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Entitlement cut issue reappears
During the 1996 campaign cycle, the AFL-CIO ran an advertisement taking a comment from then-speaker Newt Gingrich out of context, leaving viewers with the message Gingrich and Sen. Bob Dole, that year’s presidential nominee, wanted to destroy Medicare. The “wither on the vine” ad accomplished the goal of the Medi-scare campaign.
A quarter-century later, no one can credibly argue President Donald Trump is out to destroy Medicare and Social Security but said he would “take a look” at changing entitlement programs. He should expect some ads coming his way.
Earlier this week, Trump presented his 2020-2021 budget proposal calling for $4.89 trillion in spending and a cut of $590 billion for non-defense programs. It proposes $4.6 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade and a balanced budget in 15 years.
The reductions would include $2.2 trillion from savings on entitlements programs, including $130 billion from Medicare prescription drug pricing. While Gingrich had his words and meaning twisted into an attack ad, Trump opponents (beginning with Mike Bloomberg) will use his own budget to focus on entitlements and divert attention away from a strong economy the Trump campaign wants to talk about.
In a tweet, Trump said his administration “will not be touching your Social Security and Medicare” in the current budget. He added: “Only Democrats will destroy them” by destroying the economy.”
Presidential budget requests typically have a life expectancy about as long as love bugs hanging around interstate highways, but this one might be even less. Trump is requesting $2 billion in border wall funding which will cause some to light the request on fire figuratively.
The budget will have some items to make most, if not all, of the Florida delegation happy. After bipartisan calls to add $250 million for Everglades restoration projects, the President fully funded the multiple requests.
“This funding will lead to the completion of critical Everglades Restoration projects and shows this Administration’s continued commitment to Florida,” said Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart in a statement. “I thank POTUS for including the requested $250 million in his proposed budget, and I look forward to advancing this in the House.”
Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City, who wrote his own letter requesting the funding, was elated. In a statement, he said the importance of Trump’s funding proposal “cannot be overstated.”
The proposal also calls for a 12% increase for NASA, while the Department of Veterans Affairs would see a 14% hike. On the other end, the Environmental Protection Agency was targeted for a 26% cut.
“While the president’s budget proposal nearly fully funds our bipartisan Florida delegation request for $250 million for the Everglades Restoration, his undermining of the Environmental Protection Agency puts South Florida’s drinking water and environment at risk,” said Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a statement.
Both parties can agree on a few items and disagree on others, but entitlement programs and health care will likely be a standard line of attack against Trump for the remainder of the 2020 cycle.
Obama administration response faulted
The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a report faulting the Barack Obama administration for not taking stronger steps to confront Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, attributed the lack of response to “paralysis by analysis.”
Democrats did not dispute the core conclusion of the report but pointed out Republicans could have done more to warn the public. The report also contains the resistance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to put forward a bipartisan statement warning Americans of the ongoing Russian activities.
Marco Rubio, a committee member, focused on the role of the Obama administration. He described the federal government as woefully unprepared for what was happening at the time.
“Well before the 2016 election, there was clear and mounting evidence that Russia intended to conduct cyberattacks against our political infrastructure,” Rubio and four Republican committee colleagues said in a joint statement following the report’s release.
Joining the statement were Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, John Cornyn of Texas, Jim Risch of Idaho and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“This report and our additional views demonstrate the Obama administration was paralyzed in recognizing, and incompetent in responding forcefully to Russian attempts to sow discord in the U.S. and influence our elections,” the five Senators added.
The report, which concluded the Russian intervention helped the Trump campaign, marks the third installment of the Committee’s intense probe of Russian activities. The first report covered Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure, while the second was titled Russia’s Use of Social Media.
“Their delayed and ineffective response — combined with other missed opportunities — enabled further Russian aggression,” Rubio and his GOP colleagues added. “Our report highlights the risks not only of failing to heed intelligence warnings, but also of accommodating authoritarians like Vladimir Putin.”
The two remaining installments will examine the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Russian interference and the Committee’s final counterintelligence findings.
