Delegation for 12.10.21: Defense dollars — no mandate — jump shot — tax credits — record deal

Imprint of the U.S. Capitol building on a dollar bill banknote
Congress gives The Pentagon a big win.

Defense passage

After months of haggling, negotiations and rhetorical threats, the House of Representatives has produced a national defense budget. The $768-billion package includes costs for programs across several federal agencies, most notably the Department of Defense, the Energy Department and specific programs headed by others.

“This National Defense Authorization Act is a big win for our men and women in uniform,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat. “This bipartisan bill modernizes our defenses, strengthens our national security, and provides a pay raise for members of the military. It acknowledges the importance of family by improving paid leave and increasing access to child care. It takes the decision to prosecute a sexual assault case out of the chain of command, better protecting survivors and holding perpetrators accountable. This NDAA also includes a historic acknowledgment of the importance of women’s participation in peace and security efforts to advance gender equality around the world.”

Passed by a vote of 363-70, the only member of the Florida delegation to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act was Rep. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican.

Florida’s delegation helps deliver a big win for The Pentagon in the House.

“While there are good things in this bill, we don’t fully know all that was in this 2,000-plus page bill that members had just a few hours to read and review,” Posey said by way of explanation. “Waiving House transparency rules on a bill of this importance is concerning.”

Some of the Republicans who voted for it acknowledged the process getting here, which involved fights over gun control provisions and disagreements over spending levels.

“I applaud Republican negotiators for removing poison pills from this legislation, including sections that could result in women being drafted and service members being unjustly deprived of their Second Amendment rights,” said Rep. Dan Webster, a Clermont Republican. “Our negotiators also removed provisions that would create an Office of Extremism at the Department of Defense and establish policies or require troops to take training courses about so-called extremism. The bill also prohibits anything other than an Honorable Discharge for service members who decline a COVID-19 vaccination and requires uniform procedures for vaccine exemptions, including recognizing natural immunity.”

But Florida members from both parties also found plenty to praise in the budget’s contents.

Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, noted a 2.7% pay raise for troops and new air purification standards for military housing.

“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 NDAA will also invest in the Joint MISO WebOps Center, which I visited earlier this year at MacDill [Air Force Base], to help modernize their work in the global information space,” Castor said.

“Important for all members of our military, this package follows up on the establishment of new diversity requirements for the Department of Defense, including the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Council, and direction to change the names of military bases named after Confederate soldiers last Congress, this year’s NDAA takes further action to meet this moment and ensure our military is reflective of our nation.”

And Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, noted provisions named for fallen Bradenton Army Spc. Nick Panipinto, killed in a training accident, regarding emergency response on U.S. bases and current procedures for training.

“Improving tactical vehicle safety and military training capabilities will reduce future accidents and help save lives,” Buchanan said. “After the heartbreaking death of my constituent, Nicholas Panipinto, preventing these accidents has become one of my top priorities. I am pleased to see the House take action on this bipartisan legislation and look forward to the president signing it into law.”

The legislation now awaits final action in the Senate, which is expected to send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Undoing a mandate

Sen. Rick Scott led a successful push in the Senate to pass legislation blocking Biden’s private employee vaccine mandate, though it seems unlikely to become law in the current political climate.

“Joe Biden’s attempt to force an unconstitutional ultimatum on the American people to get the vaccine or lose your job is horrible,” Scott said. “Under his mandate, if you work for a supermarket, a car dealership or bank — any company with more than 100 employees — Biden wants to force you into a personal health decision and bring you in line with his socialist doctrine. That’s why today’s passage of our resolution is so important. Today we sent a clear message to President Biden: His unconstitutional vaccine mandates have no place in the United States.”

Rick Scott gives a big ‘nope’ to vaccine mandates. image via AP.

He and Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, introduced legislation (SJR 29) that passed 52-48 with the support of two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana.

The Naples Republican stressed he’s not opposed to vaccines.

