Delegation for 12.17.21: Defense dollars — debt ceiling — forced labor — Stand Your Ground — infrastructure

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Republicans love the new defense budget, but still don't hesitate to blast Joe Biden.

Home base

If there’s something that can get Democrats and Republicans in Washington voting together, it’s defense spending. On Wednesday, the Senate sent the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act to President Joe Biden’s desk with the support and praise of both of Florida’s Republican senators. The House passed the budget last week.

Sen Rick Scott managed still to take swipes at the Democratic President even as he applauded the bill’s passage.

“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have fought all year to ensure the Fiscal Year 2022 NDAA includes big wins for Florida’s military interests, and that’s exactly what we secured in this bill,” Scott said. “We successfully defeated Joe Biden’s radical efforts to cut the military’s budget and secured critical funding for Tyndall Air Force Base — a strategic hub for the future of F-35 based air warfare — to have the necessary resources to continue this crucial mission.”

Rick Scott praises the defense bill, but that doesn’t mean he gives Joe Biden a pass. Image via AP.

The $777-billion package is $25 billion more than Biden wanted. Line items include about $170 million for Florida bases and another $120 million for critical national security projects supporting them.

Eglin Air Force Base will receive $93 million, including $40 million for Weapons Technology Integration Center and $35 million to complete an Advanced Munitions Technology Complex. There’s $69.4 million set aside for a lighterage and small craft facility at Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island and $37.98 million for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Panama City Division.

“I’m proud to support this year’s defense bill to ensure that our military has the resources it needs to protect America and our brave men and women are taken care of,” Sen Marco Rubio said. “Though the NDAA is not perfect, the legislation includes important provisions that will deliver major benefits to military installments throughout Florida, while making certain that the U.S. military is prepared to confront threats to our national security in the years ahead.”

Both Senators noted a priority on modernizing Tyndall AFB, a Panhandle facility devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018. The base will continue to be home to F-35 squadrons. Meanwhile, there’s $22 million designated for building a transmission and switching stations at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson praised the total package from the House, including $10 million for aerospace research at Florida State University and $5 million for development technology at the Florida A&M University/FSU School of Engineering. “We encourage our students to use their brilliant minds to excel and shape the future of STEM fields,” Lawson said. “Now, our universities have additional funding to move toward that goal.”

Similar funding nuggets will disperse throughout the state, pleasing lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“With 20 military bases and three unified commands, Florida is proud of its important role in America’s national defense,” Scott said. “As threats from our enemies grow more dangerous, now is not the time for appeasement or weak leadership. I will never forget my most important job as U.S. Senator is to protect and serve the families of our nation, and I won’t stop fighting to ensure we properly invest in America’s greatest asset — the men and women of our armed forces.”

Debt ceiling

Another budget vote in the House proved more controversial.

The lower chamber approved increasing the nation’s debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in a party-line 221-209 vote. That came hours ahead of a deadline for the nation defaulting on debt.

Lawson characterized the vote as the fulfillment of an obligation to the full faith and credit of the country.

Al Lawson and the Florida Democrats are all-in on raising the debt ceiling. Image via Facebook.

“It is imperative that we uphold our responsibilities to our citizens, including Social Security recipients, Veterans, and to the millions of people who benefit from the COVID relief legislation passed in December,” the Tallahassee Democrat said. “We owe that to the American people, and it is important that we follow through with our commitments, which saves our economy from a catastrophic event.”

But Republicans in the delegation characterized the vote as fiscally irresponsible.

“With the national debt rapidly approaching $30 trillion, Democrats in Congress just voted to raise the debt limit by an additional $2.5 trillion to pave the way for further irresponsible spending habits,” tweeted Rep. Vern Buchanan, the Longboat Key Republican in line to chair the House Ways & Means Committee if Republicans win the chamber. “This constant borrowing and spending by our government is hurting the economy, damaging our credit ratings, and placing an immoral burden on our children and grandchildren.”