Rubio blasts, praises bank
Popular school choice programs among conservatives and minority parents involve vouchers or corporate programs that allow corporate donors to receive tax credits for contributions to private and religious school programs. Recently, two major banks, Fifth-Third and Wells Fargo announced they were ending participation in Florida’s Step Up for Students program due to an Orlando Sentinel story pointing out more than 150 schools that hold anti-LGBTQ views, but benefit from the program.
Rubio blasted the banks, saying the decision was “aimed at earning ‘wokeness’ points with the radical left.” A group of African American and Hispanic pastors came to Tallahassee to accuse Democrats of pressuring donors.
Fifth-Third Bank had second thoughts, reversing their previous decision and resuming donations to the school choice program. The bank said it could support the program again, following a “comprehensive review” and “detailed conversations” with management at AAA Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit organization that administers part of the program.
“I am glad to see Fifth-Third Bank putting students and their families above destructive identity politics,” Rubio said in a statement. “It shows people can raise their voice and overcome the insane ‘woke’ agenda that drives our politics and culture.”
China newspaper under scrutiny
Both Florida Senators and several delegation Republicans are urging Attorney General William Barr to conduct a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into China Daily, a (CCP) Chinese Communist Party-owned “propaganda outlet.” In a letter, the signees accuse China Daily of repeated violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
“China Daily’s important role in China’s foreign disinformation campaign warrants a full-fledged investigation into the extent of China Daily’s FARA violations,” the lawmakers wrote. “We request that the DOJ promptly review and produce a report on China Daily’s compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
In addition to Rick Scott and Rubio, five other delegation Republicans signed on. Those included Reps. Greg Steube of Sarasota, Bill Posey of Rockledge, Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, Michael Waltz of St. Augustine and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
“We can’t allow the CCP to infiltrate American media,” Scott tweeted.
Those signing the letter requested “the report include a description of China Daily’s potential FARA violations and recommended actions” that Congress may take action upon.
“No person or organization, on our soil, is above U.S. law,” tweeted Yoho. “I’m encouraged to see broad congressional support for holding #China Daily accountable for violating FARA regulations as a foreign agent.”
Floridians meet with Guaidó
Trump had many guests at the State of the Union speech, including one recognized by the U.S. government as a head of state. Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó was warmly received in the House chamber before embarking on a series of meetings with Senators and Representatives the following day.
Guaidó spent some time with House leadership and several South Florida Democrats. All pledged their support for Venezuelans who remain and those that have fled to the United States.
Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said the group “talked #VenezuelaTPS (temporary protected status) & the need for allies to join in sanctioning actors propping up Maduro’s authoritarian regime.”
Late last week, Russia dispatched Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to bolster dictator Nicolas Maduro. At the same time, Scott traveled to Miami to meet with Guaidó to discuss the efforts to force Maduro from power.
“It was an honor to join Interim President Guaidó in Miami today as we continue working to bring freedom to the people of Venezuela,” Scott said in a news release. “We will never stop fighting for an end to Nicolas Maduro’s brutal regime, and the United States will always stand with those fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights.”
Afghan university funding sought
The American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) stands as one of the efforts of the U.S. to improve the lives of those in the region. Many cite the importance of AUAF to the stability of the area.
Waltz is a strong advocate for the role of the university and seeks to keep its doors open for years to come. He led a letter with 41 bipartisan members of Congress to emphasize the importance of the (AUAF) to the stability of the region.
“The United States has long stood with Afghans as they confront the challenges of terrorism and strive for peace,” the letter reads. “AUAF is an integral component to the long-term stability of Afghanistan and, therefore, the long-term security of the United States.”
AUAF is in danger of closing because of an impending expiration of a cooperative agreement between the university and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). They are requesting continued funding for AUAF as appropriated by Congress in the letter.
“The United States has long stood with Afghans as they confront the challenges of terrorism and strive for peace. AUAF is an integral component of the long-term stability of Afghanistan and, therefore, the long-term security of the United States,” the letter continues. “By ignoring the importance of allocating funding and simply allowing AUAF to shut its doors, the United States is jeopardizing the security of future Afghan generations.”
Among those signing the letter were Florida Reps. Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel.
“It is this kind of work that both Congress and the administration prioritized through the passage and implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 and the subsequent release of the United States Strategy on Women, Peace and Security,” they wrote. “The administration furthered its commitment to these principles by establishing the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative last February, spearheaded by Ivanka Trump.