“I had COVID, I got the vaccine, and I support people talking to their doctors and making informed decisions, but I am absolutely opposed to a government mandate,” Scott said. “Joe Biden has shown that he wants to use the federal government to control every aspect of our lives. We know that’s wrong, and we know that the government doesn’t know better than the American people. I am proud to have joined Sen. Braun and a bipartisan group of our colleagues in fighting to repeal this harmful mandate. I’ll never stop working to protect American workers and job creators from ridiculous, burdensome regulations and government overreach.”

The bill must pass in the Democratic-controlled House before heading to Biden’s desk, where its prospects for signature appear dim.

HARB Health

Sen. Marco Rubio said it’s time to ground civil aviation at Homestead Air Reserve Base. The Miami Republican sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall opposing a proposed joint-use agreement allowing commercial and private flight on the military base.

“Civil use of HARB poses the potential risk of obstructing ongoing Everglades restoration and threatens the core mission set of the base,” he wrote.

Homestead has operated as a strategic military base since 1942 and played a vital role in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Rubio notes. He also pointed out the facility already hosts operations for other military and federal agencies, including the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol and NORAD. But he also said the expansion of civil aviation could threaten environmental efforts in South Florida.

Will civilian aircraft soon be landing at Homestead Air Reserve Base? Marco Rubio hopes so.

“Specifically, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District are currently planning the Biscayne Bay and Southern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (BBSEER) project, with preliminary proposals to convey water from western Miami Dade County through the C-102 canal to wetlands along Biscayne Bay,” he wrote.

“This project will improve South Florida’s resilience to storm surge and sea level rise by recharging the Biscayne Aquifer and restoring natural infrastructures such as wetlands and mangrove forests along the bay’s shores. The resilience benefits that will be delivered by BBSEER will also help protect HARB from hurricanes and storm surge.”

Anything deviating from the air base’s core mission ultimately will serve only as a distraction and could potentially open the door to special interest use of the land, the Senator argued.

Jump shot

Scott has demanded a sideline talk with National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver. He wants the sports association to know getting cozy with China is strictly out of bounds as far as he’s concerned.

In a letter sent earlier this week, Scott expressed outrage that the league levied punishment against Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for criticizing China’s human rights abuses (and thus prompting China to ban broadcasting Rockets games).

“I have been vocal about the league’s use of Communist Chinese-made apparel, its decision to crack down on Daryl Morey after his comments about protests in Hong Kong, the abuse of young players at NBA academies, and your organization’s silence about Communist China’s horrific human rights abuses and the ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang,” Scott wrote. “I have also urged the NBA to support my call to move the 2022 Olympic Games out of Communist China and to a country that actually respects human rights. Sadly, you have chosen to be silent on this as well.”

Rick Scott wants a one-on-one with Adam Silver on China. Image via AP.

Meanwhile, Scott said the league hadn’t embraced players like Enes Kanter Freedom. The Boston Celtic has become celebrated in conservative circles for speaking out on China.

“I admire his bravery and commitment to freedom and democracy across the world. Players like Enes, who recently became an American citizen, should be celebrated by the NBA and held up as an example of courageous advocacy for the common good,” Scott wrote. “It’s been incredibly disappointing to see the NBA fail to provide the same level of support to Enes and the causes for which he stands and fights. I hope this will soon change.”

Scott said he wants a meeting with Silver as soon as possible to discuss the league’s standing with the U.S. and China.

Wrong foot

The House sent a message of outrage after the unexplained disappearance of a Chinese Olympian leveling sexual assault charges against a government official.

The chamber passed a bipartisan resolution led by St. Augustine Republican Mike Waltz and Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton that condemned the International Olympic Committee and Chinese Communist Party for alleged gross mishandling of tennis player Peng Shuai vanishing.

“I’m pleased both Republicans and Democrats came together to condemn the IOC’s capitulation to the Chinese Communist Party by helping cover up Peng Shuai’s allegations of sexual assault against a senior CCP official and assist in whitewashing her disappearance,” Waltz said. “Gender-based assault remains a serious issue in China, and the IOC has further emboldened the mistreatment of women by refusing to call for a thorough, independent investigation on behalf of Peng. The IOC has again demonstrated they are willing to compromise their own values in exchange for the monetary benefits that come with hosting the Olympics in China.”

