Hundreds of billions in spending brings bipartisanship
They thought they had a deal. Senate negotiators crafted a massive two-year spending blueprint that significantly raised both military and domestic spending.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was feeling good. He was touting the parts that included $2.36 billion for Florida citrus growers and other farmers, along with $2.7 billion for schools around the country impacted by disasters.
It also contained $6.9 billion for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for Medicaid and to rebuild their electric grids.
“The people of Florida and Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover from last year’s devastating storms and the disaster funding in this bill will help provide them some much-needed relief,” Nelson said. “The disaster funding in this bill will not only help provide Florida’s schools and citrus growers the help they need, it will also help Puerto Rico rebuild its power grid and avoid an even greater health care crisis.”
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio was also on board. He went to the Senate floor and extolled the virtues of working together.
“I must say the ability to work with Senator Nelson on this has been invaluable,” he said. “To have two Senators from two different parties singing from the same song sheet about the priorities that are critical to our state and what’s unique about the storm and disaster relief is the impact on Florida wasn’t just on Florida, but also on Puerto Rico.”
In the House, several Democrats are unhappy, led by an 8-hour Nancy Pelosi talk-a-thon, the deal does not include a fix for the younger undocumented immigrants (DREAMers). Some pledged to vote against any deal for that reason.
While such opposition is usually reserved from Democrats, some Republicans like Carlos Curbelo of Kendall have voted against the previous stopgap spending measures because of the issue.
On Thursday, he indicated he would vote for the package because “the Speaker (Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan) delivered the strongest commitment yet that legislation (for DREAMers) will be considered on the floor of the House.”
There was plenty of pushback from Republicans. Dennis Ross of Lakeland told The Hill newspaper the increase in deficits is giving conservatives “heartburn.” Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz said fiscal hawks are becoming “an endangered species.”
With the deadline approaching, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul decided to throw a monkey wrench into the bipartisanship. He was able to delay any vote until very late on Thursday/early Friday.
Senate just approved $90 billion in disaster assistance to help people in Florida and Puerto Rico recover from last year’s hurricanes. This is a big win for all those who are still struggling to recover from these devastating storms. pic.twitter.com/vMDWmd3G55
— Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) February 9, 2018
Even if the measure would pass, by the time the House would get it, the government would be in shutdown mode. The deadline was Thursday at midnight.
In the end, after a brief shutdown, Congress passed the two-year budget early Friday morning. The Senate voted 71-28 in favor while the House sent it on to President Donald Trump with a 240-186 vote.
Despite the lack of a provision for DREAMers, enough Democrats joined a majority of Republicans to get it through. The delegation had a wide variety of reactions.
Rubio calls for more sanctions on Iran
In response to Tehran’s continued pursuit of ballistic missile programs and capabilities, Rubio and Indiana Republican, Todd Young, today led a letter signed by 14 senators to President Trump. The letter advocated for the imposition of tough additional sanctions.
The senators noted that Iran is actively pursuing these capabilities which threaten American troops, allies, and their interests. In addition, they also note that these missiles may eventually have the range to target the U.S. and would be capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
“As many serious and urgent threats compete for attention, we believe it is important to remain focused on the growing threat that Iran’s ballistic missile program represents,” they wrote. “We applaud your administration’s recent actions with respect to Iran’s ballistic missile program.”
The letter noted the recent testimony from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence. Coats said “Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons,” and called on Congress to impose sanctions on any applicable sector of the Iranian economy.
In January 2017, Rubio, Young and Texas Republican, John Cornyn introduced the Iran Nonnuclear Sanctions Act of 2017.
Nelson has slight lead over Scott in latest poll
A new poll from the University of North Florida shows Democratic Sen. Nelson with a 6-point lead in a hypothetical matchup with Republican Gov. Rick Scott. The University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research lab showed Nelson with a 48 percent plurality to 42 percent for Scott.
“Even though it appears Nelson has a reasonable lead in the poll, the election results will ultimately get determined by who shows up in November,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF.
“Both Senate candidates have net positive job approval ratings of 32 percentage points,” said Binder. “This high level of job approval is very unusual and is going to lead to a hotly contested election.”
Nelson sported a 52 percent approval rating compared to 20 percent of respondents who disapproved. Scott was given a 63 percent approval rating with 31 percent disapproving.