“In societies where women thrive, extremism does not. @AUAfghanistan is key to this mission,” Waltz tweeted.
In-state tuition sought
Thousands of Puerto Ricans fled to Florida and other parts of the mainland following Hurricane Maria. More are expected after the recent earthquakes, prompting members of the Florida Delegation to seek in-state tuition rates for those students seeking to enroll in a Florida college or university.
Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee led a letter joined by nine other delegation Democrats, to the Chancellor of the State University System, Marshall M. Criser III. The members urged him to work with the Florida Board of Governors to extend in-state tuition to students that have relocated to Florida.
“When trying to readjust after a major disaster that destroyed an entire way of life, saving thousands of dollars in tuition can make a huge difference for these students and their families,” they wrote.
“We respectfully encourage you to consider working with the Florida Board of Governors to extend in-state tuition through the current semester to students that have relocated to Florida after being displaced by the recent earthquake swarm.”
If approved, displaced students from Puerto Rico would pay about $200 per credit hour as opposed to the $750 per credit hour charged to out-of-state students. In 2018 following Hurricane Maria, the University of Central Florida’s Board of Trustees voted to extend in-state tuition for Puerto Rican Students through 2023.
Soto tweeted. “Proud to lead my colleagues in demanding in-state tuition for Puerto Rican students who fled to Florida!”
Those signing the letter included Hastings, Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Val Demings of Orlando, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Donna Shalala of Coral Gables and Al Lawson of Tallahassee.
Democrats slam Vindman firing
It did not take long for Trump to remove some who testified during last fall’s impeachment inquiry. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was relieved of his duties, but the removal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and how it was conducted, brought about the most outrage.
Vindman was removed from the National Security Council based in the White House. While he will move on to another assignment with the U.S. Army, the fact that a decorated war officer was escorted from the White House was outrageous to many.
“Lt. Col. Vindman has served our country with duty, honor, and distinction for over 20 years,” tweeted Demings, one of seven House impeachment managers. “He earned the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in Iraq, he safeguarded our national defense, and he had the courage to testify when others were too afraid to follow the law and appear.”
To the surprise of no one, Trump had a Twitter response to the hoopla.
“Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about ‘Lt. Col.’ Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was,” Trump said. “Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly …”
Vindman is slated to begin classes at the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn. this summer.
Pro-labor bill passes
The strength of labor unions is not what it was during the latter part of the 20th century, but big labor can still influence public policy on occasion. Labor’s role in shaping the final version of the U.S., Mexico and Canada Agreement (USMCA) is the latest example.
The House has passed a bill designed to protect and enhance union organizing, which has seen Republican legislatures — including Florida — seek to weaken their influence and ability to help fund Democratic candidates. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, was approved by a vote of 224-190 and is designed to protect striking workers and inhibit the use of nonunion workers such as independent contractors (“ABC test”).
“Sadly, to counter the power of collective bargaining, some in corporate America have struck back by harassing union organizers, denying information to employees, and using independent contractors,” Frankel said in a video.
Today, @HouseDemocrats passed the #PROAct to defend and secure labor unions—the champion of American workers. pic.twitter.com/ockHPETgkR
— Rep. Lois Frankel (@RepLoisFrankel) February 7, 2020
“That’s why Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. to defend and secure our labor unions.”
Among the bill’s 218 co-sponsors were 12 delegation Democrats. Murphy was one of only seven House Democrats to vote against the bill, expressing concern over the ABC test.
“I also have concerns about the ABC test in the bill, which is too restrictive and could have the unintended consequence of limiting job opportunities for the millions of Americans who seek flexibility in their work schedule,” Murphy said in a news release explaining her “no” vote.
All Florida Republicans voted against the bill.
Puerto Rico aid disputed again
After the recent earthquakes that brought more destruction to an already battered Puerto Rico, another controversy over emergency aid arose. House Democrats passed nearly $5 billion in emergency relief by a vote of 237-161. Still, Trump has threatened to veto it because as much as $44 billion in previously appropriated funds have yet to be spent.
“He repeatedly has turned his back on the families in Puerto Rico,” Castor said in a news release.
