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Delegation for 5.12.20: Reopening — stimulus blocked — employer incentives — space launches — cancer drug parity?

Florida’s delegation finds small comfort in Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen Florida for business.

Politics of reopening

Florida has begun to gradually reopen the economy, placing most of the state in the first phase of a three-stage plan designed to reach full operation ultimately. As it was when Gov. Ron DeSantis delayed ordering a statewide stay-at-home order, delegation Democrats are not on the same page with the Governor’s current strategy.

One week ago, Phase One of the Florida reopening began and continued this week with salons and barbershops added to the mix. Democrats again wrote to the Governor, this time to express “grave concerns,” urging him to put health and safety at the top of the list.

Many Democratic delegation members are not fully on board with Ron DeSantis’ reopening plan. Image via AP.

While the letter expressed alarm at even a small reopening without significantly more testing available, they did find a point of comfort in the DeSantis approach.

“We are relieved that the three South Florida counties (Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach) that continue to be at the epicenter of the pandemic in Florida are excluded from the State’s reopening plan,” they wrote. “Nevertheless, we know all too well that a virus does not respect borders or county lines, and reopening in one area does not preclude another area from increased risk.”

Those signing the letter included Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Lois Frankel, Val Demings, Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala.

Not long after the ink dried on this letter came word that Palm Beach County wanted to be on the list of those joining the first phase. County Mayor Dave Kerner, with the support of county commissioners, wrote to DeSantis asking for permission to be included.

Those who represent portions of the county in Congress expressed their concerns with the move, fearing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Hastings, Deutch, and Frankel issued a joint statement repeating the call for safety on behalf of those they represent.

“The county should exercise discretion and move cautiously creating limitations to the Phase 1 order until there is a testing strategy in place, more PPE for front line workers, and clear guidance to all businesses on how to keep themselves and their customers safe,” they said.

Deutch asked the director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County to offer her views on the wisdom of the county moving forward.

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As of May 12, the county had nearly 3,900 cases and 238 fatalities, behind only Miami-Dade and Broward County. Perhaps prompting the county’s plea were figures revealing that those testing positive have dipped below 7% after a high of 20% in early March.

Republicans have also spoken of safety, but despite some testing and equipment gaps, they are far more eager to get the economy moving again than their Democratic counterparts. Virus flare-ups or hot spots are possible, they say, but directing resources to those hot spots is the way to move forward instead of nearly total economic lockdowns.

The stakes are high. Most importantly, the second wave of deadly cases would be tragic and likely carry political consequences into the November elections. Allowing the economy to continue heading toward long-term disaster would have disastrous financial and political implications as well.

Six months from now, who will get to say, “I told you so?”

Blocked stimulus

Some Americans are still waiting on their stimulus payments, but for different reasons. While not all of those eligible to receive their bonus have seen their stimulus, others are being denied because they are married to undocumented immigrants.

A provision in the CARES Act denies stimulus checks to more than 1 million U.S. citizens in that category. That came as a surprise to Sen. Marco Rubio.

More than 1 million stimulus checks have been held up, a surprise to Marco Rubio.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Rubio said in a Telemundo interview. “I would like to learn more about those cases and intervene.”

The provision states that for the citizen to receive their payment, both filers must have a Social Security number. Undocumented workers often pay taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Number (ITN), but that is not sufficient to help the citizen spouse in this case.

“Somebody doesn’t lose their citizenship or their rights as a citizen because they’re married to somebody who doesn’t have documents,” Rubio said.

Democratic Congressional leadership has called for eliminating the provision in the next round of coronavirus payments.

$3B food buy

Farmers are having a particularly difficult time coping with the economic lockdown necessitated by COVID-19. While other businesses are shut down and lamenting products not made, farmers and ranchers have plenty of meat, produce and milk, but the broken supply chain has left them with no market to sell their goods.

Help is on the way as President Donald Trump tweeted the government would spend $3 billion on agricultural products for distribution to food programs around the country. This is part of an ongoing project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture called “Farmers to Family Food Box.”

