Delegation for 9.28.21: Dealmaking — hurricane tax — Everglades — COVID-19 — replacement?

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Will the government shut down? The delegation tries to beat the clock.

High stakes

Dealmakers in the White House, Senate and House will determine if the first federal shutdown of President Joe Biden’s administration happens this week. But portions of the budget received broad support in Congress even as questions on raising the debt ceiling stretch close to an end-of-September deadline.

For example, delegation members of both sides of the aisle found plenty to celebrate in the National Defense Authorization Act that cleared the House late last week on a 316-113 vote.

Miami Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar fought to get two bills she introduced included. The Expanding Contracting Opportunities for Small Businesses Act, which raises sole source contracting thresholds by $3 million for veteran-, women- and minority-owned businesses and those working in disadvantaged areas, and the REEF Act, which incentivizes using retired Navy ships for artificial reefs, both made it as amendments to the defense budget.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, creating jobs and providing opportunities for success for everyone. Sadly, entrepreneurs faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they need support to recover,” Salazar said. “Increasing sole source contracting caps will level the playing field and provide expanded opportunities for our small business contractors. Since coming to Congress, I’ve made it my mission to secure new opportunities for small businesses to contract with the federal government, and it is an honor to be able to deliver on this promise.”

Maria Salazar was able to get millions in the proposed budget for veterans, small businesses and other district priorities.

Rep. Kathy Castor celebrated funding she championed for medical care for veterans that made it into the final bill passed by the House. “Funding that I championed for special operations forces also is contained in the bill, including an increase in funding to mitigate undiagnosed, untreated traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder,” the Tampa Democrat said. “The NDAA will also invest in the Joint MISO WebOps Center (JMWC), which I visited earlier this year at MacDill (Air Force Base), to help modernize their work in the global information space.”

And Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, worked in three provisions originated within his office into the final bill. Two involve burn pits, with one focused on medical training and the other seeking alternatives to the hazardous waste destruction system, while a third devotes resources to fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria.

“We still have a long way to go as it relates to ensuring Veterans exposed to burn pits have access to the care and benefits they have earned, and we must keep pushing our TEAM Act which will achieve that moral imperative,” he said. “ … Additionally, while I was disappointed that my efforts to address the issue of concurrent receipt were not accepted as part of NDAA, the overall package will strengthen our nation’s military readiness and provide well-deserved increases for military families.”

Still, a half dozen delegation members voted nay on the NDAA, including Republicans John Rutherford, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, Greg Steube, Brian Mast and Byron Donalds.

And everything budget-wise hinges on whether the Senate can pull together 50 votes on a vote to suspend the debt limit. The White House has met regularly over the last week with moderate Democrats in the House and Senate, including Winter Park Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, to reach a deal.

But Florida’s all-Republican Senate delegation seems to be sitting the discussion out along with the entire GOP caucus.

Everything must be ready for a vote and to the President’s desk by midnight Thursday to avert a temporary shutdown of the federal government. And that means agreeing on a massive infrastructure net and substantial changes to the tax code, making fiscal hawks balk.

Hurricane tax

While Biden billed the Made in America Tax Plan as a boost for U.S. workers, a Florida watchdog group sees a severe downside for taxpayers. Florida TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro, in an op-ed published by Florida Politics, labeled the plan as a “hurricane tax” and a financial threat to homeowners.

“Congress is set to impose a ‘hurricane tax’ that would raise insurance premiums, particularly for climate-related catastrophes. The provision buried in the Joe Biden administration’s Made in America Tax Plan (MATP) would hike taxes on reinsurers and disproportionately affect Florida residents’ home and property insurance rates,” Calabro wrote. “Reinsurance companies are the financial backstop to a number of insurance companies that underwrite homeowner policies in Florida. Because so much capital is at risk and the probability of losses is uncertain, it is incredibly expensive to insure catastrophic losses, so when a property owner buys a homeowner’s insurance policy, the insurance company buys reinsurance to hedge their risk.”

Dominic Calabro warns of a new ‘hurricane tax’ in Joe Biden’s budget.

