Kathy Castor – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Six Florida congressional Democrats now support single-payer health care system

As Senate Republicans return to Washington this week, looking to salvage their attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, support grows among Democrats for a single-payer health care system.

The co-sponsor count for Michigan Democrat John Conyers‘ “Medicare for All” bill now stands at 113, nearly twice as many as last year. One of those new Democratic co-sponsors is Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Castor signed on to the legislation in April, joined by five other Florida Democrats this year: Alcee Hastings, Frederica Wilson, Al Lawson, Darren Soto and Ted Deutch. 

In a brief interview Monday after speaking with health care officials in Tampa on the opioid epidemic, Castor said that while she knows that such legislation won’t be passed anytime soon in a Republican-controlled Congress, she thinks now is the time to look for alternatives to bring down escalating costs of health care in America.

Under a single-payer system, all Americans would have health coverage, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 22 million people would become uninsured under the Senate GOP health care plan.

Republicans believe support for the issue can hurt Democrats at the polls.

Although Florida Senator Bill Nelson doesn’t support such a plan, the fact that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren does was enough for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to run a Facebook ad last week linking the two lawmakers.

Citing Warren’s recent comments on getting behind a single-payer plan, the ad’s narrator says such a system “would be absolutely devastating for Florida families and businesses.”

Castor noted that she has previously supported a government public-option plan.

The idea of a public option is to create a separate, government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers offering coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders included versions of the public option in their proposals in 2009 when they first began working on health care reform. But they dropped the idea relatively quickly.

Democrat Patrick Murphy embraced the idea during his unsuccessful Senate run last year, as has current gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

Support for a single-payer health care system has never been higher.

In the June Kaiser Health Tracking poll, 53 percent of respondents now favor such a system, with 43 percent opposing.

That’s the highest level of support in the 19 years since Kaiser began polling on the issue. However, Kaiser Health officials point out that “a prolonged national debate” on the issue could easily shift the public’s attitudes.

According to the Kaiser Health website“For example, when those who initially say they favor a single-payer or Medicare-for-all plan are asked how they would feel if they heard that such a plan would give the government too much control over health care, about four in ten (21 percent of the public overall) say they would change their mind and would now oppose the plan, pushing total opposition up to 62 percent.

“Similarly, when this group is told such a plan would require many Americans to pay more in taxes or that it would eliminate or replace the Affordable Care Act, total opposition increases to 60 percent and 53 percent, respectively.”


David Jolly to congressional Republicans: Ignore Trump’s tweets, isolate him

David Jolly offers some advice for his former GOP colleagues when called upon to comment on President Donald Trump‘s more egregious tweets: Just ignore him.

“No more trips to the White House. No more flights on Air Force One. No more accepting his gratuitous offers of signing ceremonies, White House cocktails, or meetings with his children. No more asking the White House for permission, for policy advice, or for the President’s priorities,” the former Pinellas County congressman writes in an op-ed on CNN’s website.

“Honor your oath as a fiduciary of Article I, who holds the public trust. Strike out with your own bold agenda that wins the hearts and minds of the American people. And leave this President behind. Leave him to his Twitter account and to placating his base with disgusting tweets.”

New polling suggests that it’s not just media elite and/or Democrats who have grown weary of some of Trump’s outlandish Twitter comments, such as his broadside against MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, who he said last week was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he saw her a few months ago.

According to a poll conducted by Morning Consult in partnership with POLITICO published Wednesday, 65 percent of those surveyed said it was “unacceptable” for Trump to attack Brzezinski as he did.

Even among Republicans, more people called it unacceptable (46 percent) than acceptable (28 percent) for the president to say such things. Both men and women agreed the tweets were unacceptable, though more men (22 percent) than women (12 percent) found the comments acceptable.