“Thank you @realDonaldTrump and @SecretarySonny for your commitment to our American producers,” tweeted Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville, a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Ted Yoho is cheering the federal support of American farmers in the stimulus package.

“This purchase of produce, dairy and meat products will go far to help our farmers, ranchers, and consumers in Florida. This is huge!”

The temporary shutdown of meat processing plants, crops going unharvested in the fields and the pouring out of millions of gallons of milk have appeared on network news and social media posts. While that has occurred, food banks have faced shortages as they help those in need.

Task Force adds Waltz

Rep. Michael Waltz has been a consistent and vocal critic of China since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, Waltz and 15 other Republican lawmakers were named to the House Republicans’ China Task Force by House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy described Waltz as “an excellent fit” for the task force, which will be led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The purpose is to investigate China’s role in the spread of the virus and its dominant position in American commerce.

Michael Waltz, a key critic of China, gets a high-profile position on the House Republican China Task Force.

“Though new to Congress, he has already spent over 20 years serving his country as an Army officer, including multiple combat tours overseas in the elite Green Berets,” McCarthy said of Waltz. “As a warrior and a policymaker, he understands that our present challenge goes well beyond defeating a single pandemic and that there is no substitute for victory.”

The task force will serve as a clearinghouse for ideas on China policy, including the Chinese Communist Party’s influence activity, supply chain dominance, infiltration and intellectual property theft at American universities. The group is made up of GOP house members that hold seats on 14 committees of jurisdiction to coordinate policy on China.

“Coronavirus has been a wake-up call to America that the Chinese government is not our friend — in fact, it’s actually the most threatening adversary America has ever faced,” Waltz said. “In Congress, it’s important we craft policy to put America’s interests first and curb China’s growing power.”

In March, Waltz introduced legislation to reduce China’s hold on pharmaceutical supply lines by returning drug manufacturing to the U.S. Additionally, he filed a bill to reduce China’s theft of American academic research by blocking the Defense Department from funding research at any university participating in China’s “Thousand Talents Program.”

Last month, he said that China has a troubling amount of influence over the World Health Organization, noting the praise the country received for its “transparency.” They have also been accused of manipulating data to downplay the number of cases and deaths caused by the virus.

“China’s Communist ideology is a threat to our American freedoms,” Waltz said. “For the future of our national security and our way of life, we have to be smart and we must act now to protect them.”

Employer incentives

One of the main goals for Congress and the White House U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to provide incentives to businesses to keep employees on their payrolls. In that vein, Rep. Stephanie Murphy and four House colleagues have introduced the jump-starting Our Businesses’ Success Credit (JOBS Credit) Act of 2020 to enhance the employee retention tax credit (ERTC).

The ERTC is a refundable tax credit equal to 50% of up to $10,000 in qualified wages that an eligible employer pays to an employee between March 12, 2020, and January 1, 2021. It was recently enacted by Congress and signed by Trump in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Stephanie Murphy is looking to add incentives for employers to retain employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress, working with the Trump administration, have already managed to put politics aside and pass four bills to mitigate the health and economic effects of COVID-19,” Murphy said in a news release announcing the bill.

“Congress can once again act in this ‘country-first’ spirit by expanding this bipartisan initiative to reduce layoffs, protect workers’ health insurance benefits, and help ensure a quick and robust economic recovery.”

Murphy is fully entrenched in the issue. She was the first Member of Congress to propose the inclusion of the ERTC in the CARES Act and worked successfully to secure its passage.

The Jobs Credit Act encourages businesses of all sizes to retain their employees so that workers may continue to receive income and employer-sponsored health care without seeking unemployment benefits. It aims to increase the credit percentage from 50 to 80% and raise the ceiling from $10,000 to $15,000, among other provisions.

Joining Murphy, the bill’s lead sponsor, on this legislation are Republican Reps. John Katko of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania along with Democratic Reps. Suzan DelBene of Washington and Chris Pappas New Hampshire.

Space launches

Last week, space historians noted the 59th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s launch into space, the first American to leave the atmosphere. Just two weeks before Cape Canaveral will be the site of the next manned mission, a bipartisan bill designed to keep America first in space was introduced.

Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge joined with Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg to introduce the American Space Commerce Act. The bill provides incentives for American space firms to keep investing in U.S. efforts and to keep launching from American soil.

On the 59th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s launch into space, Congress once again looks to the heavens. Image via NASA.

“Our domestic space launch industry is in our national security interest and America is up against unfair trade practices from nations like China and Russia that heavily subsidize space launches,” said Posey, the bill’s lead sponsor.

“Our bill provides a powerful incentive for our space firms to keep investing to support America’s growing commercial space sector, further advancing our leadership in space and securing the ultimate military high ground for years to come.”

The lawmakers cited a 2019 report to Congress from the U.S. — China Economic and Security Review Commission which found China is seeking “to establish a commanding position in the commercial launch and satellite sectors relying in part on aggressive state-backed financing that foreign market-driven companies cannot match.”

“The U.S. aerospace industry plays a critical role in advancing our nation’s space exploration goals, national security posture and global competitiveness,” said Crist, the legislation’s original co-sponsor. “I’m proud to work with Congressman Posey to introduce this bill to strengthen American leadership in space.

“The American Space Commerce Act will help shield the U.S. aerospace industry from unfair trade practices, promote our national security, and protect workers in communities across Florida and America.”

Both Posey and Crist are members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

CDC bottled up?

As states slowly begin to reopen, governors and local officials will seek all the guidance they can get. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has a document with 17 pages worth of guidance, but it has not been released by the White House, prompting a leak to the media.

The Associated Press and other media outlets are describing the action as the White House “burying” the report, while Dr. Deborah Birx of the coronavirus task force and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany both say the document’s status is “undergoing edits.” Whatever the status, Crist wants the guidelines to see the light of day quickly.

Despite Dr. Deborah Birx saying the CDC reopening guidelines needed work, delegation members want the report made public. Image via AP.

“Why was the leaked guidance not officially published,” the St. Petersburg Democrat asked in a letter to Trump. “When will the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issue industry-specific guidance for operating businesses safely? Will the White House endorse the safety guidelines and abide by them?”

While the next step is uncertain, it would appear the guidelines will be provided in some form. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield issued a statement describing an ongoing process.

“The reopening guidance shared prematurely was in draft form and had not been vetted through the interagency review process,” he said.

In another twist, Deutch appears to be going around the White House to get the guidelines out into the public domain. In a letter to Redfield over the weekend, Deutch urged him to get the critical information to communities around the country.

“I respectfully ask that you continue to work with the scientific experts that you lead to ensure that the information Americans need to reopen safely is published, reaches every community and demographic group across the country, and becomes an example to the rest of the world to show how we can overcome the significant public health challenges ahead,” the Boca Raton Democrat wrote.

Deutch is one of three Florida representatives on the Open Up America Again Congressional panel, along with Murphy and GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Treatment parity

In mid-March, Rep. Gus Bilirakis joined with Democratic Reps. Brian Higgins of New York and Doris Matsui of California, along with Kentucky Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie to introduce the Cancer Drug Parity Act, which would ensure equality of insurance coverage for all cancer treatments regardless of how administered.

As the nation now battles the coronavirus pandemic, this same group is doubling down on their cause and are again seeking assurance in future coronavirus legislation that cancer drugs are available and affordable. The lawmakers sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and McCarthy, urging the inclusion of oral chemo parity going forward.

Gus Bilirakis is calling on Nancy Pelosi to advance a bill giving oral chemo parity with other cancer treatments.

“Because those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, people with cancer are particularly vulnerable at this time,” they wrote. “It is more important than ever that cancer patients are able to access oral anti-cancer medications that they can take at home.”

Chemotherapy is popular with both oncologists and their patients, but insurance coverage for treatments has not kept up with the latest oncology research. As a result, some patients lack access to potentially lifesaving oral therapies. While intravenous (IV) treatments are usually covered under a plan’s medical benefit component, orally administered medications are covered under a plan’s prescription drug component.

“Therefore, it is more important than ever that cancer patients are able to access oral anti-cancer medications that they can take at home. No cancer patient should be forced to choose between a costly oral medication or potentially risking their health and safety to receive IV treatment,” the letter concludes.

The legislation has 131 bipartisan co-sponsors, including ten from the Florida delegation. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Health and has not progressed.

Abortion funding

Abortion is a divisive issue among the parties, but far more Republicans are anti-abortion than Democrats are expressing anti-abortion views. There is more GOP unity when it comes to federal funding for abortions, especially for coronavirus-approved funds.

A new bill was filed in the House prohibiting federal dollars under the COVID-19 emergency packages from funding abortions or abortion coverage. Texas Republican Michael Conaway sponsors the Protecting Life in Crisis Act, with six delegation Republicans signing on as co-sponsors.

While our country is facing COVID-19, we must ensure that no taxpayer money is used for abortions,” said Rep. Ross Spano of Dover. “Protecting the most vulnerable in society should not take a back seat during a pandemic — if anything, it shows us even more how delicate and precious life is. I proudly co-sponsor this legislation.”

Ross Spano wants no coronavirus funds to help provide abortions.

The bill also prevents federal tax credits from being used to cover any post-employment health care (COBRA) premiums that include abortion coverage provisions. The bill can only serve as a statement as it has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Among the bill’s 38 co-sponsors are Spano and GOP Reps. Gaetz, Waltz, Bilirakis, Neal Dunn of Panama City, and John Rutherford of Jacksonville.

China accountability

As the COVID-19 death toll soared to more than 80,000 in the U.S., including nearly 1,800 in Florida, calls for China to face the consequences continue to grow. Rep. Vern Buchanan has signed on to the Stop China-Originated, Viral Infectious Diseases (COVID) Act that would allow U.S. citizens to sue China over the coronavirus.

“China’s lies about the origin, spread, and lethality of the virus led to a global pandemic that has killed more than 80,000 Americans,” the Longboat Key Republican said in a news release. “China must be held accountable both legally and financially.”

Vern Buchanan seeks to give Americans the right to sue China for COVID-19 damages.

Buchanan said that American intelligence officials have confirmed that the Chinese government engaged in a global disinformation campaign regarding the origins and spread of the coronavirus. During the early days of the outbreak in China’s Wuhan province, Chinese officials prevented health officials from both the United States and the World Health Organization from investigating.

He added that Beijing has silenced whistleblowers in China and has expelled scores of Western journalists. Buchanan further charges the Chinese government with continuing to mislead the public on the true death toll and spread of coronavirus, while refusing to release details on even current testing.

A recent report accuses China of pressuring the World Health Organization (World Health Organization) into delaying the issuance of a global health warning. The World Health Organization denied the accusation.

“China’s deceit has cost countless American lives,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan is one of four co-sponsors of the bill, sponsored by Texas Republican Lance Gooden. Gaetz was one of two original co-sponsors.

Virtual sessions?

With no clear plan for the House to return to Washington, those who seek to hold hearings and debate remotely are speaking out again. Deutch is among those who insist there is no more time to wait.

“It is time to find an immediate solution that allows Congress to remotely perform all work typically done in Washington,” the Boca Raton Democrat wrote in an op-ed published in the Palm Beach Post. “It isn’t a question of technological ability. The technology exists and is already in use by our allies” in other countries.

The absence of the House was compared to Senators, who returned to the Capitol last week. Some House Republicans are increasingly criticizing House leadership for their reluctance to follow the Senate’s lead, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the House Physician who, according to Deutch, said, “it could take months, even years” for Congress to return to normal.

Ted Deutch urges virtual sessions, for safety’s sake.

Those over the age of 65 are deemed the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, which must give many members some pause. Both Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are 80, while Majority Whip James Clyburn will be 80 in July. Among Senators, 48 out of 100 are at least age 65, while 147 House members have reached that age.

“We all look forward to the day when we can safely debate legislation on the House floor, cast votes alongside our colleagues, and conduct oversight of the administration in person,” Deutch continued. “Until then, let’s keep doing the work the American people expect us to do. Let’s bring this body into the 21st century.”

Election safety

Throughout the course of the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, delegation Democrats have not been reluctant to offer DeSantis their advice. From the need to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, to multiple letters on the malfunctioning unemployment system, pointing out vulnerabilities of an otherwise popular Governor continue.

As the 2020 elections draw closer, health concerns surrounding voting are increasing. In a letter led by Murphy and signed by 11 other Democrats and a Republican, the Governor is urged to do more to facilitate safe elections, which includes claiming $20.2 million approved by the CARES Act.

Mario Diaz-Balart was the only delegation Republican to sign a letter demanding more election security. Image via AP.

“As of this writing, Florida has not submitted a letter to the EAC (U.S. Election Assistance Commission) formally requesting these federal funds and outlining the ways in which it intends to use them to ensure a safe, secure, and successful election,” the letter reads.

“We urge you to formally request the funds as soon as possible, so funding can be used to prepare for the state’s August 18, 2020, primary election — which is only about 100 days away — and the November 3, 2020, general election,”

The letter also highlighted concerns expressed by the bipartisan Florida Supervisors of Elections, who cited “significant challenges” in the March presidential preference primary due to COVID-19 and said they would face increased administrative costs this election season to ensure the safety of voters and poll workers.

Except for Wilson, all delegation Democrats signed the letter. Also signing was Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.

‘Think big’ 

Another huge coronavirus spending bill is on the horizon, with hundreds of billions of dollars being tossed about for direct payments to individuals and other items. Reports indicate Democrats plan to pass a spending bill over a reluctant GOP, who seeks to see results from nearly $3 trillion in prior spending before committing to billions more.

Pelosi has indicated a need to “think big,” with Wilson taking that message to heart. The Miami Gardens Democrat is proposing more than $200 billion in new education spending.

Frederica Wilson is taking Nancy Pelosi’s call to ‘think big’ to heart.

“With additional federal funds, America’s public schools will be able to administer summer school, expand the school day after reopening in the fall, retain and stabilize our teaching force,” she said in a news release.

Such funding would also “address the needs of our most vulnerable students, narrow the digital divide, and have a fighting chance to salvage the futures of millions of young people.”

Wilson and other Democratic lawmakers are calling for the next COVID-19 package to include an additional federal allocation of $175 billion in Educational Stabilization Funds to be distributed at the local level through the Title I formula.

They further seek an additional $13 billion for the Integrated Disability Education and Awareness (IDEA) program, $12 billion in additional Title I program funding, and emergency funding for school infrastructure.

“As a former school principal, I have a unique understanding of the challenges public schools are currently dealing with and the educational and health obstacles they will face in the fall,” Wilson added. “They will need every available resource to fully function when they reopen and confront these new challenges.”

On this day

May 12, 2010 — The Republican National Committee has chosen Tampa to be the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention (RNC), party officials announced. RNC Chairman Michael Steele made the call to a group of those supporting the bid who had gathered in a conference room.

Steele said the RNC was “excited and ready to get to work on what we believe will be one of the best people’s conventions we’ve ever had.” The convention, to be held in late August, will mark the first time Florida had hosted a major party convention since 1972 when Miami was the venue for both Republicans and Democrats.

May 12, 2015 — Though not a declared candidate, former Gov. Jeb Bush is making preparations to make a run for the White House. His political action committee, Right to Rise, has leased two floors of office space in western Miami.

Bush has raised millions of dollars under the banner of Right to Rise, another sign he will join the race to succeed President Barack Obama. He would be the second Miami resident to make a run, following Sen. Rubio, who announced his candidacy almost a month ago.

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