Delegation 7.27.21: Debt ceiling — #SOSCuba — redemption? — pro-rioters — no drilling

American Captial Building.
The debt ceiling fight moves off the back burner.

Raising the roof

It’s been a few years since Washington faced a fight over the debt ceiling. But while Washington considers a massive spending bill, not so long after authorizing several installments of coronavirus rescue packages, a deadline looms for discussing just how much Congress can spend. And it looks like Sen. Rick Scott will play a major role in talks of blocking another lift on the limit.

“America’s nearly $30 TRILLION debt crisis cannot be ignored,” Scott said in a statement (putting the dollar amount in all caps). “Today, I am urging every member of Congress to protect the fiscal security of our nation by refusing to increase the debt ceiling unless it is accompanied by true structural spending reform. We must end the reckless waste of taxpayer dollars.”

It’s also no coincidence this happens as the White House negotiates with Republican senators over a $3.5-trillion infrastructure package.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, any limit on the national debt was suspended two years ago under former President Donald Trump, but that comes to an end after July 31. The suspension ended up happening during a period of tremendous spending through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, funding.

But just as Republican support for that rescue spending has waned with each installment, so has patience with Democrats, particularly in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Punchbowl News that he doesn’t think there will be support for raising the ceiling as Democrats, since obtaining a bare 50-plus-Kamala Harris majority in January, have rammed progressive policies through reconciliation votes frequently in a matter of months. “I can’t imagine there will be a single Republican voting to raise the debt ceiling after what we’ve been experiencing,” he said.

With Scott running the political arm for Senate Republicans through the 2022 cycle, he will play a role in the fiscal messaging around the issue and likely reminding any Republicans on the ballot next fall that this vote will contrast their record against the Democrats’ historic spending levels.

So what happens if the ceiling doesn’t rise? The Congressional Budget Office said that while the debt ceiling resets to $22 billion, plus about $6.5 billion extra from the last two years, on Aug. 1. The Treasury Department, absent a deal, will begin to take “extraordinary measures” to allow the government to finance activities, including suspending investment in a Thrift Savings Plan fund and the Exchange Stabilization Fund, stop issuing securities and cash in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund and exchange Federal Financing Bank Securities.

All this would deplete the Treasury but allow normal government operations until the first quarter of 2022. After that, options like default go on the table. In the meantime, remember to hold your retirement portfolio close and remind it that it’s loved.

Certainly, pundits in coming weeks will note the GOP caucus’ willingness to negotiate a lift to the ceiling for Republican presidents while crying foul under Democratic ones, including President Joe Biden. But then, a deal historically has always been reached before. It went up 18 times under President Ronald Reagan, eight times under President Bill Clinton, seven times under President George W. Bush, five times under President Barack Obama and four times under Trump, counting two times it was suspended completely.

Sen. Marco Rubio hasn’t publicly taken a stance on what to do about the debt ceiling this year, but he did vote against lifting the limit under Obama.

From Lafayette Square

Monday marked the 68th anniversary of deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s failed attack on the Moncada barracks, which started the 1953 Cuban revolution. At around noon, thousands of protesters converged on Lafayette Square across from the White House for impassioned, hyperpartisan speeches by several Republican members of Congress, including several from the delegation.

Sen. Scott and Reps. Mike Waltz, Mario Díaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar offered up comments to the crowd, including demands for swifter action from the Biden administration.

Cuban American protesters demand more action from the Joe Biden administration. Image via AP.

“We are not here to ask for crumbs. We are not here to ask for aspirin for the Cuban people. We’re not here to ask for remittances. We’re here to ask for one thing: Freedom,” Díaz-Balart told the fervid crowd. “And to the President of the United States in this historic moment, when the Cuban people — knowing what they are risking, which is everything, including their lives; many of them even carrying the American flag — (are) hitting the streets and they’re being bludgeoned and murdered, we have one question and one demand. The first question is, where the hell are you, Mr. President?”

The communist regime of Miguel Díaz-Canel this month blocked internet access on the island to prevent images of protests from reaching worldwide outlets. Many videos and photos still got out.

“The Cuban dictatorship is illegitimate. They should not have an embassy in the United States of America,” Scott said. “Joe Biden needs to show up and talk about all the atrocities, all the people and all the family members who have been killed for protesting, who have been beaten up and thrown in jail. He wants to be part of the world stage. He wants to be friends with all the (world leaders). Then lead America in freedom for Cuba now.”

