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Funding the Ukrainian government proved a more controversial vote than expected.
Both Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have vocally supported helping the nation as it combats the Russian invasion.
However, the two ended up casting votes against a bill to actually send aid, standing with 29 GOP colleagues.
The reason? Democratic leadership would not decouple a vote on aid from another measure to keep the government open. The bill (HR 2471) also will fund Haiti’s post-disaster aid.
On the Senate floor, Scott pushed to hold a separate vote on Ukrainian help, but to no avail.
“That’s right — Senate Democrats just BLOCKED the opportunity to immediately vote on aid for Ukraine so they can hold it hostage in the $1.5 trillion, 2,700-page omnibus that is full of wasteful earmarks and hasn’t been scored by the CBO,” Scott said. “What the hell are we doing here? Ukrainian lives and the reputation of the United States (are) on the line. Senate Democrats should be ashamed by what (Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer made them do today and the American people should be furious.”
Tying aid to the omnibus proved divisive in the House as well. A vote on resolving differences between the chambers passed 260-171, with all Democrats in support but most Republicans voting “no.” There were, however, 39 Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote “yes.” That included Florida Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez, John Rutherford and María Elvira Salazar.
Every Democrat voted for the measure and stressed the importance of delivering dollars to the besieged nation. “We passed $14 billion in aid for Ukraine and banned Russian oil imports,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat. “Next week, we’ll vote to bar most Russian goods from the U.S. market. Our goals: arm and equip Ukraine to defend itself and strangle the Russian economy to degrade (Vladimir) Putin’s ability to fund his monstrous war.”
That said, some Republicans who rejected the omnibus stressed they had voted for a prior amendment budgeting the money even if they voted against the larger bill.
“I know which side I’m on,” said Rep. Brian Mast. “Two weeks ago, I met a Ukrainian soldier, Andrii, at Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates in Orlando. He had lost his leg in combat, but he was heading back to Zhytomyr to defend his country against invasion. I’ll never forget the resilience and determination in his eyes.”
The Stuart Republican voted for the $13.6 million for Ukraine in a more bipartisan 361-69 vote. So did Republicans Vern Buchanan, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Greg Steube and Mike Waltz, in addition to those members who backed the full bill.
Some members who voted against any spending cited philosophical reasons. “Once again, Congress has embraced the Washington presumption that nothing in the budget can be cut in order to fund priorities without increasing the deficit,” said Rep. Daniel Webster, a Clermont Republican. “I reject this presumption and will not break the promise I made to my constituents.”
Democrats from Florida also notably pushed back on President Joe Biden’s administration for engaging in talks with Venezuela about supplementing U.S. energy supplies while Russian sanctions impact fuel here. Strong congressional opposition prompted a stop to negotiations, The Washington Post reports.
“Critically, neither this hostage release, nor Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, warrant allowing the murderous (Nicolás) Maduro regime to quickly stockpile petrol profits as Venezuelans still starve for food, medicine and basic human rights under his autocratic rule,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat. “Sanctions relief should only be considered when there is a clear and irreversible commitment to restore free and fair presidential elections and cease attacks on the rule of law.”
Of course, even the Republicans who sided with Biden on the vote for Ukrainian aid jumped all over the administration for considering dealing with Maduro’s hostile regime, which the State Department still lists as “illegitimate.” Reps. Díaz-Balart, Giménez and Salazar held a news conference at the Miami International Airport today to slam the administration over reported “ongoing, secret meetings” with Maduro and his “cronies.” Franklin, meanwhile, filed legislation that would bar any oil imports from Maduro’s government. “The solution to America’s energy needs is to unleash our domestic oil market and buy American, not filling the coffers of brutal foreign dictators,” he said.
Rubio wants more federal transportation dollars landing at Florida airports. He sent a letter last week to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administrator Stephen Dickson asking for greater prioritization for the Sunshine State’s infrastructure needs.
“As you know, Florida’s airspace is among the busiest across our nation, and the state is home to dozens of airports with varying scopes of service,” Rubio wrote.