By raising the corporate income tax and the global minimum tax to 28%, Calabro said insurance companies will pass down substantial costs to owners, increasing premiums. The shift could hit all U.S. consumers, but Florida property owners in particular. That undermines a Biden promise that his tax plan won’t impact residents making less than $400,000 a year.

“How much will it cost Floridians?” Calabro wrote. “Based on a recent estimate by the R Street Institute, Florida insurance rates are expected to grow by $864 million to $1.62 billion. As these tax increases are passed through to consumers, they will effectively tax everyone who buys insurance, regardless of income.”

Reservoir motion

News of a contract awarded to build the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir advanced a yearslong effort to solve a water quality crisis and earned accolades from Sen. Marco Rubio.

“The importance of the EAA Reservoir to the success of Everglades restoration cannot be overstated,” Florida’s senior Senator said. “This is a pivotal moment for Everglades restoration, and I remain committed to doing everything in my power to expedite the critical work to restore America’s River of Grass.”

The next step in constructing an Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir gets kudos from Marco Rubio.

On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers brought on Phillips & Jordan, headquartered in Tennessee, to complete the first increment of work on the reservoir portion of the Central Everglades Planning Project. The $79.8-million project will be completed by late 2023, project managers said.

“When completed, we will have built a 240,000-acre-foot reservoir covering approximately 16 square miles — an area similar to the cities of Stuart and Fort Myers put together,” said Col. James Booth, Jacksonville District Commander for the Army Corps. “Another way to think of the magnitude of this massive civil works project is that it will store a volume similar to about a half a foot on Lake Okeechobee. This reservoir will store water that today is lost to tide, so that it can be treated by the Stormwater Treatment Area our partner South Florida Water Management District is currently building and by existing state STAs. That water will then move south to the central Everglades, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay.”

Rubio, a Miami Republican, in 2016 worked to authorize the planning project and pressed for the EAA to be part of it in 2018. He also secured a provision in the 2021 Fiscal Year Omnibus bill to ensure construction moves forward after the Army Corps delayed that action.

COVID accounting

Before Congress authorizes more spending on COVID-19 relief, Sen. Rick Scott wants a better accounting of where every dollar approved so far has gone.

Scott sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Shalanda Young demanding full transparency on the $5.5 trillion already distributed nationwide.

“My focus in each of these spending bills was to ensure funding was directed to provide targeted relief to shorten the pandemic and its effects, save American lives and American jobs and allow families and businesses in Florida and across the nation to return to normal life,” he wrote. “For months, I’ve requested transparency from OMB on how the trillions allocated for COVID relief has been allocated to no avail, but taxpayers deserve accountability.”

Rick Scott says no more COVID-19 money without accounting for what has already been spent. Image via AP.

He issued a series of questions on the availability and transparency on COVID-19 relief spending, metrics to track the efficiency of programs, and an accounting of what remains unspent despite being budgeted by Congress.

“Our federal debt is nearing an unsustainable $30 trillion and climbing,” Scott said. “We must get serious about how we’re spending taxpayer dollars and ensure every dollar spent provides a positive return on investment for Americans. We cannot afford to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren with shortsighted and dangerous financial decisions.”

Replacement theory

Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz seemingly aligned himself with White nationalists in a tweet endorsing Replacement Theory while calling the Anti-Defamation League racist. He posted his controversial remark after the ADL, an advocacy group dedicated to combating antisemitism, called for Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson for citing the controversial theory.

“Tucker Carlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America,” Gaetz tweeted. “The ADL is a racist organization.”

After a reporter noted the theory gained prominence when White nationalists notoriously marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” Gaetz defended the tweet.

“The Left/Media think of replacement solely on race/ethnicity terms. I don’t at all,” he wrote. “Democrats failed the voters who relied on them to run their states/cities. Now they are importing new voters. That is my argument. Those reading more into it are projecting their own bias.”

It isn’t the first time Gaetz has glommed onto a message from the far right. He previously brought alt-right activist Charles Johnson with him as a guest to a State of the Union address.

Break for vets

Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson last week launched a bipartisan push to give veterans starting businesses a tax break. He refiled the House version of the Veterans Jobs Opportunity Act, which would create a startup tax credit to military veterans establishing new businesses in underserved communities. The credit, if passed, would also be available to military spouses and members of the Army Reserves and National Guard.