As a prolific commentator on CNN and MSNBC since Trump’s inauguration in January, Jolly has been mostly critical of the president’s policies and performance in office. While that makes him an outlier among Republicans currently in office, he’s hardly the only conservative on cable airwaves taking issue with Trump, joining Ana Navarro, Jennifer Rubin, George Will and others on the right to criticize the president.

“You see, when members of Congress condemn a tweet and then fall in line with the President’s awkward leadership of domestic and foreign policy — such as when they race to be his guest at a South Lawn ceremony celebrating passage of a flawed health care bill that even the President himself now disowns — all their condemnation, and congressional resolve itself, is exposed as meritless,” Jolly writes.

Trump’s tweet against Brzezinski was certainly one of the most flagrant comments since using Twitter as president, earning a flood criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans in the immediate aftermath last week.

“President is a poor role model for America’s children, all of us,” Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor tweeted last week. “His tweets, actions are far beneath the dignity required of the office.”

One Democrat deciding not to comment on the latest social media messages from the president: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

Speaking with reporters in Tampa earlier this week, Nelson was asked (by this reporter) if he was bothered by Trump’s tweets on Brzezinski, as well as another featuring a mock video showing him body-slamming WWE promoter Vince McMahonwhose face was covered by a CNN logo.

“The essence of your question is — you’d like me to jump all over the president, and I’ll tell you what my answer is — I can’t do anything about how he conducts himself, but I can do something about how I conduct myself,” Nelson responded. “And it is my responsibility to conduct myself as a gentleman, to respect others, to try to be bipartisan, to try to bring people together and build bipartisan consensus.”

“That is my responsibility and my obligation, and I tried to do that, and I will continue to try to do that,” he concluded.

Kathy Castor on Nancy Pelosi: No time to discuss a change of leadership

In the wake of Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff‘s four-point lost to Republican Karen Handel in last week’s special election, there has been much hand-wringing among Democrats desperate to show that they’re building momentum going into the 2018 midterms.

Ossoff’s loss was the fourth special election to go to the Republicans in the first six months of the Trump presidency.

“Our brand is worse than Trump,” Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan lamented the day after Ossoff’s loss, while New York Representative Kathleen Rice of New York told CNN the entire Democratic leadership team should go.

First and foremost, Rice and Ryan are referring to Nancy Pelosi, who has been at the head of the Democratic House leadership since 2003.

Pelosi has fought back tenaciously, saying she isn’t going anywhere, and she has a majority of supporters in her caucus, such as Tampa U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, who continues to stand by her despite the growing criticism of her tenure.

“This is the exact wrong time to be having this discussion because everyone needs to be focused on defeating this health care bill in the Senate this week,” Castor told FloridaPolitics when asked Monday morning in Tampa where she stood on the issue.

The calls among some Democrats to oust Pelosi have been ongoing for years as the Democrats have continued to lose seats in the House of Representatives. Those grumblings were loud after last fall, and reached a fever pitch way back in 2010 after the Republicans took back the House and the speakership from Pelosi.

At that time, Castor called the discussion “a distraction,”

While calling Pelosi “a strong leader,” Castor said Monday that “over the next few years, you’re going to see a change in the House leadership.”

One would think so. Pelosi is 77. Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer from Maryland is 78, while assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn turns 77 next month.

While some pundits and Democrats said that last week’s election was one that Democrats needed to show that they will have a big year against vulnerable GOP incumbents in Congress, others have noted that it was a district that has always been Republican.

“This is Newt Gingrich’s (former) district; (now-Health Secretary) Tom Price’s district. A first-time candidate. That was going to be a toughie,” said Castor, who made a campaign appearance for Ossoff.

In fact, Price defeated his Democratic challenger last November by 23 percentage points, and Georgia Six was Gingrich’s home district for more than 20 years. But it was also a district that is changing, and is now the 6th best educated congressional district in the country.

Trump narrowly won it by just 1.5 points over Hillary Clinton last fall, however.

