.

Kathy Castor says GOP health care bill getting worse as it gets closer to vote in the House

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor says that the House Republican health care bill “is actually getting worse” as it gets amended to try to win over more conservative votes in Congress.

“TrumpCare will be devastating to Florida families and Speaker Ryan is desperately trying to ram this bill through the U.S. House before the American people understand the impact,” Castor said in a statement issued Tuesday. “TrumpCare rips insurance coverage away from millions of Americans, including at least 1.7 million in Florida who have gained coverage, and increases costs on everyone. It includes larger cuts to Alzheimer’s patients, the disabled, children and families who rely on Medicaid and larger tax breaks for the wealthy. Rather than improve health care for my older neighbors and listen to our concerns, Republicans made no change to help people age 50-64 keep their coverage.  In fact, premiums for our older neighbors are poised to increase by thousands of dollars so that coverage is simply out of reach.”

Castor made those comments after House Republicans made changes to the legislation late Monday night to win over more conservative voices in the GOP House caucus. Among the key changes she says is making the legislation worse include prohibiting states like Florida from expanding Medicaid at the enhanced federal matching rate; allowing states the option of imposing work requirements for Medicaid (even though the majority of adults on Medicaid are already working); allowing states a block grant option for Medicaid, which health care experts warn poses the same dangerous risks for states and beneficiaries as the previous bad provision; and, accelerating getting millions in tax breaks into the hands of those wealthy few.

“TrumpCare would already be the largest transfer of wealth from working families to the rich in our nation’s history. After stealing health coverage from millions of families, and billions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare, the Republicans hand $600 billion in tax giveaways to the rich and big corporations. In fact, the Republican bill gives $2.8 billion to the 400 richest families in America each year,” Castor added.

The vote on the American Health Care Act will take place on Thursday. There is still considerable doubt about whether the Republicans will get the votes they need to pass the legislation through the House. There also appears to be too many Republican Senators currently who would not vote for the bill in its current form.

Kathy Castor fears how NIH budget cuts will affect USF, Moffitt Cancer Center

President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget cuts funding calls for a sharp increase in defense spending while making significant cuts to a variety of domestic programs.

When asked Monday what might be the worst part of the plan in her eyes, Congresswoman Kathy Castor said it might just be the proposed $5.8 billion reductions in funding to the National Institutes of Health (18 percent of its total budget). Most of the NIH’s budget goes to funding research in health care in universities across the country.

“It’s hard to pick out the worst part,” the Tampa Democrat replied when asked what concerns her most about the preliminary budget, which is expected to be revised when after the Congress gets involved.

“For this community, I would hate to see us take a step backward at Moffitt Cancer Center and USF on medical research, because they’re finding the treatments and cures for the future,” she said.

A trickle-down effect of reduced NIH funding, Castor added, would mean the exodus of “a lot of brilliant young people” who work at those institutions.

The proposed Trump budget would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent.

“Add in the devastating cuts to the EPA at the time where we’re trying to protect the health of Tampa Bay after St. Petersburg had some very serious issues with service overflow,” she said.

“This is a community that relies on clean water and clean beaches as the backbone of our economy,” Castor said, “and you begin to eliminate the commitment of the government to keep our air and water clean, that will only hurt jobs and the economy around here.”

During the transition period, Democrats in Florida and around the nation said that they could work with the new president on an infrastructure spending bill.

“If there ever were an opportunity for us to potentially find common ground with the new president, it would be over infrastructure,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a few days before Trump was inaugurated in January. “Because for us, infrastructure is the lifeblood of what we do. We can’t grow this country’s economy, I can’t grow this city’s economy without adequate roads, bridges water and sewage systems.”

However, the Trump budget proposal unveiled last week includes a plan to eliminate a $500-million-a-year program that helps rural communities build and improve water, sewer, trash and street drainage systems. It also cuts a $500-million-a-year program that was created in the federal stimulus package of 2009 to finance a broad range of projects, from replacing bridges to building car lanes. And it would also cut funding for new rail or bus lines.

“I’m very disappointed,” Castor said about the lack of infrastructure spending in the proposed plan. “We have huge needs here in the Tampa Bay area.”

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there. So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised,” she said.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admitted last week that the preliminary budget might appear to contradict Trump’s statements as a candidate and as president

Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”

 

Florida AARP official calls GOP health care proposal ‘ageism unleashed’

As the U.S. House prepares to vote this week on a GOP-based health care insurance overhaul, an official with Florida AARP said Monday the bill is “ageism unleashed.”

“Ageism is discrimination against people due to their age, and that’s exactly what this proposal does,” said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for Florida AARP.