Democrats blame the Trump administration for not releasing millions of dollars in aid, while Republicans point to recent revelations that already-approved aid sat in a warehouse until last month.
Diaz-Balart, Waltz, and Posey joined with Democrats to vote in favor of the funding, while Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Daniel Webster of Clermont did not vote.
New York Democratic Rep. Nydia Velasquez sent separate tweets calling out each Florida Republican who voted against the funding. Each tweet contained the number of Puerto Ricans living in the districts of Reps. Steube, Yoho, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, John Rutherford and Ross Spano.
Spano responded to the missive, claiming Velasquez voted against Puerto Rico aid in 2017 when Republicans were writing the bills.
“When you get punched, you fight back,” Spano tweeted. “Distorting the facts has become way too common in the #DC swamp.” This is not about lack of funding, but partisan politics.”
The Senate is not expected to act on the House bill.
Dems blast Medicaid proposal
The Trump administration has put forward a controversial proposal to send block grants to states as a way to curb the rising costs of Medicaid. Democrats have loudly criticized the plan as just another attempt by Republicans to take health care away from those who need it.
“’m proud to stand with Democrats fighting back against the Trump Administration’s illegal Medicaid block grant scheme, which threatens health care for millions of Americans,” tweeted Hastings of Delray Beach.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Director Seema Verma, who created the plan, blasted the Democratic reaction.
“The tired canard that the Trump Administration is sabotaging the (Affordable Care Act) rings hollow,” Verma said. “Rather, we are keeping what works and fixing what’s broken.”
House Democrats put forward a nonbinding resolution expressing opposition to the Medicaid proposal. The wording demands the Trump administration to “faithfully execute the law, including the Medicaid Act.”
“A Medicaid block grant is a Medicaid cut,” Crist said in a release announcing the resolution. “That means cutting health care for the most vulnerable in our country: seniors, children, low-income people, and people with disabilities. It’s unacceptable.”
Bill doubles estuary funding
Although last week’s spotlight was on the State of the Union address and Senate vote to acquit Trump, House passed legislation to help protect estuaries. The Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act, sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski, reauthorizes the National Estuary Program and passed by a 355-62 vote.
All delegation members voted for the bill while Reps. Webster and Yoho did not vote. Included among the 26 co-sponsors were Florida Democrats Crist and Wasserman Schultz, along with Florida Republicans Buchanan, Mast and Posey.
The bill reauthorizes and almost doubles funds for the National Estuary Program (NEP), including the Indian River Lagoon and Sarasota Bay, from $26.5 million to $50 million. Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island introduced the companion bill last month.
“The Indian River Lagoon is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, which is just one of the countless reasons we need to do more to protect and restore it,” Mast said. “Working together to pass this legislation is a big win in our fight to improve water quality and will go a long way for our communities that rely on healthy estuaries.”
Posey and Mast are co-chairs of the Congressional Estuary Caucus, while Crist, Wasserman Schultz, Rooney, and Bilirakis are caucus members.
“Sarasota Bay plays a key role in the Suncoast’s thriving economy and serves as a habitat for countless plants and wildlife,” Buchanan said. “I will continue to fight for our estuary so residents and visitors can enjoy the bay for decades to come.”
On this day
Feb. 11, 2010 — Longtime Miami-area Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced he would not seek another term in Congress. Diaz-Balart, a Republican first elected in 1992, said he would return to his law practice and continue working for Democracy in Cuba where he “can be more useful to the inevitable change that will soon come to Cuba.”
On the same day, his brother Mario Diaz-Balart indicated he would switch districts and run for Florida’s 25th Congressional District seat Lincoln intends to vacate. The move would have Mario running in what is described as a safer district for a Republican Cuban American.
Feb. 11, 2015 — President Obama went to Congress seeking authority to take military action against the Islamic State. The move comes after three public beheadings and the murder of American aid worker Kayla Mueller. Republicans seek a broad authority that could include ground troops, while Democrats argue they would support a narrow scope.
Both Florida Senators support Obama’s request. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Congress “should give the President clear and defined authority to strike and defeat Isis. Republican Sen. Rubio said, “What we need to be authorizing the President to do is to destroy them and defeat them.” The request is expected to be debated in Congress for weeks.