“I thought it was a warning shot to the 70 other districts out there are more Democratic, or more independent than that one, you just watch,” said an ever-confident Castor about the Democrats chances of winning back House seats in 2018.

I’m not distraught over that at,” she said. “I’m more hopeful than anything.”

Kathy Castor says Trump administration is using alternative facts to explain Medicaid cuts in Senate health care bill

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is disputing the line being parroted by Trump administration officials that the GOP Senate health care bill won’t cut Medicaid costs by hundreds of billions of dollars.

“That’s untrue, because they propose to cut about $850 billion out of Medicaid over the next decade, and you simply cannot cut that far without damaging the health of our neighbors,” Castor told reporters Monday at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge located on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida.

“That’s a fallacy,” Castor added. “It would have a devastating impact on our neighbors.”

On Sunday, two officials with the Trump administration denied the bill will severely cut Medicaid.

“These are not cuts to Medicaid,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told ABC News’ “This Week.”

“It slows the rate for the future, and it allows governors more flexibility with Medicaid dollars, because they’re closest to the people in need,” she told host George Stephanopolous.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Health Secretary Tom Price echoed Conway’s remark, saying that the Medicaid cut “all depends on what you’re comparing it to,” claiming it will be affected by how medical care costs change from year to year.

In fact, the legislation would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, starting in four years. It would also make deeper cuts to Medicaid by placing “per capita caps” on the program such that states will receive only a set amount of money for each recipient, no matter how much their care actually costs.

Unlike the House health care bill, the Senate bill appears to preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions by barring states from having the option to apply for a waiver. However, the Senate bill would allow states to apply for waivers so insurance companies could deny coverage for a list of Essential Health Benefits, including outpatient, mental health, maternity, and emergency room care, among others. Coverage of these benefits is guaranteed by the ACA. The House and Senate versions of the bills would change that.

“In states that choose these waivers, insurers could decide not to cover expensive cancer therapies,” said Heddie Sumpter with the American Cancer Society Action Network, one of several health care organization coming out in opposition to the Senate bill.

The opposition to the GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act is also providing great concern to some Latino organizations.

“Under the ACA, millions of Hispanic families across the country, and tens of thousands in Tampa have finally attained quality health care coverage that they would otherwise not be able to afford,” said Sylvia Alvarez with the National Council of La Raza, who said the Senate bill would provide just as much pain to Latinos as the earlier passed version in the House of Representatives.

Citing a study conducted by the national NCLR branch, Alvarez said between 2013 and 2015, the overall uninsured rate for non-elderly Hispanics in Florida declined from 29 percent to 19 percent. Among Latino children, she said the rate dropped from 14.4 percent to 8.5 percent during the same two-year period.

Castor said she can’t figure out why congressional Republicans — first in the House and now in the Senate, are going about eviscerating the Affordable Care Act in a way that won’t bring relief to many of their own constituents.

“I heard no one on the stump out there saying ‘we’re going to target kids, we’re going to target seniors and nursing homes and the disabled community for cuts, and that’s their campaign platform,” said the Tampa Democrat. “Instead they’re using this repeal and replace for the Affordable Care Act as a guise to go change the Medicaid program like never before.”

Castor said it was time for Republicans and Democrats to come together in Washington to fight against higher health care costs. “Nothing in the GOP Senate bill addresses the issue of higher costs,” she said, adding as she is

“Nothing in the GOP Senate bill addresses the issue of higher costs,” she said, adding, as she is wont to do, that Congress should work on reducing the price of prescription drugs.

Kathy Castor calls Senate health care proposal ‘even worse’ than House bill

Upon the first review of what Republican Senators euphemistically call the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” Kathy Castor says it’s “worse” than the much-derided “American Health Care Act” passed earlier this year by the GOP House.

What most upsets the Democratic congresswoman from Tampa is that the bill “radically” restructures Medicaid.

“This is a dramatic overhaul of Medicaid that will cause families to lose care and present a very difficult budget to Florida,” she said in a conference call Thursday afternoon.