“Where is Joe Biden’s leadership for America and for freedom and for Cuba?” Waltz asked. “You know why he’s so quiet? Because he’s afraid of the left, and the left is afraid of all of you because you know what you proved? Socialism has not worked, will not work and has failed in Cuba (and) will fail in the United States.”

Giménez and Salazar, both of South Florida, spoke mostly in Spanish. Salazar called the current Cuban regime “satánica,” or “satanic.” Giménez led resumed chants of “Where is Biden,” before pointing to the White House and saying, “He’s over there.”

Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, Nicole Malliotakis of New York, Victoria Spartz of Indiana and Mike McCaul of Texas, all Republicans, also addressed the crowd.

Global democracy

While Rubio, a Miami Republican, has kept much of his focus on Cuba, he’s also urging the administration to be mindful and supportive of democratic movements around the globe. He penned a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ahead of a trip to Southeast Asia urging him to seek out international partners to fight for freedom around the South China Sea.

Florida’s senior Senator pressed Austin to engage with leadership in Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines to “promote and expand efforts to conduct bilateral and multilateral military operations with the member states of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.” The Quad, assembled in 2007 during former President George W. Bush, includes the U.S., Australia, India and Japan, though Australia’s participation has been off and on through the years.

Marco Rubio calls on Lloyd Austin to find allies to fight for freedom in the South China Sea. Image via AP.

Rubio said such alliances would prove critical in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility. It’s in America’s interest to support Taiwan’s armed forces, allowing them to participate in U.S.-led military exercises, which will send a powerful signal all the more potent if U.S. allies offer the Taiwanese people the same support.

“Encouraging our partners to engage with Taiwan is a show of united strength that will not only frustrate the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) but serve as a powerful deterrent in the region,” Rubio wrote. This is true now, more than ever, as the CCP has increased its naval operations in the region and air incursions into Taiwanese territory. The future defense of Taiwan will depend on not just the U.S. but all of our Indo-Pacific allies and partners working in concert to push back on the CCP’s attempts to dominate and intimidate the region. The development of robust multilateral military coordination between these countries and Taiwan will increase the CCP’s apprehension toward utilizing force to advance its illegitimate regional claims.

Seeking an out

A public disagreement between a lurid website and a notorious celebrity mistress had Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz claiming public redemption.

One of the strangest chapters in a sex scandal involving the Congressman kicked off with a Page Six report in the New York Post on Rachel Uchitel, best known as the first “mistress” of golfer Tiger Woods to be publicly identified, suing Seeking Arrangement. Uchitel said the site stiffed her $60,000 owed to serve as a company spokeswoman. She claims the site wanted to end or significantly change a business relationship with her after the company’s name in March became attached to Gaetz’s legal woes.

Matt Gaetz: Sugar daddy? Image via NBC News.

Federal investigators are investigating Gaetz for allegedly sex trafficking a minor. Former Seminole County Tax Collector and Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg has already pleaded guilty to such a charge, and The Daily Beast reported in April that Gaetz in May 2018 was sending money through Venmo to Greenberg with labels like “hit up,” “tuition,” and “school.”

The New York Times has said the Seeking Arrangement site, which connects young women with wealthy men for “sugar daddy” relationships, was used by Gaetz.

But Seeking Arrangement released a response to Uchitel’s public comments. In addition to disputing why it stopped doing business with Uchitel, the company also says Gaetz was never a client. “Seeking.com has no knowledge of Mr. Gaetz ever having an account on the website,” reads the statement. “Furthermore, Seeking values the safety and security of its members above all else, prohibits any and all illegal activities, and strictly enforces those prohibitions.”

Gaetz cooed online that this unravels accusations against him.

“Media outlets need to start issuing retractions, or I’m going to sue the hell out of them,” he tweeted.

Of course, that ignores that all public reporting on the use of Seeking Arrangement described Gaetz sending money to Greenberg and acting as a pass-through to any women involved in alleged pay-for-sex schemes.

Defending the rioters

Complaints about poor prison conditions. Demands for police to release bodycam footage. Anger suspected terrorists have yet to receive due process.

If this sounds like a list of complaints from left-wing criminal justice activists, think again. Gaetz and three other GOP House members outlined these concerns in a letter to the Justice Department demanding better treatment of suspected insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Panhandle Republican on Tuesday will participate in a news conference with GOP colleagues Louie Gohmert of Texas, Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Members of Congress go to bat for the treatment of insurrectionists.