Vanishing act: Peng Shuai’s sudden disappearance was ‘grossly mishandled.’ Image via AP.

Peng issued her allegations over social media on Nov. 2, but the only contact anyone has had with her in the five weeks since is two IOC video calls with the Grand Slam doubles champion. Some critics have questioned if the IOC has been complicit in China’s silencing of the athlete. No video has been made public of the IOC’s contacts with Peng.

While the Women’s Tennis Association has canceled all tournaments in China over the athlete’s disappearance, the IOC is moving forward with plans to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in the eastern nation next year.

IOC spokespeople say they have maintained diplomatic neutrality. “All we can do is do the best we can in the process that we believe is in the best interests of the well-being of the athlete,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said in a news conference.

But members of Congress say the situation demands more. “Peng Shuai’s disappearance has put the Chinese government’s repressive and brutal assault on human rights on full display for the world to see,” Wexton said.

Credit back

Many employees let go during the COVID-19 pandemic remain unemployed, but Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy wants it as easy as ever to bring those workers back on the payroll. She filed the Employee Retention Tax Credit Reinstatement Act to restore the ERTC credit disallowed in the infrastructure bill signed this year.

“Over the last year and a half, I was proud to lead the bipartisan effort to establish the employee retention tax credit, which provides financial support to businesses who retain or rehire workers, rather than lay them off,” Murphy said. “This provision has helped thousands of businesses and their workers recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, and so my fellow Ways and Means colleagues and I are introducing this bipartisan legislation to ensure this program can continue and give small businesses and hardworking Americans the support they need.”

You gotta give Stephanie Murphy some (tax) credit.

She introduced bipartisan legislation with Republicans Carol Miller of West Virginia, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma and Democrat Terri Sewell of Alabama. “Eliminating the Employee Retention Tax Credit was the wrong decision and hurts our small businesses who are still recovering from the economic fallout of the pandemic,” Hern said. “We must provide certainty and predictability to American small-business owners. I am proud to join my colleagues in support of this legislation, and I hope to earn strong bipartisan support in the House.”

The ERTC was initially available to businesses that could demonstrate a 20% decline in gross receipts for a quarter and later for “severely financially distressed employers” who saw 90% declines in a quarter.

Jumping the gun

Gun safety group Giffords PAC plans to endorse Orlando Democrat Val Demings‘ 2022 campaign to unseat Rubio. The support will occur during the unveiling of a gun violence memorial at Bayfront Park in Miami next week.

The group’s namesake, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, will join Demings, former Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and Giffords PAC Executive Director Peter Ambler in speaking at the Dec. 13 event, which takes place after a spate of local school shooting threats across Miami-Dade County.

The memorial is part of Giffords PAC’s nationwide effort to spread awareness about gun violence and will feature 3,000 vases representing each Floridian who died in a shooting last year, the group said in a statement.

Gun shy: Val Demings gets the nod from Giffords’ Courage.

Miami-Dade County law enforcement and school district officials have investigated at least 12 gun-related school threats over the last week alongside Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel. On Monday, police arrested two teens for making threats on social media, the Miami Herald reported.

Fortunately, according to Miami-Dade Public Schools Chief Communications and Community Engagement Officer Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, none of the threats appeared to be credible.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 17-year-old student for allegedly making threats on social media against Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, which became the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history on Feb. 14, 2018. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty to killing 17 people and wounding 17 others on Oct. 20. Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied Cruz’s defense motion to block the death penalty.

HALT Fentanyl

Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis said an uptick in overdoses claimed the lives of hundreds of his constituents this year. He took to the House floor Thursday to spotlight the continuing opioid crisis, lest anyone go home for the holidays thinking synthetic narcotics are yesterday’s news.

“In Pasco County, 193 people have died from overdose since January,” Bilirakis said. “The vast majority of these cases involved fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances. I have also received hundreds of heartbreaking stories from constituents whose families have been devastated by addiction.”