McCray was referring to provisions that will raise insurance rates for people aged between 50-64 compared to those in their twenties.

Older working class Americans with lower incomes would see their rates escalate under the American Health Care Act since the refundable tax credits provided under the GOP bill are not as generous for this demographic as Obamacare subsidies.

Under the ACA, insurers can charge older enrollees only three times more than younger policyholders. The GOP bill would widen that band to five-to-one, which would hike premiums for those in their 50s and early 60s.

But Congresswoman Kathy Castor says she learned at a committee hearing discussing the bill that GOP officials have said that 5:1 ratio increase was just an “aspirational” figure, “and it looks like it could be any price at all.”

Castor added that the average Floridian aged between 50-64 and receiving subsidies under the ACA makes approximately $25,000. “If you start to charge thousands of dollars more for health insurance, you’re simply going to take coverage away, and that has a cascading effect really undermining their financial security, the security of their families and their kids,” she told a group of reporters outside the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center in Tampa.

The news conference was the third media availability held by Castor in Tampa since the GOP unveiled their health care proposal several weeks ago. And once again she brought forward a member of the community to decry the attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“I plan on working for a long time, but I was recently diagnosed with glaucoma, ” said Riverview resident Darlene Goodfellow, 57. “It’s very treatable, but I need access for health care. I’m a real estate broker. If I can’t drive, I can’t work.”

Goodfellow says that her concerns about potentially losing her health insurance will have a large impact on their family, causing her to become an activist for the first time in her life “because I’m literally fighting for my livelihood and my life now.” She said that Republican Dennis Ross is now her representative in Congress, but she expressed disappointment that she wasn’t able to address the congressman when she attended a town-hall meeting he held in Clermont.

Among the many different provisions included in the House Republican plan, one that Castor continues to highlight is how it would convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” system. That would mean states like Florida would get a lump sum from the federal government for each enrollee. That’s different from current Medicaid funding. Right now, the federal government has an open-ended commitment to paying all of a Medicaid enrollee’s bills, regardless of how high they go.

“That is a radical change that will put a huge burden on families,” Castor said, adding that she didn’t hold out much hope that Florida lawmakers would pick up those new costs.

“It is a very coldhearted policy that they’re really trying to slip through,” Castor said of the Trump administration and GOP House members advocating for it.

“They want you to focus on the repeal of the ACA, but the most devastating impact under this house bill is to Medicaid,” she said, “by capping the program and costs continue to rise and our older population continues to increase, the state will have less of an ability to be able to be a partner in Medicaid.”

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported that 24 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 under the House Republican health care bill than under the ACA, including 14 million by next year.

“You’re going to see a large number of seniors just walking away from coverage altogether,” predicted the AARP’s McCray.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the American Health Care Act Thursday.

Few warm greetings from Florida for Donald Trump’s budget

There seems to be something for almost everyone to dislike in the budget proposal President Donald Trump unveiled Thursday morning.

“The plan doesn’t make any sense,” stated Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“I do not support the proposed 28 percent cut to our international affairs budget and diplomatic efforts led by the State Department,” stated Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The president’s proposed budget, released early Thursday, drew a handful of responses from Florida’s 27 members of House of Representatives, mostly from Democrats, and most of them went much further than Nelson in their condemnations, citing proposed deep cuts ranging from the arts to the Coast Guard, cancer research to the TSA, or schools to seniors’ programs like Meals on Wheels, jobs training to Everglades.

“The Trump budget is an immoral affront to nearly all of our most important priorities,” declared Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

So far only Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in Florida’s congressional delegation has spoken out in strong support, though Rubio did point out something he liked in the budget: Trump’s incorporation of Rubio’s ideas to expand school choice with tax credits. But the senator cautioned to not take Trump’s budget too seriously, because, “it is Congress that will actually set the nation’s policy priorities and fund them.

“I will continue to review all the details of this budget proposal for areas of common interest,” he concluded.

Ross, of Lakeland, said the budget was true to Trump’s promises and a snapshot of “a strong conservative vision for the size and role of our government.”

“In addition to a renewed focus on the military, this proposed budget keeps the President’s word to prioritize border security, veterans’ health care, and school choice, as well as reduce burdensome regulations that harm small businesses and economic growth,” Ross continued. “With our national debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, we cannot afford to waste any more taxpayer dollars on duplicative and ineffective government programs.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart took a similar tone to Rubio, saying the budget “attempts to focus on our nation’s real fiscal challenges” and presents an opportunity for conversations about national priorities and the national debt.