Call them the original 4 Gs.

The members of Congress, all of whom voted against certifying President Biden’s electoral victory over Trump, demanded an in-person meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland explaining alleged mistreatment of the Trump supporters arrested in the wake of the riot.

“The Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that 535 people have been arrested arising out of events on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol Building,” the letter reads. “We are seven months into these matters, and answers are not forthcoming.”

As noted above, Gaetz will make these demands of Justice at a time when he remains under federal investigation for alleged child sex trafficking.

Drill down

St. Augustine Beach Republican Waltz led an all-Florida GOP effort to introduce the “American Shores Protection Act” intended to codify the moratorium on gas and oil drilling offshore from Florida.

Stopping oil and gas drilling offshore of Florida long has been a cause both parties have embraced, though rarely in the same picture. And that’s the case this time, as the proposed codification of former President Trump’s Sept. 8, 2020, executive order extending the moratorium was co-sponsored by all of Florida’s GOP delegation. All members of Florida’s Republican delegation signed on as co-sponsors. Democrats were offered the chance, but none did.

Rubio took the lead on the Senate version.

Michael Waltz is no fan of ‘drill baby, drill.’

“Preserving Florida’s beaches will be critical to our state’s booming economic comeback, and we must continue to focus on conservation efforts to ensure our shores remain clean,” Waltz said in a news release. “By making the ban on offshore drilling law, we can focus our state’s environmental efforts on water quality and reducing red tide that is killing our marine life and devastating our beaches. I’m grateful to work with Sen. Rubio to put Florida’s coasts first.”

The bill would apply to waters in the South Atlantic, Eastern Gulf and Straits of Florida planning areas.

“As Governor of Florida, I fought for and secured a commitment from the Trump administration to ban oil drilling off Florida’s coasts,” Scott said. “While I’m glad the moratorium on drilling was extended for another 10 years under the Trump Administration, it’s time to codify this ban into law. I’m proud to join Sen. Rubio in this important fight to preserve and protect Florida’s natural resources for generations to come.”

Democrats against COVID

Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto led a Democratic Florida members’ letter Monday to the Biden administration urging the administration to boost federal support for COVID-19 prevention efforts in the Sunshine State.

Soto and other Democrats implored President Biden and Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to help combat increasing misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, and detail how they may increase the frequency of their case totals.

All 10 Florida Democrats in the House signed the letter.

Darren Soto wants the feds to do more in the fight against COVID-19.

Again, the effort only got support from one party: zero Republicans.

The Democrats raise concerns Florida now accounts for about 20% of all new COVID-19 cases confirmed in the United States.

“As cases continue rising, misinformation efforts that fuel vaccine hesitancy are causing preventable deaths,” wrote the Democrats. “Further, the state’s rise in Delta variant cases is of increasing concern as it makes up 83% of new U.S. coronavirus cases and is more contagious than the other virus strains.”

“These problems are compounded by the fact that Florida’s local government officials’ decision to reduce their reporting rate from daily to weekly,” they added. “Having the most up-to-date information on the coronavirus is the first step to combating it. Therefore, we urge your fair and full consideration to explore all avenues to help Florida combat this increase in positive cases.”

Doctor deaths

Not every casualty of COVID-19 dies because they were infected.

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan said a startling number of health care workers died from suicide over the course of the pandemic. The Congressman, recovering from a breakthrough infection himself, filed legislation in the House to direct more resources toward training and education for medical professionals on the potential stress and available services to handle the continuing crisis.

“Our front-line health care workers sacrificed so much over the course of the last year in order to get us through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Buchanan said. “Behind their masks, they too are struggling with issues of their own. We need to do a better job getting assistance to those experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Vern Buchanan, recovering from COVID-19, is hoping to rein in the suicide rate among doctors.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, named for a New York doctor who survived a bout with the coronavirus only to die from suicide in April 2020, would call for better training in best practices to reduce and prevent burnout and substance abuse, establish an awareness campaign to encourage medical professionals to seek mental health and to study the impact of the pandemic on the profession. The bill allows for resources to be targeted to COVID-19 hot spots around the country.

“We have so much to thank our health care workers for,” Buchanan said. “The trauma they see and experience firsthand is immeasurable, and we can support their work by making sure that they are also cared for.”