Medicaid is a federal/state program partnership that is administered by the states but mostly funded by Washington. In Florida, it’s mostly provided to children, people with disabilities and the elderly living in nursing homes suffering from specific ailments.

Currently, the feds pay on average about 64 percent; states pick up the rest.

The Senate GOP plan would repeal this structure, replacing it with caps on how much money states receive each year. Castor says this is a problem, because Florida already spends less on the program than most other states, despite it being the third largest in population.

Bloomberg News reports that, starting in 2025, the Senate bill would index Medicaid spending to a slower growth rate than the House version, which indexed Medicaid to the faster growth rate of medical inflation plus 1 percentage point, to try to keep pace with the disproportionate growth in health care costs.

Approximately 3.6 million Floridians rely on Medicaid, close to 20 percent of the state’s population.

“The Senate bill includes enormously consequential changes, that will clearly move the country backward on child and parent coverage,” says Joan Alker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Children and Families and a research professor at Georgetown University.

“The only question on my mind is how quickly and sharply this U-turn would occur,” she added, saying that it would ultimately end the guarantee to the state of federal funding for Medicaid.

Alker says what’s most provocative is that the restructuring of Medicaid has nothing to do with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act: “This is just something that Congress is doing while they’re in the neighborhood.”

The American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Association of American Medical Colleges all came out in opposition to the bill Thursday afternoon.

Under the Senate bill, the federal government would continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies through 2019. It would also provide $50 billion to help stabilize insurance markets and hold down premiums from 2018 through 2021 — in other words, until after the next presidential election.

Castor says that the Senate bill, unlike the House counterpart, does preserve pre-existing conditions protections. But she says that provision is “totally undermined” by the fact that states can waive other insurance rules that could weaken the protections for essential health benefits, as well as lift caps on what a patient pays to an insurer. Also, the bill would provide $62 billion in grants to states for similar purposes from 2019 to 2026.

Also, the bill would provide $62 billion in grants to states for similar purposes from 2019 to 2026.

At least four GOP senators are already indicating they cannot support the bill as written, raising the possibility there won’t be an up-or-down vote on the bill within the next week, a self-imposed deadline created by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

House Committee unanimously OKs flood insurance bill sponsored by Kathy Castor, Dennis Ross

The House Financial Services Committee passed the bipartisan “Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act,” one of five flood insurance related bills the committee advanced Wednesday.

Polk County Republican Dennis Ross and Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor are sponsors of the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act, which now goes to the full House for consideration.

The lawmakers say the bill would encourage the development of a robust private flood insurance market that will provide homeowners more coverage options and lower costs.

“Currently, many homeowners in Florida and across the country face unaffordable flood insurance premiums and a lack of coverage options, largely due to burdensome federal regulatory barriers that give the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) a harmful monopoly over flood insurance policies,” said Ross. “The Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act will greatly benefit consumers in flood prone areas because it will remove these unnecessary barriers and allow more private flood insurers to enter the market, which will lead to increased competition and more affordable, comprehensive policies.

“Giving consumers options will ultimately hold the NFIP accountable for affordability, quality flood maps and service. I am proud this bill is moving forward with strong, bipartisan efforts and I thank Rep. Castor and my committee colleagues for supporting this important legislation.

“I am proud this bill is moving forward with strong, bipartisan efforts and I thank Rep. Castor and my committee colleagues for supporting this important legislation.”

“Families, homeowners, and small-business owners across Florida deserve financial stability, peace of mind and less confusion when it comes to flood insurance,” said Castor.  “This bipartisan legislation is an important step towards a much-needed alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program. Competition can bring lower prices and relief from the flood insurance rate increases that threaten hardworking families and small businesses. In the previous Congress, Floridians led the way to a bipartisan flood insurance fix, and I was proud to join with Rep. Ross to lead the charge, then as I am today.