Then he concluded, “I look forward to Congress exercising its oversight role and ultimately making funding decisions.”

Not many areas of common interest were cited by Florida’s 12 Democrats, including Nelson.

“You’re going to cut some of our most important agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps our air and water clean, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is working to restore the Everglades,” Nelson stated. “I agree that we must do whatever is necessary to keep our country safe, but cutting all of these important programs to pay for things, such as a wall, just doesn’t make any sense.”

In a Facebook post, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando called Trump’s proposal an “irresponsible budget which decimates investments in America’s future to fund tax cuts for the rich. He proposed cuts to our Coast Guard (border security?), scientific research, commerce, state department, environment protection, agriculture and our nuclear program among countless others. We will fight to protect our future!”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg declared “Budgets are statements of our values as a people. The statement made today by the Trump Administration is that climate change isn’t real, our environment is not important, diplomacy is a waste of time, medical breakthroughs aren’t beneficial, the poor are on their own, and the arts, despite their small price tag, aren’t of significance.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa went into far more detail, arguing from the start that the budget fails to deliver on Trump’s campaign promises to help the middle class and create jobs.

She cited deep or complete cuts in after-school programs, college students’ PELL grants, transportation projects such as Tampa’s Riverwalk, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s efforts to improve marine biology health, and the EPA.

“It is clear that Trump’s budget is not balanced in a way that our community needs and expects.  It shifts even more economic burdens onto the shoulders of working families, guts important services and investments in our economy, attacks vital education programs and hurts Tampa Bay’s sensitive natural resources,” she concluded.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said a budget should reflect society’s values, and that this budget does not reflect those of his district.

“President Trump’s budget calls for extreme cuts to vital funding for job training, clean energy, medical research, and public education,” Lawson stated. “It is a shortsighted plan that seeks to give tax breaks to the wealthiest while taking away lifelines for those who need it most.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando responded only by retweeting a post from Congressional Black Caucus chair U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat who noted that African Americans “have a lot to lose under this administration” and the budget proposal “is proof.”

Wasserman Schultz provided the strongest language in her condemnations.

“Aside from the horrific health care cuts that will push tens of millions of people into higher-cost plans, or no coverage at all, this budget proposal sacrifices too many safety, environmental, labor and health protections, all just to ultimately deliver grotesque tax breaks to the wealthy,” she stated in a release issued by her office. “It weakens or eliminates funding for, among many other things, transportation, clean energy, health research, public education and housing, legal services, national diplomacy, the arts and humanitarian aid. And while Trump’s budget purports to improve our national security, it reportedly starves crucial aspects of it by putting our coasts and airports in dire jeopardy. This budget proposal is a gut punch to America’s families, their needs, and their values.”

Kathy Castor one of six Democrats calling on EPA IG to probe potential conflicts of interest with Scott Pruitt

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor is one of six Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who reached out to the EPA inspector general earlier this week, calling on him to investigate the agency’s conflict of interest policies and procedures in the wake of reports of a close relationship between industry groups and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The letter to Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr comes in response to Pruitt’s rejection of scientific evidence that human activity is a significant contributor to global warming, as well as reports that he coordinated closely with the oil and gas industry while serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, and the fact that he has sued the government because of environmental rules in the past.

“It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies maintain effective conflict of interest policies and ethics requirements in order to ensure government operates in an honest and transparent manner,” the letter said. “Your investigation will help us better understand the role your office will play in ensuring strict adherence to such rules and guidelines, and how EPA and its new management will address these concerns.”

In addition to Castor, the letter was signed by New Jersey’s Frank Pallone, the ranking member of House Energy and Commerce Committee; Illinois’ Bobby Rush, the energy subcommittee ranking member; New York’s Paul Tonko, the environment subcommittee ranking member; Oversight and Investigations Ranking Member Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maryland Representative John Sarbanes. 

As part of the investigation, the Democrats say that they want the answers to these questions:

What conflict of interest policies, procedures, and laws exist to ensure Pruitt and all other current political appointees do not have conflicts of interest with their positions at EPA or with EPA enforcement actions?

Do these policies specifically consider whether Pruitt or other political appointees or their spouses maintain any financial holdings (including but not limited to stock holdings or mutual fund holdings) in the oil and gas industry or electric utility industry

What agency ethics trainings and certifications are Pruitt and all other current political appointees required to complete in order to join the agency

How do agency conflict of interest policies, procedures, and any relevant laws restrict Pruitt’s ability to coordinate, fundraise, or otherwise support organizations in which Pruitt previously served in a leadership capacity?

You can read a copy of the letter here.