Scott on Tuesday in Jacksonville dodged questions about whether or not he was polling or fundraising, referring media to public polls.
Trump ad blast’s Democratic reaction to State of the Union
The president’s re-election campaign is out with an ad highlighting the lack of Democratic enthusiasm to his State of the Union Address last week. Calling their behavior “disgraceful,” Trump said their response to his message of a “safe, strong and proud America” was “predictable.”
With clips of the president ticking off items of positive economic news, the video focuses on Democrats, especially Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sitting quietly while Republicans cheered. Among the Democrats shown in the video is Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Kathy Castor of Tampa.
“President Trump’s State of the Union Address was so profound that even the mainstream media called it ‘strong’ and ‘inspirational,’ said Michal S. Glassner, Executive Director of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. “Yet, our ad demonstrates that the unprecedented expressions of disrespect shown by the Democrats toward our people and our country were also profound — for the wrong reasons.”
Gaetz wants Schiff to step aside
The Republican from Fort Walton Beach said House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, should step aside from his leadership role in the panel’s Russia inquiry. Schiff has been the leading voice of House Democrats in opposition to the majority, led by California Republican Devin Nunes.
Gaetz believes Schiff should step aside because he allegedly sought damaging information about Trump from what he thought was a Ukrainian politician, but was instead two pranksters. Gaetz also called out Schiff for his 2013 appearance on the Kremlin-funded propaganda channel RT.
“Here you’ve got Adam Schiff engaging with Ukrainians trying to dig up dirt on the president with seemingly no interest in whether or not the information is true or false or doctored,” Gaetz told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Wednesday.
Gaetz said “the fact that he goes on Russia Today, the Russian-sponsored television channel, to talk about our intelligence system certainly indicates that Adam Schiff should step aside.”
Gaetz was a leading figure in the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign and said Schiff’s credibility has “eroded” and mocked the Congressman for adopting scare tactics to stop the release of the memo.
“I mean, it was only a few weeks ago Adam Schiff was saying if we released the Devin Nunes memo there would be a national security catastrophe. That’s been proven to be false,” Gaetz said.
Murphy joins Curbelo to help veterans move to civilian life
The first-term Democrat from Winter Park and the Republican from Kendall are working together to help veterans transition to civilian life. On Tuesday, they introduced a bill which, they insist, “will better prepare departing service members to attend college, learn a technical trade, or start a small business.”
The Act is called the “Better Access to Technical Training, Learning, and Entrepreneurship (BATTLE) for Servicemembers Act.” Currently, former service members can take two-day workshops on higher education, skills training, and entrepreneurship offered by a variety of federal government branches. However, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), less than 15 percent of eligible service members took part in the Fiscal Year 2016.
Curbelo’s and Murphy’s bill requires departing service members participate in the workshops though they will be able to opt out of it if they so choose.
“I believe departing service members should supplement the core curriculum with at least one of the two-day workshops, so they can receive training tailored to their specific personal and professional goals-whether that involves going to school, learning a trade, or starting a business,” Murphy said on the House floor.
Murphy is the lead sponsor of the bill, while Curbelo is one of 3 co-sponsors.
“We owe it to our service members, and their families, to better help them transition back to the civilian job market,” Curbelo said. “We have a variety of programs available, though too many of these brave men and women are not aware they exist.”
The (BATTLE) Act is supported by groups such as The Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The Student Veterans of America, and The Millennial Action Project.
Crist’s veterans treatment court visit coincides with pending bill
The first-term Democrat from St. Petersburg paid a visit to a courtroom this week. While he had no involvement with the proceedings, Crist was able to see firsthand real people featured in legislation filed in November.
Crist was in a veterans’ treatment court in Largo on Monday to witness to see some of the veterans accused of crimes get a second chance. In a bill filed in November with California Republican Jeff Denham, Crist is seeking to expand funding for similar programs nationwide.
He believes veterans accused of nonviolent felonies and suffering from mental health issues, should have the chance to get the help and treatment they need. Charges against them are dropped if they complete their treatment.
“It really is an ‘all hands on deck’ effort and you can see that,” Crist said. “I think only through that cooperation do our veterans get the services that they truly deserve.”
Crist and Denham filed their bill in December to coincide with Veterans Day.