“Our airports form an integral part of Florida’s rapidly growing economy and, in particular, its robust tourism industry, which is well on its way to returning to its pre-COVID-19 rate of attracting more than 130 million visitors — both domestic and international — each year. Furthermore, Florida is also the third most populous state in the country and continues to expand as hundreds of thousands of Americans choose to relocate to the state each year.”
He sent a list of Florida airport projects worthy of consideration. Rubio said it’s important to the entire nation that people can easily travel to and from Florida.
“Given these factors, and the massive pressure that they present to our state transportation systems, ensuring that we meet the needs of Florida’s airport infrastructure is paramount to maintain its safe, effective operation,” Rubio wrote.
“However, I continue to hear from airports across the state about aging and outdated features, and the pressing need to upgrade, replace, and rebuild many important structures in Florida airports. Leadership teams at these airports have identified important projects that, if funded, will make flying safer for Floridians, airport employees, and the tens of millions of visitors to the Sunshine State each year.”
Three weeks after Scott unveiled a controversial tax platform, it has spurred two tax policy think tanks to put numbers to the rhetoric.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy figures the proposal would end up increasing taxes by an average of $1,000 per American. How? It works on the assumption that Scott’s plan — which says “all Americans should pay some income tax to have ‘skin in the game’” — would require every citizen to pay at least $1,000. That means the earned income tax credit and child tax credit would no longer allow many to have a negative tax rate.
“The most significant effects would be felt by the poorest 40% of Americans,” the ITSP report figures.
Meanwhile, the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center figures more specifically that 80% of tax increases would be paid by households making less than $54,000 a year and 97% would fall on those households pulling in less than $100,000 in a year.
The flip side is the plan would raise $100 billion more in revenue, simply by shifting the tax burden on poor and middle-class families.
Of course, Scott has no reason to accept the calculations of outside studies, which are built on a few lines of rhetoric and no detailed tax proposal. But all this calculating is probably why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rebuked the plan. It remains to be seen if any Republican Senate candidates, including Rubio in his re-election campaign, will even run on the Scott agenda, laid out as a guiding document for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Three new aircraft rolled off Jacksonville assembly lines and to a Panhandle air base last week. Rutherford applauded the delivery of two A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) at Hurlburt Air Force Base in Okaloosa County.
“I’m proud to announce the delivery of three A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to the Air Force’s fleet, which are made right here in Northeast Florida,” the Jacksonville Republican said. “I advocated hard to fund these new light-attack aircraft and I’m pleased to see them now bringing value to AFSOC’s Combat Air Advisory mission. These aircraft are integral in our training with partner nations to effectively face our adversaries across the globe.”
They purchased the aircraft from Embraer, a Brazilian company that built these particular plans at a Northeast Florida facility. The lightweight aircraft model dominates the light attack aircraft market, according to the Lexington Institute, which said the products can run between $10 million and $30 million apiece. Those just delivered to Hurlburt are modified with U.S. weapons and sensor technology at the Sierra Nevada Corporation facilities in Centennial, Colorado. AFSOC intends to use the aircraft to assess, train, advise, assist and accompany partner nation aviation forces in air power employment, sustainment and force integration.
Several delegation members touted a government funding bill that ensures money for Central Florida projects.
Murphy praised dollars going to the University of Central Florida, Little Wekiva River and health care initiatives.
“Central Florida faces many challenges, including environmental degradation, unequal access to health care and the rising cost of living,” she said. “I’m thrilled my nine projects to improve quality of life are on the verge of becoming law, including funding to restore the Little Wekiva River, fight opioid addiction, and invest in affordable housing. I know these investments will help change lives.”
Murphy spotlighted programs in her district, including $1.2 million for Orlando Police Department body cameras, $688,000 in Wekiva cleanup and replanting, and $500,000 in family assistance and early childhood programs at UCF.
Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson announced $14.9 million in local projects, including $4.7 million for the Gadsden County W.S. Stevens High School Disaster Shelter, $2 million to expand Eugene Lamb Jr. Recreation Center in Midway, $2 million for the White Harvest Farms and Market Project and another $2 million for the Community and Veteran Empowerment Center in Jacksonville.