“This bill will provide sound solutions for my Tampa Bay neighbors and protect them from unreasonable flood insurance rate hikes. This is particularly important given NOAA’s recent warnings to brace for an above-average hurricane season.”

The committee passed four other bills, including the National Flood Insurance Program Administrative Reform Act of 2017, which seeks to make administrative changes to the NFIP to increase fairness and accuracy, and decrease taxpayer risk.

They also passed two bills introduced by Missouri Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer: The Taxpayer Exposure Mitigation Act of 2017, which would enable the NFIP to engage in private-sector risk transfer deals and would allow the development of private or community flood maps as an alternative to NFIP’s outdated maps. HR 2565 would require the NFIP to study how it uses replacement costs in setting premiums.

And by voice vote, the committee approved a bill by California Republican Ed Royce to amend the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 to ensure community accountability for areas repeatedly damaged by floods.

The flurry of legislation comes as the federal-government-managed NFIP is set to expire at the end of September, offering policymakers a chance to rethink the program, which is $25 billion in debt.

Local Realtors are closely tracking the various bills, including Brandi Gabbard of Smith & Associates in St. Petersburg. She is also running for City Council this year.

“The National Association of Realtors along with many other groups are focused on getting a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program and avoiding the unintended consequences and surprises many homeowners experienced following the passage of Biggert-Waters in 2012,” Gabbard says. “There are a number of different bills moving through the House and Senate and we are pleased that the Florida delegation is actively engaged in trying to make sure the interests of Floridians are represented in the debate. This is an incredibly important issue to Pinellas County residents specifically.

“I will continue to fight for good policy that works in their favor and to make sure this vital program does not lapse on Sept. 30.”

Kathy Castor vows Cuba-Tampa Bay engagement will continue, despite Donald Trump’s rollback

President Donald Trump told a crowd in Miami Friday he was keeping a campaign promise to roll back the “terrible and misleading deal” the Obama administration made with the Castro government in Cuba in 2014.

Two hours later, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor told reporters that the work of engaging the Tampa Bay area and the communist island will continue.

“I think President Trump’s new policy is regrettable and it takes us backward, because what it will do will really complicate our neighbor’s ability to travel to Cuba,” said Castor, a Democrat who has been a House leader in trying to end the economic embargo since flying to Cuba in 2013. “It’s going to make it more expensive, more costly and add bureaucratic red tape.”

Trump’s new policy will directly limit commerce with GAESA, the business and commerce wing of the Cuban military.

On non-Cuban-American travel, one change would make Americans visiting under the Obama administration categories of permitted travel subject to a Treasury Department audit, which could have a cooling effect on travel by adding a potential layer of inconvenience.

In his speech, Trump mentioned the lack of political and religious freedom for the Cuban people, as well as the release of political prisoners.

Of course, this is the same politician who said in Saudi Arabia last month“We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

“When you look at what they’ve said in Saudi Arabia, the relationship with Turkey, the Philippines, where the leader there is outright taking the lives of some of his citizens there’s a great inconsistency there,” Castor acknowledged.

In the years before Obama’s 2014 announcement, a group of local business and political leaders began pushing for more liberal relations with Cuba, saying that the Tampa region — the third largest area of the country for Cuban-Americans — was strategically behind getting prepared for when the fifty-year plus economic embargo was ultimately a thing of the past.

Nobody has been a bigger leader in the local movement than Al Fox, president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. He called Trump’s announcement one of the worst foreign policy decisions in the country’s history.

“A new Trump policy change does nothing to benefit Cuba and more importantly, treats United States citizens as second-class citizens,” Fox said in a statement. “By what logic can Dennis Rodman, as an American citizen, travel freely to North Korea but not to Cuba? You will not find one Cuban on the island of Cuba that will support President Trump’s anticipated announcement, including the small dissident movement.”