Opioid deaths hit Gus Bilirakis’ district particularly hard. Image via Facebook.

He shared the story of one constituent, identified only as MaryAnne, who lost a son in June to fentanyl that could be traced to substances crossing the southern border illegally. “Parents like MaryAnne are the faces of the fentanyl crisis. The tragedies these families have experienced are the reason why we must fight back. The first step is to secure our border,” the Congressman said. “We must also hold China accountable for its continued role in this crisis.”

Bilirakis cited testimony from the Justice Department about Mexican cartels shipping pills modeled to look like OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Xanax, and other medicines, made with Chinese chemicals. It’s a problem demanding a foreign policy response. He called for the passage of the HALT Fentanyl Act as a solution.

“If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that we should be very skeptical of China,” Bilirakis said. “The (Donald) Trump administration was very tough on China and on border security. But since, we’ve seen a relaxing of these policies. As a result, we’re seeing a surge of trafficking and subsequent overdoses in communities like mine. We must crack down on China and secure our southern border. We must also permanently place all fentanyl-related substances into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and give law enforcement the tools it needs to seize these deadly substances as soon as they are found and thus keep them off our streets.”

Dissing Omarova

Naples Republican Byron Donalds cheered the withdrawal of Saule Omarova before a confirmation vote for her selection as the nation’s top banking regulator. Omarova was Biden’s pick to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

“[The] announcement that Saule Omarova withdrew her nomination for the OCC was a significant win for America — we must always reject Communism when it knocks at our doorstep,” Donalds said. “As a proud Capitalist and American, it deeply concerns me that the Biden administration found Omarova the appropriate nominee for such a role. I find it just as disturbing that a majority of the Democrats in the Senate stood ready to confirm her absurd nomination.”

Saule Omarova is dropping out. Image via AP.

Biden, for the record, dismissed criticism of Omarova based mainly on spending much of her childhood in the Soviet Union as opposed to anything during her career as a professor at Cornell Law School.

“From the very beginning of her nomination, Saule was subjected to inappropriate personal attacks that were far beyond the pale,” Biden said, The Daily Beast reported.

Donalds, a wealth management professional by trade, stood by critiques. “Omarova’s nomination speaks to a more significant issue today, the growing and dangerous sympathizing of communism, socialism, and anti-capitalist sentiment in the Democrat Party,” he said. “Repeat after me; America will never be a socialist country. I implore President Biden to nominate a person who puts Americans first, promotes innovation in our markets, and prioritizes sound fiscal policy for our nation’s federal banking systems.”

Record deal

The Cuban protest song “Patria y Vida” became a rallying cry ahead of this year’s anti-government demonstrations on the island and even won two Latin Grammys. Now the lyrics are a part of the Congressional Record.

Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart submitted the “anthem of freedom” to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“The song is a collaboration between Cuban musicians in exile and on the island who have come together in opposition to the regime, and who together are demanding freedom of expression and respect for human rights,” he said.

Patria y Vida is a hit in the Congressional Record.

He noted songwriters Maykel Osorbo and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántar remain jailed in Cuba for daring to sing words of dissent; another co-author of the song, Eliecer Marquez Duany, has gone into exile following a brief house arrest.

“Madam Speaker, the Cuban people will be free,” Diaz-Balart wrote. “Toward that goal, I am honored to highlight the importance of a song that has become an anthem for a movement and for so many Cubans who are demanding freedom on the island. I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this noble cause, in demanding that all political prisoners are released, basic rights to expression, assembly, and belief are respected, and free, fair and multiparty elections are scheduled.”

Price setting

The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says portions of the Build Back Better Act related to health care could threaten business and the quality of care. Chamber President and CEO Julio Fuentes penned an editorial pleading for a different approach in Washington.

“What would bring real relief to these patients at the pharmacy counter is establishing a cap on out-of-pocket drug costs in Medicare Part D. Another proposal to bring much-needed cost predictability would be creating a ‘smoothing’ mechanism that minimizes the impact of drug costs on seniors getting by on fixed incomes,” he wrote.