Forced labor

It nearly took shutting down the defense bill, but Rubio on Thursday saw the Senate pass his Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S 65). If the bill is signed into law, it will make the U.S. the first nation globally to ban any good created in China employing Uyghur slave labor.

“We had to fight against the lobbying of big corporations, opposition from the Biden White House and threats made by Communist China,” Rubio tweeted. “I even had to hold up the Defense bill. But we finally passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and it now heads to the President to become law.”

Marco Rubio is calling for a boycott of any Chinese product made with Uyghur forced labor.

The bill briefly created tension with Democratic leadership when Rubio tried to attach it to the NDAA, creating a potential “blue slip” issue by raising an appropriations matter from the Senate when spending issues originate in the House. Democratic majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier this month said Rubio threatened the entire defense bill with the maneuvering.

Rubio defended the action and noted there seemed no problem in the fall when the Senate initially passed a resolution unanimously.

The White House, for the record, earlier this week praised a deal reached between the chambers to advance the legislation. press secretary Jen Psaki has denied the administration opposed the legislation and said it wants to hold China responsible for human rights abuses.

“We agree with Congress that action can and must be taken to hold the People’s Republic of China accountable for genocide and human rights abuses and to address forced labor in Xinjiang,” Psaki said in a statement. “That is why the administration has already taken concrete measures including imposing visa restrictions, Global Magnitsky Act and other financial sanctions, export controls, import restrictions, and the release of a business advisory.”

No settlements

Families separated at the border may never reconnect with family, but Scott sure doesn’t want the U.S. connecting them with a six-figure court settlement either. The Naples Republican led a group of Republican Senators to block a “tax dollar giveaway to illegal immigrants.”

His Congressional Review of Agency Legal Settlements Act (S 3378) would prohibit a reported administration proposal to pay $450,000 settlements for undocumented individuals separated from family while illegally crossing the U.S. Mexico border.

Rick Scott bristles at the idea of monetary settlements for immigrant families separated at the border.

“Biden’s plan to pay out $450,000 — nearly half a million dollars — to illegal immigrants who broke U.S. laws is ridiculous and must be stopped,” Scott said. “Not even the families of our fallen service members receive this amount of money. Instead of dishing out money to people who have no respect for our laws, Biden should be focused on fixing the problem and securing our border. Instead, he’s giving people an incentive to break our laws. It doesn’t make any sense.”

He said the legislation holds the administration accountable by exercising appropriate Senate oversight. Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Standing all grounds

Should Florida’s Stand Your Ground law be a model for the nation?

Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz filed federal legislation on Wednesday to make the controversial self-defense statute the law of the land.

Gaetz cited the recent exoneration of Kyle Rittenhouse, cleared by a jury in the death of two activists at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, protest last year, as a sign of the need for a clear federal statute.

“Like Kyle Rittenhouse, every American has the right to defend their life from an attacker. If someone tries to kill you, you should have the right to return fire and preserve your life,” Gaetz said. “Let’s reaffirm in law what exists in our Constitution and the hearts of our fellow Americans. Abolish the legal duty of retreat everywhere.”

Make Stand Your Ground a federal law? Matt Gaetz sure hopes so. Image via AP.

Of course, the Florida Stand Your Ground law holds historical significance in the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement that was also at the heart of the Wisconsin protest where Rittenhouse killed two people. The law was cited by a Florida jury that cleared Sanford man George Zimmerman of murdering Black Miami teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Sarasota Republican Greg Steube co-introduced Gaetz’s federal bill with other far-right members, including Arizona’s Paul Gosar, Georgia’ Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Texas’ Louis Gohmert. Republicans Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Randy Weber of Texas were also introducing co-sponsors.

Infrastructure sharing

House members continue to tout benefits to Florida from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, even as some watchdog groups question whether the Sunshine State will get its fair share.

Val Demings touted some $2.5 billion coming to Florida in federal highway funding. The Orlando Democrat voted for the bill, along with all Florida Democrats. She also happens to be challenging Rubio for his Senate seat; Rubio voted against the bill.