“These investments support underserved areas and foster economic development, making a real difference in the lives of so many in our community,” Lawson said. “I am proud to have fought for funding that will make our community healthier, safer, stronger, and even more resilient.”
And while it was mostly Democrats touting the bill, Díaz-Balart also celebrated the spending package as a “tremendous win” for South Florida, and suggested more was done to rein in government waste than it may initially seem.
“Although not perfect, these bills are a huge win for Republicans who were successful in eliminating left-wing, radical policies while prioritizing funding to enhance our infrastructure, reinforce our military, strengthen our national security, bolster school safety initiatives, and support our nation’s veterans,” he said.
Hating the IRS
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has nearly 24 million unprocessed tax returns filed, and Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis is having none of it. He and three other Representatives led a letter with three Senators demanding the IRS do better.
“As of Jan. 28, 2022, there were 23.7 million unprocessed tax returns and correspondence filed in 2021 and 2022,” Bilirakis said. “I’ve joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to fix this historic problem. As we work to hold the IRS accountable for using every tool at its disposal to resolve this backlog as quickly as possible, we must also end the confusing, auto-generated messages being sent to taxpayers.
“These notices are often incorrect and outdated. They also cause the agency to divert resources away from processing returns to manage heavier incoming call volume to the agency.”
Some 100 members of Congress co-signed a bicameral letter, including California Democrat Jimmy Panetta, Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, Pennsylvania Republican Mike Kelly, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy.
The message to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig offers some detailed direction for improvement.
“We remain concerned that the IRS does not have a comprehensive plan to remedy the numerous problems affecting taxpayers, despite the fact that this filing season is already well underway,” the letter reads. “For example, there is continued confusion about which notices may be unilaterally suspended by the IRS, beyond the notices the IRS has already suspended, among other issues.”
The letter also reminds Rettig of a statutory promise for the agency to respond to specific questions.
An omnibus bill just signed into law included in it the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act, co-introduced by Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. The new law aims to stop scams aimed at the elderly in part by creating a special advisory office within the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Affairs charged with alerting consumers of new scams. The Florida Congressmen have worked together on the bilateral legislation since 2013.
Biden signed it into law weeks after Deutch announced he will not seek another term. “I am proud to see our nation taking important action to protect seniors, who are too often targeted by scammers trying to confuse them and cheat them of their assets,” Deutch said. “With Congress’ passage of this omnibus bill, and with the President’s signature, we are finally taking steps toward a robust federal effort to strengthen important consumer protections; to track, target, and warn seniors against these fraudulent schemes; and to ensure that seniors can live their life in peace and dignity, safer from this threat.”
Buchanan, who represents one of the most senior-heavy districts in the nation, celebrated the initiative’s passage.
“Scams targeting the elderly threaten more than just retirement accounts — they imperil the independence and trust of an already vulnerable population,” Buchanan said. “For nearly nine years, my colleague Congressman Deutch and I have been fighting to protect seniors and help them avoid scams and fraud. I’m pleased to finally get the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act signed into law and safeguard the savings and dignity of Americans as they enter their golden years against those who try to defraud them.”
The AARP also backed the legislation. “On behalf of our 38 million members and all older Americans nationwide, I want to express our gratitude for your long-standing leadership to combat fraud and financial exploitation via your bipartisan legislation, the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act.”
Buchanan has another reason to celebrate this week as he secured an added $2 million for grants to prevent prescription drug overdoses. The Longboat Key Republican’s district is the epicenter of the opiate crisis in Florida has been the Bradenton area. The new funding was introduced by Buchanan as an amendment to a House appropriations package in July and just was signed into law.
“The number of overdose deaths across the U.S. due to illegal fentanyl-related (substances) and other harmful opioids is tragic and alarming,” said Buchanan, who has also sponsored the FIGHT Fentanyl Act. “These drugs are destroying lives and families, not only in our backyard here in Southwest Florida, but across the country. We need to do everything we can to help address this growing epidemic.”