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. E.J. Otero, who has family in Cuba, has been a virulent critic of Obama’s move to end the diplomatic freeze out of Cuba back in December of 2014. He said Trump’s announcement “achieves a sense of balance,” adding that it didn’t go as far as the exile community would have liked but (obviously) will annoy supporters of rapprochement such as Castor and Fox.

The most significant fact “is the hotels,” Otero says. “If they’re state-run, you can’t stay there.”

Retired Tampa CPA and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce official Jose Valiente also has family in Tampa. For years, he was a critic of any type of exchange with the Castro-led government but changed his attitude after a trip with the Chamber to Cuba a few years back.

Valiente said the announcement will affect the burgeoning entrepreneur movement in Cuba, specifically mentioning those who have started up restaurants, bars, bed-and-breakfasts, and farms in recent years and who were getting ready for “an avalanche” of American tourists that were going to be coming to Cuba.

“He said it was a great day in Cuba, ” Valiente said of Trump’s remarks. “I’m still trying to figure that out still what was so great about the announcement today to benefit the Cubans there today.”

Castor held her news conference at Tampa International Airport, which began offering commercial flights to Havana in 2011, and to other Cuban cities last winter.

Joining her at the news conference were officials from the Florida Orchestra, the University of Tampa and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, all of whom have worked with their Cuban counterparts in recent years. The Aquarium agreed to cooperate with the National Aquarium of Cuba on research affecting their shared marine environment back in 2015.

“We’ve got a lot to learn from them, so the exchange has been tremendously helpful for us, and hopefully productive for them too,” said Margo McKnight, Florida Aquarium’s senior vice president of conservation, science and research. She vowed to continue that relationship,

“We won’t be daunted,” she said. “We have lots more to do and a lot more to learn.”

Castor maintained a similar attitude. She said the Tampa Bay area will continue to be a leader in cultural and scientific exchanges, but said that the loosening of travel restrictions over the past few years is being reversed, costing travelers money and more bureaucracy.

She said her greatest concern was that a reduction of U.S. tourists will erode the ability of private entrepreneurs on the island to grow their business.

Although the Tampa Democrat has a been a leader in trying to increase relations between the two nations, she’s by far not the only member in Congress who believes in that strategy.

Last month, 55 U.S. Senators, led by Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, reintroduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would eliminate current restrictions on traveling to Cuba for tourism purposes.

“Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people,” Flake said Friday. “It is time Senate leadership finally allowed a vote on my bipartisan bill to fully lift these archaic restrictions which do not exist for travel by Americans to any other country in the world.”

Castor has also entered a bipartisan bill in Congress calling for the elimination of the economic embargo. That measure does not have a majority in the House, however.

On Pulse anniversary, Equality Florida calls Rick Scott to ban LGBTQ discrimination statewide

In a statement proclaiming Monday as “Pulse Remembrance Day,” Gov. Rick Scott  described the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people a year ago as “an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the leading advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Florida, is “glad” Scott acknowledges the killings were a direct attack on the gay community, specifically the Latino gay community.

But Smith believes the governor could go even further — by signing an executive order to include sexual orientation and gender identity in an anti-discrimination measure.

“We want to make sure that is in addition to, and not a substitute for, the real work of making sure that discrimination is not acceptable in the state of Florida, and he can do that with an executive order and a stroke of a pen,” Smith said at a Ybor City news conference Monday morning.

Also at the event were Congresswoman Kathy Castor and GaYBOR District co-founder Carrie West. 

“We hope he does that, and we hope any candidate running for office that invokes the name of Pulse has the courage to name the victims and make clear their stance, not in platitudes, but in real promises,” Smith added.

That last comment referred to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a leading Republican candidate for governor next year. On Sunday, Putnam issued a statement that neglected to mention that many of those of those killed last year in what was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history were gay and/or Latino.