 

 

Florida Dems in Congress blast GOP health care plan after budget report

As expected, the scoring of the Republican health care plan in Congress affirmed many of Democrats’ biggest warnings.

And, as expected, many of Florida’s delegation wasted no time Monday attacking the “American Health Care Act” as “wrong,” “inhumane,” “alarming,” and “ruthless and cruel.”

No word yet from any of Florida’s 17 Republican members of Congress on how they feel about the Congressional Budget Office legislative analysis of the bill Republicans introduced last week. Its aim is to replace “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act President Barack Obama and Democrats pushed through in 2010.

Democrats loaded up Monday at several of the CBO findings of the bill being dubbed both “RyanCare” for House Speaker Paul Ryan and “TrumpCare,” for President Donald Trump. The CBO reported that 14 million people would drop from being insured in the first year, and that a total of 24 million now covered would be without health insurance in a decade. The CBO also projected rapidly increasing premiums for the first couple of years, that it would cut $880 million from Medicaid, and increase costs for seniors on Medicare. And it reported that cuts to Planned Parenthood would mainly affect low-income women.

Almost all 12 Florida Democrats decried all those findings, through news releases, social media posts and statements on their websites. Among the responses:

“It is wrong to take away health insurance for 24 million people, as well as increase the cost to seniors,” wrote U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“This legislation is terrible for those in their golden years, our seniors. And most distressing is how this bill treats the poor and the disabled of our society,” wrote U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District. “The Gospel of Matthew teaches us that we will be judged by how we treat the ‘least of these.’ But this bill treats the least among us in the most inhumane way possible.”

“Biggest non-shocker of the week #Trumpcare knocks 24M people off insurance,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

“This report from the nonpartisan CBO confirms what we already knew to be true, millions of Americans will lose health insurance, hardworking families will be forced to pay higher premiums, and Medicaid recipients will suffer greatly,” declared U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District. “As Republicans recklessly work to push through this plan, the people who need it the most, working families, seniors, and children stand to lose the most. The GOP plan is not better than the Affordable Care Act and Republicans know it.”

“This bill does not make good on claims by @SpeakerRyan,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, representing Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. “It will block millions from coverage in exchange for cutting taxes for the wealthy.”

“Despite numerous promises by Trump that no one would lose health insurance, Republican scheme does just that!” tweeted U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, in Florida’s 14th Congressional District. “Irresponsible @SpeakerRyan!”

“Yanking insurance coverage from 14 million people and leaving them uninsured next year would be ruthless and cruel,” wrote U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, representing Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.

“House Republican leaders are rushing this process with closed-door meetings and midnight committee sessions,” wrote U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, representing Florida’s 7th Congressional District. “We need to slow down, bring both parties together, and get health care reform right so there aren’t any unintended consequences that hurt families, seniors, and small businesses.”

After 27-hour committee hearing, Kathy Castor calls GOP House push to pass health care bill without CBO scoring ‘ unconscionable’

The House Energy & Commerce Committee passed the GOP health care repeal bill this afternoon, in a session that lasted 27 hours. It was the second committee on Thursday to pass the legislation, after the House Ways and Means Committee voted 23 to 16 to advance the American Health Care Act shortly before 4:30 a.m. Thursday after about 18 hours of debate.

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor serves as Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and she went off her GOP colleagues after the bill passed this afternoon.

“It is unconscionable that House Republicans rammed this repeal bill through committee without understanding how much the bill will cost, the impact on the deficit and how many Americans will lose their health insurance,” Castor said. “Republicans repeatedly rejected amendments to protect and fight for patient protections and health care affordability.  We stayed up through the night and forced them to debate and go on record opposing measures that address the concerns that we have all have been hearing about from our neighbors at town halls throughout the country.”

The requirements for the bill have been extensively reported on this week since it was unveiled on Monday night. It would result in major cuts to Medicaid funding which has been crucial for people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, and eliminates the subsidies that approximately 85 percent of those on the ACA are relying on to stay on their current plan.

Castor also took aim at the fact that the House Republican declined having the bill “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to determine the costs to the American public, and how many people will be able to afford the new plan.

“Rather than rush a Republican repeal bill, I urge my colleagues to work together to improve health care coverage for families across America,” she said. “We are at the lowest rate of uninsured in history, we have kept health care costs in check for people with insurance and we can do more by tackling the cost of pharmaceuticals, but that has been left out of the Republican repeal bill.”

Although the bill did make it through the two GOP-led committees and may ultimately pass in the GOP-held House, there is considerable pushback from a number of Republican Senators, jeopardizing the repeal and replace plan at the moment.

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