Castor says local process for disability claims is too slow
The Tampa Democrat is concerned about what she describes as “very serious delays” in processing Social Security (SSA) disability claims coming out of the administration’s Tampa office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Castor is calling for a prompt review of the local ODAR office and a plan of action to improve the process.
In a Tuesday letter, Castor asked the Social Security Administration’s Acting Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, to get to the bottom of it.
“As you know, citizens often rely on disability claims for life and death resources and such claims should be processed in a reasonable time,” she wrote. “I am concerned there is a serious lack of personnel at the SSA’s Tampa ODAR office.”
Castor had an inkling about one of the main sources of the problem.
“I have been advised that some of the problems may stem from staff working outside the office where they might not have access to relevant files,” she said. “Telecommuting and other programs have been adopted by many agencies, but agencies must be able to ensure that staff working outside the office are just as efficient if not more so.
Dems turning up heat in swing districts; Mast among them
Talk of a Democratic tsunami in the fall House elections has died down somewhat, but Democrats are still holding a 6-point lead in the generic balloting. That is down from the 13-to-14 point margins they enjoyed a month ago.
With Democrats outraising Republicans in several swing districts, the GOP is still facing a possible loss of their majority unless things change for the better. Palm City Republican Brian Mast hopes that is the case.
The Cook Political Report moved 21 seats in favor of the Democrats this week, with Mast’s District 18 seat among those. His re-election was listed as “likely” in the last report, while now it has been shifted to “leans Republican.”
Democrats are counting on a strong challenge from Lauren Baer, who has raised more than $500,000 in her challenge to Mast. Fourth quarter campaign finance reports revealed Mast has slightly more than $1 million cash on hand.
The 21-seat movement includes Democratic incumbents whose re-election is now looking stronger. Winter Park Democrat Murphy is among that group.
Wasserman Schulz slams Polish president for signing controversial law
Last week, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch were asking Polish President Andrzej Duda not to sign legislation designed to criminalize speaking of Polish involvement in the persecution of Jews. The lawmakers were concerned about a lack of accountability by Polish officials who assisted the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Despite the pleas from the Florida lawmakers, Duda signed the bill on Tuesday. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the law “adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry.” Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schulz spoke for many in both parties with her criticism of Duda’s action.
“I am deeply disappointed and dismayed by Polish President Duda’s announcement that he will sign a bill that seeks to bury the truth about the horrors of the Holocaust in Poland,” she said in a statement. “When we say ‘Never Again,’ we must know precisely what we seek to prevent from happening ever again. I sincerely hope that the Polish government, and all those tempted to shirk and ignore the burdens of the past, will reflect and reconsider this misguided and dangerous rewrite of our shared history.”
Despite the urges from the U.S. and Israel, Duda signed the bill which would impose prison sentences on anyone “who publicly and against the facts,” accuses the Polish people of crimes committed by the Nazis. He also said “we do not deny there were cases of huge wickedness,” but also said “there was no systemic way in which Poles took part in it.”
Curbelo, Mast get another boost from American Action Network
New digital ads from the American Action Network (AAN) will drop in a pair of competitive South Florida congressional districts to tout the benefits of the Republican tax reform bill passed in December. The spots, announced Tuesday, will run in Florida’s 18th and 26th Congressional Districts, represented by Republicans Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo, respectively.
Early in the year, Democrats targeted the two seats for possible pickups in their quest to retake the House of Representatives. They need to flip 24 seats to accomplish their goal.
The ad has no dialogue, but instead shows individuals touting the benefits of the tax bill written on poster boards. Among the messages is “saves the average family in Florida $2,248 a year.”
They are part of the AAN’s $2.5 million digital ad campaign to promote the merits of tax reform following the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act shortly before Christmas. They are one of a handful of conservative organizations touting the benefits of the tax cut nationally.
“All across the country, working families are seeing real results, from paycheck bonuses to an average tax cut of $2,000 thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” said Corry Bliss, AAN executive director. “AAN will continue to promote the benefits of pro-growth tax reform for the middle class because families deserve to know how these cuts will provide them with much-needed peace of mind.”
The Cook Political Report lists Mast’s Palm Beach County CD 18 seat as “likely Republican” at this point, while Curbelo’s CD 26 seat — running from Miami to Key West — is considered a “toss-up.”