“One of my priorities in Congress is working to ensure our veterans are getting the help they deserve — from job training, to access to health care and education benefits, to finding affordable housing,” Lawson said. “Our brave men and women who have fought for our freedom deserve to be taken care of when they return home. This bill aims to help encourage veterans to pursue their dream of starting a small business in our communities around the nation, while creating jobs for those who need them most.”

Al Lawson wants to give veteran-owned businesses a break.

A companion bill will be carried in the Senate by Sens. Jacky Rosen, a Nevada Democrat, and Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican.

Lawson’s office said veterans launched about 5.8% of all American small businesses, roughly1.76 million in total. According to the latest data from the census bureau, such enterprises contribute an estimated $1 trillion in revenue.

Small business advocates immediately endorsed the legislation.

“Using their precision and eye for organization and processes, veterans can offer a unique perspective and be an important component of the small business community,” said John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. “However, entrepreneurship is often thwarted by barriers to access to capital, relationships, and other resources veterans need to launch a business successfully. We are proud to support the introduction of the ‘Veterans Jobs Opportunity Act’ that will provide veterans with critical opportunities like a 15% tax credit they can leverage to effectively start a business and inspire other veteran entrepreneurs to build a diverse small business ecosystem.”

Sexual healing

A Pinellas County nonprofit will soon enjoy greater ability to offer life skills classes to students preparing for adulthood. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist announced a $424,821 grant from the Health and Human Services Department to the Largo-based Health Education and Relationship Training Services (HEARTS) Camps for High School Students.

Charlie Crist is helping fund a Pinellas program for high school sex education.

Crist said the funding comes out of $35 million secured in the 2021 budget for HHS’ Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Program. The grant will specifically fund education programs to teach high school students about sexual respect and healthy adult relationships. The programs serve hundreds of students in the region each year.

“LEADS supports the families of Pinellas by providing children of all ages with resources to help them emotionally develop,” the Congressman said. “I’m excited to see this well-deserved grant awarded to HEARTS Camps as they teach young people the skills they need to have safe and healthy interpersonal relationships.”

Grammed out

Instagram Kids is now “abandon-ware,” with delegation members from both sides of the aisle celebrating.

Facebook announced it would press pause on developing a child-focused sub-platform while still proclaiming the idea the “right thing to do.” That came after public pressure by members of Congress to reconsider data-mining minors, especially after The Wall Street Journal published studies showing various detrimental impacts on children who use social media.

Castor, who had demanded greater accountability for social media regarding the protection of minors, released a joint statement with Massachusetts Democrats Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal praising the decision to ice a children’s platform.

Instagram Kids is now officially ‘abandon-ware.’

“A ‘pause’ is insufficient, however,” the statement read. “Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online, and it must completely abandon this project.”

It wasn’t just Democrats speaking up. Palm Harbor Republican Bilirakis also said social media companies need to be more proactive. “I’m encouraged to see Facebook pausing development of Instagram for Kids and pledging to do more to empower parents,” the Congressman tweeted. “It’s a shame it only took this important step after leaked internal studies showed the company knew its products were harmful to teens.”

Blue line

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan picked up some critical Florida support for legislation upping severe penalties for targeting cops.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody visited Manatee County, the heart of Florida’s 16th Congressional District, to endorse the Thin Blue Line Act alongside the Congressman at the Bradenton Police Department. The Buchanan-sponsored legislation would make the murder or attempted murder of a police officer an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations.

Such a change in federal law will help to “deter offenders from committing violent crimes against law enforcement officers, firefighters, prosecutors, and first responders, and to provide appropriate punishment for those who take the lives of public servants,” Moody said.

Vern Buchanan and Ashley Moody honor The Thin Blue Line.

The House in 2018 passed a version of the legislation, and Buchanan has filed a bill in each subsequent Congress. The Longboat Key Republican this year made the bill one of the first he dropped in the hopper at the start of 2021.

“Police officers and first responders put their lives on the line every single day to help those in harm’s way,” Buchanan said. “I appreciate Attorney General Moody’s strong endorsement and advocacy for my bill, the Thin Blue Line Act. Together, we are sending a strong message to police and first responders that we have their backs, and those who target our front-line heroes should know that there will be severe consequences.”