Just a week after the shootings last year, Equality Florida called on Scott to take executive action to protect people from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Although many local governments include the LGBTQ community in their own human rights ordinances (including St. Petersburg, Tampa, Miami and a host of others), the state of Florida does not include sexual orientation and/or gender identity in its statewide laws.

The Florida Legislature once again opted not to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act this spring, the bill that would sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of groups that cannot be discriminated against. That’s despite the fact that the bill had its most momentum ever going into a session with 36 different co-sponsors, including Republicans like Dana Young, Chris Latvala and Joe Gruters.

The FBI declared the Pulse nightclub shooting an act of terror — but not a hate crime — despite the shooter targeting a gay club during Latin night.

“This was a hate crime, but the federal government did not follow through and designate it as a hate crime,” Castor said. “The march toward equal rights and civil rights in America has been steady, but sometimes it’s been slow.”

“Hate was clearly at the center of it,” Smith said, a reference to how the father of killer Omar Mateen had openly spoken about his disgust for gay people.

While the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage two summers ago was a wonderful achievement, Smith said there is still much work to be done “in the face of a rather ugly backlash” with the LGBTQ community.

“Everybody can stop that joke being told at the dinner table, they can intervene when they see street harassment, they can speak up in their workplace and ask ‘do we have policies that make it clear that everybody is going to be respected and treated equally?'” Smith asked rhetorically.

Just hours after the shooting, Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe page for the victims and their families. They took in $9.5 million before merging with the OneOrlando Fund, which ultimately raised more than $31 million.

In August, the organization also set up its new two-month “Safe & Health Schools Project.” That program is designed to provide all Florida school districts with resources necessary to support and affirm LGBTQ students.

Castor and Smith both said that Pulse victims need to be honored with action (the name of a hashtag campaign that Equality Florida has created which calls for people to commit to direct actions to honor the victims).

And Castor said that there’s a lot of work to be done, referring specifically to President Donald Trump‘s selection of Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation staffer.

Severino has argued that same-sex marriage threatens religious liberty and that civil rights protections should not extend to transgender patients.

Castor also said that Congress continues to refuse to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has failed to gather support back in the 1990s.

“As we remember our neighbors who lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub, it’s very important to honor them with action, and all of us can join together tonight in Ybor and come together but then demand that policymakers across the country really do action on equal rights for everyone,” Castor said, referring to an event commemorating the event scheduled to take place at Ybor’s Centennial Park at 7 p.m.

Kathy Castor, Florida Dems say Donald Trump ‘intentionally’ sabotaged health insurance markets

A day after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price refused to say if the Donald Trump administration would fund cost-sharing insurer subsidies next year, Kathy Castor and other Florida congressional Democrats say uncertainty is undermining the stability of the health care insurance marketplace.

“President Trump and his administration should focus on helping hardworking families keep their affordable health coverage rather than sticking Americans with much higher insurance bills,” the Tampa Democrat writes in a letter urging the president to commit to maintaining cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments or else be responsible for higher insurance costs. “Support is critical for affordable quality health coverage, and President Trump should not ‘play politics’ and threaten the peace of mind of parents and small business owners.”

Those CSR payments are reimbursement to the insurance companies for lower copays and deductibles given to low-income customers of the Affordable Care Act. There were 1.24 million people in Florida receiving such subsidies in 2016, according to a March 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At the Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow noted how proposed rate insurance increases in Pennsylvania are slated to rise nearly 9 percent next year. But if cost-sharing reduction payments are stopped, that increase would rise to approximately 30 percent.

“Instead of working together to build on such successes as the number of uninsured Americans at its lowest in history and ending discrimination against my neighbors with pre-existing conditions, Trump is actively working to put the marketplace in jeopardy by not committing to these vital payments, which help provide my neighbors with affordable quality health care coverage options,” Castor added. “Trump’s inaction on CSR payments is causing instability in the federal marketplace, which in turn is forcing health insurance companies to raise their rates for 2018 or pull out altogether. He is intentionally sabotaging our health insurance markets and leaving hardworking American families and small businesses to bear the brunt.”