Buchanan’s office noted the two measures signed into law this week mark the 26th and 27th legislative initiatives introduced by the eight-term Congressman to become law. He saw four measures pass under President George W. Bush, six under President Barack Obama, 13 under President Donald Trump and now three signed by Biden.
With the assist
Count Naples Republican Byron Donalds among those concerned about the status of WNBA player Britney Griner. The Phoenix Mercury center and Olympic gold medalist was detained in Russia in February for possession of hashish oil, though the government only confirmed that this month.
Donalds and Utah Republican Burgess Owens, the only Black Republicans in the House, penned a letter to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concern about Griner’s status and urging the U.S. to act more robustly to ensure her return.
“Amidst this bloody and destabilizing war, the U.S. Department of State advised all Americans to leave the country immediately and avoid traveling to Russia during this perilous time. While many heeded this advice, some face the devastating consequences of failing to adhere to this guidance,” the letter states.
“While it is unfortunate for any American to fall victim to poor decision-making, it is incumbent upon the U.S. government to ensure no man is left behind — especially in a war-torn nation like Russia.”
The fear, the Congressmen state, is that Griner will end up facing persecution on an otherwise minor offense as the U.S. delivers increasing sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Griner faces up to 10 years in Russian prison for the possession charge.
“It is more apparent than ever that actions have consequences, but no American should fall hostage to a heinous and deranged dictator,” the letter closes. “As Ukraine continues to fight for its freedom valiantly, the United States of America must send a message to the world that freedom must always prevail and that no American will be left behind. We pray for Ukraine and the safe return of Brittney Griner.”
A controversial asset by Amnesty International USA Director Paul O’Brien drew an immediate rebuke from Jewish Democrats in Congress, including three members of the delegation. Jewish Insider on Friday reported a quote from O’Brien: “It shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.”
Deutch, West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel and Wasserman Schultz issued a joint statement with 22 other representatives slamming the remark.
“On the heels of a recent Amnesty International report that a number of Members condemned as delegitimizing of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and undermining of the prospects for a two-state solution, Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Paul O’Brien has now taken a new, very disturbing step: purporting to speak for the entire Jewish community on Israel. He claimed his ‘gut’ tells him ‘what Jewish people in this country want’ is that Israel ‘shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.’
“As Jewish Members of the House of Representatives, we represent diverse views on a number of issues relating to Israel. However, we are in full agreement that Mr. O’Brien’s patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community is alarming and deeply offensive. He has added his name to the list of those who, across centuries, have tried to deny and usurp the Jewish people’s independent agency. We stand united in condemning this and any antisemitic attempt to deny the Jewish people control of their own destiny.”
To listen to the remarks, click on the image below:
On this day
March 15, 1783 — “George Washington calms down the Newburgh Conspiracy” via Constitution Daily — A number of petitions, all critical of the Continental Congress, had been circulated among the soldiers in Newburgh. The petitions contemplated two possibilities: if the British started turning the tide of the war, it urged the soldiers to abandon the colonies. If the Americans decisively won the war, it encouraged the soldiers to turn their guns on the newly liberated colonies and overthrow the Continental Congress. Either option would have likely spelled the end of the American experiment. Washington’s speech contained important themes that would reemerge in the Washington presidency — national duty, the submission of military to civil authority, and the importance of dispassionate and good-faith debate.
March 15, 1913 — “Woodrow Wilson holds first presidential news conference” via John Dickerson of Slate — Wilson’s private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, advised newspapermen in Washington that at 12:45 p.m. on March 15, 1913, Wilson would “look them in the face and chat with them for a few minutes.” The new President expected to greet each man one-by-one to begin a personal relationship of the kind he had with reporters as Governor of New Jersey. But at the appointed hour, 125 reporters appeared in Wilson’s office. He didn’t know what to do. They stood in their sack coats and vests in a semi-circle. “I did not realize there were so many of you,” he said.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.