According to the Kaiser Foundation, while data isn’t available on health workers specifically, 4 in 10 adults during the pandemic reported feelings of anxiety and depression. That’s a fourfold increase from 2019. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said suicide is now the No. 10 leading cause of death for adults in the U.S.

Regime change

In Florida, there are those supporting sanctions and Cuba and those scolding the administration for not being tougher. Count Sarasota Republican Greg Steube in the latter group. The Congressman led a letter to President Biden chastising the Department of Homeland Security.

“If the regime is allowed to gather itself, these numbers will only escalate as a new wave of repression will be unleashed on the island,” the letter says. “Further, the disappointing announcement from the Department of Homeland Security calls into question your administration’s understanding of the seriousness of the situation.”

Greg Steube joins the chorus of voices calling for stronger Cuban sanctions.

While the Cuban protesters have broad bipartisan support in the Florida delegation — and GOP leaders across the country — a vocal contingent on the right is pressing for a more aggressive posture since individuals first took to the streets on July 11. Steube’s letter falls into that category, demanding not only support like U.S.-backed internet for the island but also a push for regime change.

‘The dictatorship of the Communist Party of Cuba under Miguel Díaz-Canel has continued their mismanagement of the country’s economy and escalated the repression of basic human rights of the Cuban people,” Steube wrote. “The result has been the Cuban people rising up to demand an end to the dictatorship and the return of freedom to the island. We strongly urge you to call for an end to the dictatorship and to support the protection of the Cuban people in their struggle.”

The letter was co-signed by four other Republicans within the delegation: Kat Cammack of Gainesville, Bill Posey of Rockledge, Brian Mast of Stuart and Salazar of Miami.

Adapting the plan

Naples Republican Byron Donalds is still concerned with the current leading proposal for regulating water levels in Lake Okeechobee. But after a meeting with leadership for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Congressman feels optimistic his concerns will be addressed.

Donalds and his staff met with Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps. The agency last week announced “Balanced Alternative CC” as a preliminary preferred alternative to update the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual. That’s a plan embraced by many in Southeast Florida because it cuts discharges and blue-green algae releases into the St. Lucie.

But discharges would still occur in the Caloosahatchee River, which runs through Donalds’ jurisdiction in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

“We met with Col. Kelly this morning to discuss the numerous issues we have with iteration CC in its current form,” he said.

The Representative said he left the meeting confident that certain changes could be made that protect constituents in his community.

Byron Donalds is concerned about the Army Corps plan for Lake O water regulation.

“We discussed the significant potential in SR 3.5 put forth by SFWMD (the South Florida Water Management District), and we also went over next steps procedurally,” Donalds said. “We feel it was a productive conversation and will reevaluate things after modifications are officially announced. At the end of the day, we need to measure flows from S-79, cap flows in zone D at 2,100 CFS (cubic feet per second) and keep optimizing and staying involved until we get this thing landed.”

The S-79 Spillway and Lock regulates water flow into the Caloosahatchee near Olga.

Since the preliminary selection of that plan, Donalds co-signed a letter led by Steube, a Republican representing a heavy agriculture district, raising concerns.

Steube specifically mentioned the Caloosahatchee in the letter, also sent to Kelly.

“Throughout the LOSOM process, we have heard the need for ‘shared adversity.’ However, as mentioned during public briefings, Plan CC results in more frequent damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee River in favor of fewer discharges to the St. Lucie River Basin,” Steube wrote.

Mast, a Stuart Republican representing St. Lucie communities, for his part, celebrated the selection of Plan CC.

“Today is the outcome we’ve been working toward for years, but it’s far from a checkered flag, and we can’t let our foot off the gas,” Mast tweeted immediately after the Army Corps endorsed the plan.

Mast and Donalds, ahead of the plan’s selection, seemed to agree on paths forward and had signed onto a letter with seven conservation groups urging “a more equitable operational plan that strives to send the maximum amount of water to the Everglades, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay during the dry season and eliminate harmful discharges to St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon.”

Securing Surfside funding

As families continue searching for answers surrounding last month’s Surfside condo collapse, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says the House is distributing $22 million to fund a technical investigation of the collapse’s causes. The tragedy claimed the lives of at least 98 people inside Champlain Towers South.