“After a long, tough political fight, we have secured a massive new bipartisan investment into Florida highways to make our commutes faster and safer while creating thousands of new jobs,” Demings said. “Every Floridians knows what it feels like to sit in traffic or wonder why a highway hasn’t been repaired. This new federal funding will help us fix our commutes, supercharge our economy, and get people back to work.”

Val Demings says infrastructure money is coming to Florida. TaxWatch wonders if the state is getting its fair share. Image via Facebook.

But Florida TaxWatch this week released a study questioning if Florida will be treated fairly in the divvying of dollars. A new study shows Florida will gain a significant amount of funds, but not an appropriate amount considering this is now the third-largest state in the union.

“Floridians comprise 6.51% of the nation’s population, but we’ll only receive 4.48% of this federal aid, which on a per capita basis, is the smallest amount among all 50 states,” said Dominic Calabro, President and CEO of TaxWatch.

“This isn’t a new issue, as Florida has historically been a donor state for federal aid, with our hard-earned tax dollars going to subsidize programs across the country. And while inequitable grant distribution formulas have proved hard to change, as more are developed for the infrastructure bill, our Congressional delegation should work to improve Florida’s return, while also aggressively pursuing grant opportunities created by the legislation.”

Quarantines no more

Dan Webster sees another Florida lead to follow nationwide — a ban on vaccine passports. The Clermont Republican, with Missouri Republican Sam Graves, introduced the Saving Americans From Executive Reach in Travel (SAFER Travel) Act (HR 6257) to prohibit the requirement of proof of COVID-19 vaccination to travel abroad.

“President Biden, his administration and Democrats in Congress are out of control as they continue to push more mandates and restrictions on the American people,” said Webster, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Dan Webster wants the vaccine mandate ban to go nationwide.

“This is not about science or public health; this is fearmongering to maintain control and it has to stop. This bill protects the privacy and personal freedoms of American citizens to make health care decisions in consultation with their doctor — not because of demands by Washington politicians or bureaucrats. I will continue to work with my colleagues to defend the freedoms of the American people.”

Notably, many travel companies considered instituting their own requirement, with cruise lines going to court over Florida’s vaccine passport ban. Of course, Florida last year also banned travelers from states with high infection rates, but that’s a 2020 story.

Anyway, Webster’s legislation would prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates or quarantine requirements on Americans for travel. His bill was filed the same month the Centers for Disease Control, and the White House announced restrictions on domestic travel could return amid the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Justice grants

Charlie Crist announced nine federal grants to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pinellas County justice system in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“These grants will help make our communities safer, providing resources for crime diversion programs, ex-offender reentry services, Safe Neighborhood initiatives to combat increased gun and gang violence, and forensic analysis to alleviate backlogs facing our law enforcement professionals in Pinellas and throughout Florida,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said.

Crist is a member of the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Charlie Crist touts nine law enforcement grants for Pinellas County courts. Image via Facebook.

“To ensure our criminal justice system works the way it should, we need to provide greater investment in diversion and rehabilitation programs, as well as efforts to secure justice for crime victims and their families.”

Funding includes funding to address DNA analysis backlogs, with $1.31 million going to the FDLE’s regional crime labs and another $3.1 million headed to help the state agency’s statewide forensic crime lab system. Another $250,000 will go to the Pinellas County Forensic Laboratory for toxicology reports, and $288,000 will be for local DNA analysis. Meanwhile, another nearly $550,000 will help pay for a Mental Health Court in Pinellas County to divert many with serious mental health disorders there instead of county jails.

Goodwill Industries will get a grant for $900,000 for citizens’ job training; finally, $1.03 million will go to Florida’s federal court districts for Florida’s Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Cortez lease

Months after a threat to mail delivery in Cortez, it appears a post office will remain open in the coastal fishing community for at least the next five years. A lease extension was signed last week, extending the presence of the office until July 31, 2026, announced Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan.