Moody and Buchanan pushed for the legislation after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued an alert on a suspect, Patrick McDowell, believed to have killed Nassau County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Moyers during a traffic stop Friday.

Play ball

Forget budget markups and tax policy debates. The first pitch in the real battle between the red and blue team comes Wednesday with the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity at Nationals Park. The game returns after a year off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, two House members from Florida hold spots on the roster, Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack and Sarasota Republican Steube. Both play for the GOP squad, of course. It will be freshman Cammack’s first time as an official team member, but Steube has won the red and white before.

Kat Cammack is excited to be swinging a GOP bat for charity.

“I am looking forward to a fun game and a win for the Republicans. I hope you will watch and cheer us on!” he wrote in an email to supporters.

Charities benefiting this year include The Washington Literacy Center, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

The United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund will also receive funding in gratitude of protection at a Republican practice in 2017 when a mass shooter nearly killed then-GOP Whip Steve Scalise and shot four others; the shooter died at the scene.

Dog days

A sudden decision by the Centers for Disease Control to prohibit the import of dogs from 13 countries left Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch snarling.

On Monday, Deutch and Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick led a letter co-signed by 57 members of the House from both sides of the aisle demanding the CDC yank back its decision.

“The CDC ban does not recognize the complexities of international dog rescue transport,” Deutch said. “We can protect public health while allowing rescue groups to continue their work. American families should be able to save animals from abroad, as long as we guarantee they do not carry any diseases that pose a threat to those families or to their other furry friends.”

A CDC ban on imports has Ted Deutch snarling.

The ban went into place after three dogs in six years arrived in the U.S. with rabies. But House members upset by the decision say there are already efforts underway to fund more inspections and screen animals for contagious diseases.

Animal welfare activists note there are worse fates for those animals turned back from importation if the U.S. maintains its ban.

“The CDC’s decision has left 120 of our dogs — all dog meat trade survivors — stranded in China with no way to get home to the American families who have adopted them,” said Jackie Finnegan, vice president and CEO of USA Operations at No Dogs Left Behind. “Thank you to everyone who reached out to their representatives to speak out against the CDC’s decision. We are grateful to the Members of Congress who listened and signed their name to this letter.”

Moving on up

Natalie Martinez, a senior policy adviser for Murphy, is making her way up in the world. She’s leaving her job in the House to become airline JetBlue’s government affairs manager, according to Legistorm.

Natalie Martinez’s career takes flight at Jet Blue. Image via Twitter.

Martinez started working for Murphy in January 2020. She previously worked as a legislative assistant for other members of Congress, including Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig and Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell.

The Orlando native graduated from the University of Florida with a master’s degree in International Business in 2016 after earning a bachelor’s from the same institution.

On this day

Sept. 28, 1906 — “Cuban President requests U.S. intervention” via Cuban Studies Institute — Tomás Estrada Palma is remembered as the presidential paradigm of financial honesty. The Liberal Party withdrew from the presidential race leaving Estrada Palma to win again without opposition. It was a brief and bitter victory when on August 16, 1906, the opposition led by regional leaders rose in rebellion in what became the Guerrita de Agosto. The small rural guard force could not suppress the uprising, and Estrada Palma requested U.S. military intervention. President Theodore Roosevelt did not welcome the request from the Cubans, but Estrada Palma insisted on the landing of 2,000-3,000 U.S. soldiers to restore order on the island.

Sept. 28, 1781 — “Battle of Yorktown begins” via History.com — General George Washington, commanding a force of 17,000 French and Continental troops, begins the siege against British General Lord Charles Cornwallis and a contingent of 9,000 British troops at Yorktown, Virginia, in the most crucial battle of the Revolutionary War. Earlier, the French fleet departed St. Domingue (now Haiti) for the Chesapeake Bay, just as Cornwallis chose Yorktown as his base. Washington ordered Marquis de Lafayette and an American army of 5,000 troops to block Cornwallis’ escape by land while the French naval fleet blocked the British escape by sea. Washington had completely encircled Cornwallis with the combined forces of Continental and French troops. Cornwallis surrendered on Oct. 17, effectively ending the War for Independence.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.

Staff Reports



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