The $22 million in funding is inside the House’s Fiscal Year 2022 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. That legislation must still clear the House and Senate. Wasserman Schultz is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and advocated for the $22 million as part of that committee. She represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, including the site of the condo collapse.

“Over a month after the deadly collapse, our community is still in shock,” Wasserman Schultz said Monday in a statement on the funding.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz was able to secure millions in funding for an explanation why the Surfside collapse happened. Image via Lutheran Church Charities.

“While we are still in the process of mourning all those lost, we’re simultaneously trying to assess just how widespread the issue may be. In South Florida and all across the United States, there are thousands of condos just like Champlain Towers, and we simply don’t know how many could have similar structural issues.”

The money would go toward an investigation headed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). That body has overseen similar investigations into the Sept. 11 attack on the Worth Trade Center and Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico.

According to a release from Wasserman Schultz’s office, the study will work “to understand the sources of failure, to provide recommendations for how to rectify any shortcomings in existing building standards in order to prevent future similar disasters and to inform future building codes for similar structures.”

Wasserman Schultz’s office says the House is readying to vote on the overall funding bill later this week. The legislation must then be approved by the Senate.

“The NIST investigation will be key to determining the scope of the issue and give us a roadmap to prevent similar catastrophes in new and existing buildings,” Wasserman Schultz added.

“I’m proud to have had the support of my colleagues to secure the necessary funding to allow NIST to conduct such a thorough and necessary investigation in Surfside.”

Recognizing terrorism

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch wants the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism introduced bipartisan legislation pushing the EU on the matter. The U.S. has designated the Lebanese militant group as a terrorist organization since 1997.

“When you are dealing with a ruthless terrorist organization like Hezbollah, there is no distinction between political and militant wings,” Deutch said. “I’m pleased that many European countries took action to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, as the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have also done. But we need the European Union to cease allowing Hezbollah’s so-called political wing to freely operate by joining us in fully targeting this terrorist group and its global criminal network.”

Ted Deutch pushes to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis was among three original co-sponsors introducing the bill and joined in the heavy criticism of the group. As we seek to secure a future free of terrorism, the EU and United States must stand strongly united against those who wish to threaten our way of life and foster chaos,” Bilirakis said. “Taking this important action is a major step toward achieving that moral imperative.”

Deutch, a strong Israel ally, has wanted greater recognition by Europe of Hezbollah’s wrongdoing for years. His office noted that the Democratic Congressman also co-authored a 2017 op-ed with Israeli Knesset Member Yair Lapid that encouraged the EU to take a stance.

“Hezbollah doesn’t hide its next intended target — Israel,” the op-ed reads. “The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has made it quite clear that his aim is not Palestinian independence, nor the creation of two states. Rather, the total destruction of Israel. He tells a story about an Egyptian journalist who asked him if he’s working toward the destruction of Israel. Nasrallah answered him plainly, “That is the principal objective of Hezbollah.’”

On this day

July 27, 1789 — “The emerging State Department” via the Department of State Archive — The Constitution of the United States, drafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, gave the President the responsibility for the conduct of the nation’s foreign relations. However, it soon became clear that an executive branch was necessary to support President George Washington in the conduct of the affairs of the new Federal Government. The House and Senate approved legislation to establish a Department of Foreign Affairs. President Washington signed it into law, making the Department of Foreign Affairs the first Federal agency to be created under the new Constitution. This legislation remains the basic law of the Department of State.

July 27, 1965 — “Cigarette package warnings signed into law” via CBS News — President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation requiring warning labels on packages of cigarettes. The warnings came a year-and-a-half after Surgeon General Luther Terry announced findings of a groundbreaking study: “It is the judgment of the Committee that cigarette smoking contributes substantially to mortality from certain specific diseases and to the overall death rate.” The warning labels were a warning shot across the bow for an industry that for years had entrenched itself in both our national economy and popular culture. Scenes of smoking became routine in movies; and cigarette commercials — with their fanciful characters and catchy jingles — were a television staple for years.

___

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

Staff Reports


One comment

  • father lowell laurence

    July 28, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    SOS CUBA
    IS ADDRESSED IN PLAYWRIGHT DR LARRY MYERS’
    NEW
    ‘SANTERIA STREET THEATER’
    WHICH WILL RECEIVE SPECIAL STREET THEATER PERFORMANCE IN NYC BY PLAYWRIGHTS SANCTUARY

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