“What won’t do these vulnerable patients any good — especially in the long run — are hyperpartisan attempts to allow the government to set the price of medicines under the guise of ‘negotiation.’ The health policies included in the Build Back Better Act, which is now moving to the Senate for consideration, would do just that. While these programs’ objectives may be admirable, they would impose problematic government controls stifling innovation and potentially even reducing access to medications.”

Julio Fuentes believes there is a better way to make medication affordable.

Fuentes said that the chance to address the cost of medication could be addressed without outright price-setting.

“There are responsible, bipartisan proposals aimed at lowering patients’ out-of-pocket costs that also protect access to today’s medicines and tomorrow’s cures. Having the government intervene to ‘negotiate’ the price of medications puts this access at stake for millions, including seniors and people with disabilities,” he wrote. “For the sake of ensuring that Florida patients — especially our poorest and most vulnerable — can afford what they desperately need at the pharmacy counter and that they will be able to benefit from future medicines that could save their lives, I hope only truly responsible proposals are prioritized.”

Let it flow

After Congress approved Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, 20 of Florida’s 29 congressional delegation members have signed on to letters requesting $1.5 billion in funding for Everglades restoration.

Lawmakers want that funding to come from the billions sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the infrastructure bill. The Corps’ cash pot includes $11.6 billion for Corps construction projects and another $1.9 billion for aquatic ecosystem restoration efforts.

Earlier this week, Rubio and Scott wrote to Michael Connor, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, asking the Corps to send funds to Florida.

“To maintain the historic progress that has been made in recent years toward fully restoring America’s Everglades, we strongly urge you to allocate no less than $1.5 billion in supplemental construction funding for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER),” the letter from the Senators reads. “This level of funding is critical for efforts to advance the expeditious completion of Everglades restoration.”

Let it flow: Much of the delegation is urging Michael Connor to open up the Everglades money flow.

In the lower chamber, Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican Díaz-Balart, respectively the co-chair and dean of the Florida delegation, authored a separate letter from House members directly to Biden asking the same.

“We request that your administration allocate at least $1.5 billion to South Florida Ecosystem Restoration from the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration construction funding made available to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) through this legislation,” the lawmakers wrote. “This infusion of money is critically needed to build on the restoration program’s recent advances and keep pace with the State of Florida’s investments.”

In total, 18 House members signed that latter letter. That includes Democratic U.S. Reps. Al Lawson, Murphy, Darren Soto, Demings, Charlie Crist, Castor, Frankel, Ted Deutch and Frederica Wilson. Republican Reps. John Rutherford, Webster, Bilirakis, Scott Franklin, Donalds, Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar also signed on.

All Democrats in Florida’s delegation voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, while every Republican opposed it. Nevertheless, there’s bipartisan agreement that, with the funds set to start flowing, Florida deserves a large chunk to help with Everglades restoration.

Corps officials are formulating a work plan, due Jan. 14, to explain how they will spend the pot of money provided by the infrastructure bill.

On this day

Dec. 10, 1898 ­— “Treaty of Paris ends Spanish-American War” via History.com — The Spanish-American War had its origins in the rebellion against Spanish rule that began in Cuba in 1895. Spain’s repressive measures to suppress the guerrilla war, such as herding Cuba’s rural population into disease-ridden garrison towns, were graphically portrayed in U.S. newspapers and inflamed public opinion. The Treaty of Paris officially ended the war. The once-proud Spanish empire was virtually dissolved as the United States took over much of Spain’s overseas holdings. Puerto Rico and Guam were ceded to the United States, the Philippines were bought for $20 million, and Cuba became a U.S. protectorate.

Dec. 10, 2009 — “Humble Barack Obama accepts Nobel Prize” via The Guardian — President Obama addressed the paradox of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo while escalating the conflict in Afghanistan, invoking the concept of “the just war” to defeat evil. He portrayed himself as a moral man doing his best in an imperfect world in what amounted to personal testimony. “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified,” he said.

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

Staff Reports



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