“I am pleased to see the Cortez post office reach a long-term solution and remain open for my constituents in the area,” the Congressman said. “The Postal Service has been incredibly responsive to my concerns about the undue burden closing this facility would place on residents, and I’m glad we were finally able to find a more permanent solution. I appreciate the Postal Service for following through on their commitment to keeping the Cortez post office open going forward.”

The Cortez post office is hanging by a thread.

It’s an important local development, as an eviction notice was served on the post office, and landlord John Banyas initially expressed no desire in renewing a lease, the AMI Sun reported in October. That had prompted Buchanan’s involvement out of concern residents would need to travel as far as 10 miles round trip to access a post office, and across bridges that become intensely congested during tourist season.

Public health

Florida hosts many seniors who rely on public health funding. West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel and Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis filed bipartisan legislation that would direct more funding through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for state, local, territorial, and tribal health departments

The Florida representatives introduced the Protecting the Health of America’s Older Adults Act with Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell.

Lois Frankel goes to bat for Florida seniors. Image via Palm Beach Post.

“As people age, they face unique health challenges including dementia, food insecurity, balance, and isolation,” Frankel said. “This bipartisan legislation will provide the CDC and state and local health departments with resources to address these, and other critical health issues older Americans confront every day.”

Specifically, the legislation funds grants improving public health intervention for older Americans, disseminating best practices to agencies around the state, coordinating efforts with nonprofits and nongovernmental groups, and identifying gaps and duplications of public health efforts at the state, federal and local level.

“We owe it to our seniors to ensure they have access to the best possible health care,” Bilirakis said. “As the population continues to age, it only makes sense that public health officials are working closely with senior advocacy organizations to identify and address unmet needs.”

Outside advocacy groups through their support to the legislation as well.

“The last year underscored how important it is for public health agencies to be at the table when it comes to promoting the health of older adults,” said Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health.

“While health departments have been critical to the COVID-19 pandemic response when it comes to older adults, their active engagement in addressing many other issues faced by the aging population across the public health spectrum, including transportation and housing access, chronic disease, and mental health will promote better aging outcomes and benefit our entire society. This new grant program would be a step in the right direction to ensure that state and local health departments have the resources to do exactly that.”

Climate consensus

Add Miami Republican Carlos Giménez to the list of co-sponsors for the Growing Climate Solutions Act (HR 2820). The bipartisan legislation would allow farmers and foresters to participate in carbon markets and create an Agriculture Department certification program to help agriculture entities participate in climate-smart practices.

Carlos Giménez is the latest Republican to call for climate change solutions. Image via Facebook.

Giménez’s participation increases the list of co-sponsors on the bill to 69 representatives, including Florida Republicans John Rutherford and María Elvira Salazar and Democrats Lawson and Ted Deutch.

Rubio sponsored the Senate version, which also passed the upper chamber.

On this day

Dec. 17, 1953 — “FCC approves color TVs” via Media Village — RCA scientists had developed an electronic color system that also allowed color programs to be viewed on black-and-white sets. The Federal Communications Commission approved RCA’s system as the color TV standard. Few people must have seen the Tournament of Roses Parade broadcast with that full fabric of the rainbow because the first color TVs with the new RCA standard went on sale only the day before, on Dec. 30. Those first sets, prototypes rushed to stores, had a 15-inch screen, but allowed retailers to host viewing parties for the color broadcast from Pasadena, distributed to 21 NBC stations across the country.

Dec. 17, 1975 — “Senate conforms John Paul Stevens” via The New York Times — The Senate confirmed the nomination of Judge Stevens to the Supreme Court by a vote of 98-0 after just five minutes of discussion. Stevens will be sworn in by Chief Justice Warren B. Burger as the 101st man to sit on the high court. His swearing‐in will bring the Court to full strength and will clear the way for the resolution of several important cases were delayed because of the illness of the Justice who Judge Stevens succeeds, William O. Douglas, who resigned Nov. 12.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Bill Posey, who turns 74 on Saturday, Dec. 18.

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

Staff Reports



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