The insurance commissioner of Washington state blamed the Trump administration this week for the planned departure of two insurers from the state, attributing it to their refusal to guarantee the billions of dollars in reimbursements expected by the health insurers.

“For months, we’ve worked closely with our health insurers and other stakeholders in a concerted effort to try to explain to the Trump administration and congressional leaders what the impact could be to our market and most importantly, to our consumers, if this level of uncertainty and volatility continued,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

“Today, our predictions came true.”

House Republicans filed suit in 2014 saying that those CSR payments should have been funded through a congressional appropriation. Republicans estimated these payments are about $7 billion a year.

In May 2016, a federal judge agreed with them, ruling that the Obama administration had been making illegal payments to health insurance companies participating in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges. The Obama administration appealed that ruling.

House Republicans successfully asked for a delay in the case. after Trump was elected last November.

The letter to the president was co-signed by Congress members Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy, Al Lawson, Frederica Wilson, Charlie Crist, Val Demings and Alcee Hastings.

Kathy Castor: Investigations on Russia, Trump administration are ‘cloud’ over D.C.

While there are many things both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill want to accomplish, Kathy Castor laments the business of Congress has slowed considerably by what she calls a “cloud” over the Trump administration’s possible collusion with Russia during last year’s election.

“What an atmosphere it is,” the Tampa Democratic congresswoman said in opening remarks at the Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“I hope we can remove this cloud. The economy is better. People are generally hopeful, they want America to be a world leader, and this cloud has got to go away, because I think that everything that we have going for us, as long as that cloud remains over the White House in Washington. We’re not able to reach our full potential.”

For months, Castor had been among Congressional Democrats calling for an independent commission to investigate allegations about members of the Trump administration and the Russian government. She called the recent Justice Department appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the situation a positive development.

“I think that broke the fever a little bit,” she said, adding that the constant news revelations about Trump and the Russians have “stalled a lot of the business going on in the Congress.”

“There have been some things going on,” she acknowledged, “but the pace of lawmaking is much slower than I’ve seen over the past ten years.”

The Tampa Representative touched on just a few of those items not being covered in the media that she worries about, such as the president’s signing of a Congressional resolution repealing rules that would have required internet service providers to get customer permission to collect, use and sell information about one’s online habits.

Castor says the role of Congress should now be to do a “broader dive” into recommendations on how to prevent the interference of foreign governments into our elections. In March, former FBI Director James Comey told a congressional panel the FBI was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination.

No member of Congress has been more active in promoting relations between Cuba and the U.S. than Castor, who represents one of the largest Cuban-American communities in the U.S. She admitted that recent reports of the Trump administration being ready to roll back some of the major pieces of the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba and reinstating limits on travel and commerce, citing human rights abuses by the Castro government as justification for a more punitive approach.

“I’ve been an optimist on these until the last few days,” she confessed, charging Trump with being on a path “just to flex his muscles, notwithstanding logic and facts.”

“I think we are somewhat in risk of President Trump in his pledge to change Cuban policy and that would be a real shame for the families in this community and families across the country,” she added.

Castor’s appearance at the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” meeting was, in essence, a regular town-hall meeting. It was the type of event she has eschewed in recent years, opting for events where she invites the public to meetings, meeting up on a one-on-one basis.

Traditional town hall meetings haven’t been scheduled very often after an explosive encounter with Tea Party activists during the discussions about the Affordable Care Act back in 2009.

All of the questions were of a friendly nature, including a softball from an official with the Hillsborough County School Board who asked her opinion of HB 7069, a charter-school-friendly $419 million school bill in the Florida Legislature that she had already vocally opposed. Public education officials and organizations vehemently opposed the legislation.

“What the Florida Legislature has been doing to our public schools is criminal, and we have got to stand up and fight for it,” she said, adding that it wasn’t too late to have people contact Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons