Delegation for 5.11.21: Pill prices — amnesty — shark tank — spaced out

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Prescription drug prices can be a tough pill to swallow.

Cheaper pill to swallow

President Joe Biden earned applause when he voiced support for letting Medicare negotiate lower drug prices. He received applause from both sides of the room during a joint address to Congress when he stated that intent aloud. “Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices,” Biden said. “It won’t just help people on Medicare. It will lower prescription drug costs for everyone.”

Yet since then, there’s been skepticism. That’s partly because the stated position had little behind it in terms of action. The American Families Plan championed by the administration provides $200 billion to subsidize individual health care payments but does nothing to cut the actual costs of medicines.

Joe Biden is all-in with Medicaid negotiation for lower drug prices.

Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, said he’s pushing for follow-up in the halls of Congress. During a Protect Our Care webinar last week, he said Democrats in the House will revisit the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. “I am continuing to fight in the Energy and Commerce Committee, along with my colleague Rep. Kathy Castor, to pass this bill out of the House,” Soto said, according to WUSF.

Meanwhile, Republicans last month introduced the competing Lower Costs More Cures bill. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Clearwater Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, has a section of his website devoted to cutting medication costs through negotiation. He said the GOP bill would cap the cost of Medicare Part D and the price of insulin for seniors. Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not allowed negotiations on the Democratic and Republican proposals to see what can be sent to the Senate with bipartisan support.

Sen. Marco Rubio, for his part, introduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate with Sens. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, to force lower costs by increasing the use of generic medications.

“Like any other industry, the pharmaceutical market needs competition to keep drug prices fair,” Rubio said. “This legislation would lower costs by preventing brand name drug companies from abusing the FDA pharmaceutical approval process to delay generic drugs from entering the market.”

To get through a closely divided Senate will require legislation with support from both parties. But it will still need the backing of the Democratic majority in the House and Biden himself if anything has the hope of becoming law.

Amnesty for researchers?

Amid concerns about foreign influence in American research, Sen. Rubio sounded alarms at reports the Justice Department may be considering amnesty for researchers who come clean now about who funds their work.

Rubio led a letter signed by seven other Republican senators seeking a briefing from Attorney General Merrick Garland on whether any such program is in the works. That comes months after The Wall Street Journal reported Justice was considering effectively forgiving researchers and institutions that, until now, concealed financial sources.

Marco Rubio is no fan of amnesty for researchers funded by foreign money. Image via AP.

It has come to our attention that DOJ is planning to implement this amnesty program within the next few weeks, just months after Congress took action to deter foreign influence in academia,” the letter to Garland reads.

Signatories on the letter include Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Rob Portman of Ohio, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Todd Young of Indiana.

“America’s successful research enterprise is built on reciprocity, integrity, and transparency,” the letter reads. “These values foster a free exchange of ideas and ensure that researchers and institutions receive the benefit of hard work. As a result, America attracts the best and brightest. It needs to stay that way. But the United States must also take reasonable steps to protect taxpayer-funded research from theft, diversion, and ultimately weaponization against our own long-term national interests. This is a complex problem, but an amnesty program rewarding individuals who broke federal law to steal U.S. taxpayer-funded research is simply not the answer.”

The matter has particular relevance in Florida, where funding for research through the University of Florida and at the Moffitt Center in Tampa drew scrutiny when sources came to light years into studies.

Shark tank

Pictures of a tiger shark abused in Citrus County water sparked outrage online. 

Now Sen. Rick Scott wants action by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He sent a letter to Benjamin Friedman, NOAA’s deputy undersecretary for operations, calling for assistance in investigating an incident in the Chassahowitzka River.

This photo prompted Rick Scott to act, calling for an investigation of abuse.

Shocking images emerged showing boaters capturing and allegedly abusing a young tiger shark in Citrus County, Florida,” Scott wrote. “These images are abhorrent and do not reflect the overwhelming respect and appreciation that Floridians have for our natural habitats and the species that call them home.”

The Florida Wildlife Commission is investigating two men for capturing a tiger shark and removing it, according to the Citrus County Chronicle.

As a Floridian, I was disgusted when I learned of this incident,” Scott wrote. “Our wildlife deserves to be protected, and no animal in Florida deserves to be mistreated as these photos depict. I will continue to work every day to ensure that all of Florida’s natural treasures are respected. Floridians have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of our wildlife.

Political soul mates

Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz may be celebrating the imminent ouster of Liz Cheney as GOP Conference Chair. But this past week, he turned the focus toward a new political soul mate — Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene. Following the first stop in a planned “America First” tour in The Villages, the two controversial members of Congress appear ready to go to Arizona next.

Such a trip would support the controversial audit of the presidential election results there led by a Sarasota company, Cyber Ninjas, a process most consider as just casting further shade on the integrity of Biden’s electoral victory over Trump.

Let’s go to Arizona, Matt Gaetz. Election integrity should matter to everyone,” wrote Greene in a tweet shared by Gaetz. “I can’t imagine anyone at the DOJ trying to interfere with what the people of Arizona want. After all, the people payed (sic) for those ballots and everything to do with the Arizona elections.”

Gaetz and Greene last week were greeted by vocal supporters in The Villages during the first stop of their America First tour. There, Gaetz called himself a “wanted” man but a “Florida man.” Wanted describes his genuine criminal problems as a sex trafficking investigation involving a 17-year-old grows worse to include his dealings with the medical marijuana industry.

Greene, best known for espousing conspiracies like that the Parkland shooting was a hoax, was removed from her committee appointments earlier this year. That was a near party-line vote, but the 11 Republicans supporting her ouster included three Florida members.

Sanctioning the CCP

In a further sign of growing influence within the Republican Study Committee, Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack, as a first-termer, will spearhead legislation sanctioning Chinese leaders responsible for human rights violations.

“For too long, the Chinese Communist Party has worked to violate the human rights of its own citizens, undermine basic freedoms, and spread anti-American propaganda worldwide,” Cammack said. “The CCP’s leadership has also been complicit in stealing U.S. intellectual property through Confucius Institutes here in the U.S. Just a few months ago, a CCP-linked researcher at the University of Florida in my district was indicted for committing fraud against the NIH in an attempt to steal U.S. intellectual property. This has to end.”

Kat Cammack is seeking sanctions for China’s human rights abuses. Image via Facebook.

A bill just filed by Cammack specifically sanctions four individuals: Wu Yingjie, Communist Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region and member of the Politburo Standing Committee; Wang Yang, chairman of the People’s Political Consultative Conference and leader of the Chinese Confucius Institute; Han Zheng, leader of the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong and Macao Affairs; and Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office.

Cammack said these individuals hold direct responsibility for violating human rights in Hong Kong, Macao, Tibet and Xinjiang.

Her legislation has been co-sponsored by 15 other Republican Representatives, including delegation members Scott Franklin, Greg Steube, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Giménez.

Saving sea cows

Few animals hold such esteem in the hearts of Floridians as the manatee. But as the endangered species suffers an increase in untimely deaths, Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy and Stuart Republican Brain Mast say the federal government needs to do more to save the sea cows.

The two filed the bipartisan Marine Mammal Research and Response Act to boost funding for a rescue grant program and studies of unusual mortality rates. The funding will supplement state and local efforts to save and rehabilitate marine mammals.

“Floridians take great pride in our state’s diverse wildlife, like manatees, dolphins, and other marine mammals. As we see from surging manatee deaths in Florida, these creatures need our help,” Murphy said. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will bolster federal support for efforts to rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals that are in distress, and to improve emergency response and scientific research so we can act before it’s too late.”

Florida manatees get bipartisan protection.

The legislative action comes as Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission reports 711 manatee deaths in Florida this year through April. Just 637 manatees died in the state in all of 2020. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March reported a surge in deaths in the Indian River Lagoon and declared an official “unusual mortality event:”

Mast aimed at particular interests, which he says created a less safe environment for the water denizens.

“Decades of special-interest driven policymaking, including unfettered pollution and toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee, have destroyed the ecology of our waterways and repeatedly turned the Indian River Lagoon into an algae-infested toxic waterway that kills manatees. Sadly, these animals are also the so-called ‘canary in the coal mine’ for a massive public health crisis in our state that must be stopped ASAP,” Mast said. “This bipartisan legislation will provide federal support for efforts to rescue and rehabilitate these mammals, while also strengthening efforts to stop this destruction before it’s too late.”

Whacking sugar cane

In another environmental arena, Mast also slammed a plan submitted by sugar industry lobbyists for a discharging schedule with Lake Okeechobee. “Letting the sugar industry write the management plan for Lake Okeechobee is like letting the fox guard the henhouse,” he said. “This is a brazen attempt by the sugar industry to skew the results of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual to put corporate profits ahead of the health of Floridians across the state. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

Mast decried a plan submitted by Tom MacVicar and Bill Baker, lobbyists for the Sugar Cane League. The two filed proposals as members of the project delivery team for the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, which governs the release of water from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Frequently, blue-green algal blooms accompany the release of water from the polluted lake.

Brian Mast blasts an agricultural plan for discharges of Lake O water. Image via Facebook.

The Sugar Cane League represents U.S. Sugar, which has sued the Army Corps of Engineers before over its discharge schedules.

Mast had lobbied the Army Corps to change its operations by reducing discharges. But he said the “Alternative BB” proposal from McVicar and Baker would prioritize the needs of agriculture entities over the communities along the rivers. He sent a letter to the Corps demanding no consideration be given to the lobbyist-proposed plan.

“’Alternative BB’ was written to continue the failed status quo by lobbyists for the sugar, and as a result, would continue to punish the communities who have been abused for decades by toxic discharges,” Mast wrote.

“Time and again, the models run by the Army Corps have shown that flows to the east can be eliminated while benefiting other Congressionally authorized project purposes, including water supply. Instead, ‘Alternative BB’ punishes the St. Lucie Estuary, Caloosahatchee Estuary and the Everglades with the singular goal of helping the companies that employ those lobbyists.”

Senior spending surge 

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch celebrated a new batch of COVID-19 relief cash to support older Americans impacted by the pandemic.

The money comes as part of the American Rescue Plan, which Deutch and other Democrats passed with the approval of President Biden. The Democratic administration is set to release more than $100 million in funds specifically to Florida to assist the elderly. That includes nearly $57 million for meals and just under $35 million for home and community-based support services.

“This pandemic has exposed the major cracks in our long-term care system, impacting older Americans and the services that they depend on,” Deutch said in support of the funds.

Ted Deutch celebrates additional COVID-19 money for Florida seniors.

“The American Rescue Plan directed crucial resources to meet the health and economic needs of our seniors, including for mental health care, caregiver support, and access to vaccines. Older Americans, including my older constituents in South Florida, deserve full access to the resources and services they need so they may live and age with dignity.”

The May release of funds also coincides with Older Americans Month, which aims to recognize the importance of the eldest Americans.

The new pot of money also includes $12 million to help family caregivers support loved ones and more than $3 million to prop up health initiatives and disease prevention efforts. Nearly $800,000 will go to the well-being of long-term care facility residents.

MapQuest

Carlos Trujillo, a former ambassador under Trump, launched the nonprofit Democracy Now, a group hyper-focused on redistricting in the Sunshine State.

Trujillo, Trump’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States, told Axios he expects Florida’s mapmakers will place a significant role in the outcome of the 2022 midterms. “Whoever controls the U.S. House could come through Florida — and I think it will come through Florida,” he said.

Before working for Trump, Trujillo served in the Florida House alongside many lawmakers now leading the legislative chamber. The South Florida Republican, an ally of Rubio and Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, holds optimism Republicans have room to grow. With GOP majorities in the state Senate and House preparing to send a map to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the powers-that-be in Florida all favor the Grand Old Party. And with a new Florida Supreme Court complete with three DeSantis appointees, many suspect a lack of pushback from the judiciary branch.

Carlos Trujillo goes from diplomacy to redistricting.

“The Supreme Court has completely turned over in Florida over the last 10 years,” Trujillo told Axios. “So our hope is the maps that are presented — as long as they’re in compliance with the state Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act — should be ratified by a non-activist Florida Supreme Court.”

One piece of news Florida received from the Census Bureau is that the state will have one additional Congressional seat.

After a solid showing by Florida Republicans in 2020, where the GOP flipped two South Florida seats from blue to red, Republicans already control 16 of Florida’s 27 existing Congressional seats. Where are there still gains to be made?

Well, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist already announced he’s running for Governor in 2022. Murphy could also open a seat should she challenge Rubio for Senate. Both represent swing seats now. 

Most also expect Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, to seek higher office, and while hers is not a swing district now, it could be after redistricting.

Ticket to ride

The first mission carrying private astronauts to the International Space Station should take off from Kennedy Space Center in January. Axiom Space and NASA this week announced the upcoming launch of Axiom Mission 1, as reported by TechCrunch.

NASA will pay $1.69 million to Axiom Space for transporting supplies to ISS. Four private space explorers will ride the SpaceX Crew Dragon on an eight-day mission in the first trip charted by the new Texas-based company. Once there, the astronauts will live in the U.S. wing. It’s a significant foray into greater public access to the final frontier, though open only to the uber-rich for now. The Axiom trip will be commanded by former astronaut-turned Axiom Space executive Michael López-Alegría. The rest of the crew dropped a reported space fare of $55 million per ticket.

The first commercial space flight will give the uber-rich the ride of a lifetime.

The work by Axiom Space does seem grounded in policy expertise. LegiStorm reports Erica Lefaive, a staffer for Texas Republican Congressman Randy Weber, just left the hill to be Axiom Space’s government affairs and human spaceflight business development specialist.

On this day

May 11, 1961 — “President John Kennedy orders more troops to South Vietnam” via History.com — Kennedy approved sending 400 Special Forces troops and 100 other U.S. military advisers to South Vietnam. On the same day, he ordered the start of clandestine warfare against North Vietnam to be conducted by South Vietnamese agents under the direction and training of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces troops. Kennedy’s orders also called for South Vietnamese forces to infiltrate Laos to locate and disrupt communist bases and supply lines.

May 11, 1973 — “Pentagon Papers charges are dismissed” via The New York Times — Citing what he called “improper Government conduct shielded so long from public view,” Judge William Matthew Byrne in the Pentagon papers trial dismissed all charges against Dr. Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo Jr. And he made it clear in his ruling that the two men would not be tried again on charges of stealing and copying the Pentagon papers. “The conduct of the Government has placed the case in such a posture that it precludes the fair, dispassionate resolution of these issues by a jury,” he said.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Reps. Deutch, who turned 55 on May 7, and Vern Buchanan, turning 70 on May 8.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Ryan Nicol.

Staff Reports



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