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Forgive & forget?
A student loan forgiveness plan from President Joe Biden drew starkly separate responses from different sides of the aisle.
Hollywood Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, Chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment, cheered the decision as a good start in helping citizens who are wrangling the prohibitive cost of obtaining a college degree.
“Today’s announcement is the culmination of years of advocacy, but our work is far from over,” she said. “I’m working with my colleagues and the Biden administration to take even more necessary steps toward full student loan cancellation and address college affordability issues at their roots. Nonetheless, President Biden’s decision to cancel a portion of student loans is a bold step in the right direction.
“President Biden is a champion for students. Even before this announcement, the President had already forgiven more than $32 billion in student debt for millions of defrauded students, public servants, and disabled students, including thousands of Floridians. His decision to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt is a testament to his commitment to make college free and provide the American people relief.”
She cited Department of Education figures showing Florida serves as home to 2.6 million student borrowers with a combined $100.9 billion in debt, a solid chunk of the collective $1.7 trillion in student debt nationwide. About 3% of those borrowers owe more than $200,000.
But Rep. Scott Franklin dismissed the move as a bailout for well-to-do Americans.
“Joe Biden’s illegal student loan bailout will come at the expense of the vast majority of hardworking taxpayers who do not have student loan debt,” the Lakeland Republican said. “This reckless and costly decision will continue to fuel the runaway inflation caused by excessive government spending.
“Furthermore, it does nothing to cut the overpriced costs of higher education or hold academic institutions accountable that often fail to prepare young people with even the most basic skills needed in the workforce. In fact, this decision will only encourage those bad habits and make higher education increasingly unattainable for anyone outside of the wealthiest elites. It’s one more in a long list of attempts by the Biden administration to buy votes with ‘free stuff’ and pander to its supporters at the expense of American families.”
Quickly, forces also used the debt issue to deliver political shots. The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out attacks on Democratic candidates for Congress, both for supporting Biden’s proposal and for staying silent about it. An email went out criticizing Eric Lynn, a Democrat running in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, as “fully on board with this scheme” while describing Annette Taddeo, a Democrat in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, as “awfully quiet on this scheme though.”
Meanwhile, the White House Twitter account gained attention for popping back at Republican lawmakers criticizing loan forgiveness despite owning businesses that received 100%-forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans last year. That included swats at Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, for accepting $2.3 million in forgiven loans and Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, for taking $482,321 in PPP loans he never had to pay back.
However, the loans were designed with an upfront condition that they would be forgiven so long as 60% of the money went to payroll costs. The program was aimed at keeping people employed during early-stage COVID-19 lockdowns.
The main event
As Marco Rubio and Val Demings officially enter the General Election season, campaigns on air and ground have already begun.
Demings, now the official Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, embarked from a Tuesday night Primary victory party in Orlando on a statewide bus tour, stopping in heavily Democratic Broward County to rile the base. She was on hand for the launch of a Veterans for Demings coalition in West Park, and then attended a Unity Event with U.S. House colleague Charlie Crist, now the Democratic nominee for Governor, and other statewide Democratic candidates.
“We are going to fight and fight and fight,” Demings said.
“That future of opportunity rests in the hands of the people in the Democratic Party. We can win.”
Meanwhile, Rubio reserved more than $1.3 million in television time this week. He started airing ads across Florida’s major media markets. That includes both positive spots promoting the Republican incumbent’s own record during two terms in the U.S. Senate, and negative ones attacking Demings, a former Orlando Police Chief, as weak on support of law enforcement.
“In Congress, Val Demings is just another blame America first rubber stamp who votes 100% with (Nancy) Pelosi, praised defunding the police, called violent riots ‘a beautiful sight’ and says the crisis at the border is nothing new,” reads a tweet promoting the attack ad now pinned to the top of Rubio’s feed.
Outside groups also started to get in on the action, with Stand Up for China launching a new ad criticizing Demings and tying her to Biden’s security policies.
An analysis on ad spending so far shows Republicans have already spent nearly $3.4 million on buys for the Senate race in Florida, while Democrats have spent just shy of $1.8 million.
To watch the ad, please click on the image below:
The U.S. already chose not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the Summit of the Americas in June. Now, Sen. Rick Scott wants those nations’ leaders deprived of any ability to visit the United Nations in New York.
The Naples Republican sent a letter to Biden urging the administration to deny visas to Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, along with the entirety of United Nations General Assembly delegations expected to visit the U.N. next month.
“These oppressive dictators and their regimes engage in activity that continues to threaten the stability of Latin America and the national security of the United States,” Scott wrote.
He details grievances with each country’s leadership. Cuba remains one of only four countries on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Ortega won re-election only after imprisoning four political opponents. The U.S. still formally doesn’t recognize Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
“Unless the administration intends on arresting Maduro, he should not be allowed to enter the United States,” Scott wrote.
Denying entry, the Senator said, would send a clear message the U.S. holds “zero tolerance” for Latin American dictators.
Will all of Congress become an oversight committee monitoring the Biden administration? In an interview this week with right-wing outlet Real America’s Voice, Panhandle Republican Gaetz said GOP congressional leadership is warming to the idea.
He suggested members of the administration like Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland have already started preparing to answer questions from committees “that really will harm the Biden government because it will expose how the decision-making has been so corrupt.”
“I have a vision that is specific to Republican control of the House in a divided government,” he said. “We have to convert every single committee to an oversight committee. And once we commit to that paradigm, you can say, OK, you don’t have to create a Select Committee. You just assign, you know, the Hunter Biden matter to Foreign Affairs. You assign vaccine injuries to the Health Care committees. You assign breaking up Big Tech to the Commerce Committee. You assign getting the woke-ism out of the military to the Armed Services Committee.”
This plan has been something Gaetz and Ohio Republican Jim Jordan pushed for some time. “We’ve heard (Minority Leader) Kevin McCarthy really dovetail into that thinking quite nicely,” Gaetz said. “So, what was once a radical, kind of unprecedented perspective on how to utilize the majority now has become pretty mainstream. What we have to fight against are oftentimes the Republicans who want to take power and then just return it to the lobby corps.”
The coming showdown
During most of his previous congressional elections, Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson only faced a challenge in a Democratic Primary. On Tuesday, he had the rare August election when his name didn’t appear on the ballot, yet he still must prepare for the fight of his life.
The Congressman, who faces Republican House colleague Neal Dunn in a GOP-leaning district this fall, issued a call to supporters to help him fight the long odds.
“There is one thing for certain in 2022: We cannot afford to lose this seat to a far-right Republican,” Lawson said of Dunn. “There is so much at stake this year: voting rights, a woman’s right to choose, climate change, and more. We need someone who will actively fight to preserve our rights and fight back against climate change, not set us back. My GOP opponent, Neal Dunn, worked to overthrow election results from 2020. He voted ‘no’ on the Assault Weapons Ban, Right to Contraception, Respect for Marriage, and Ensuring Access to Abortion, to name a few.”
It’s a sign of a tough campaign ahead for the two, who previously enjoyed a cordial across-the-aisle friendship and worked together on a variety of issues in the past.
Meanwhile, Dunn was out this week helping to pump some gas. He attended an Americans For Prosperity event as part of the center-right group’s “True Cost of Washington Tour.”
At the event, attendees could purchase gas for $2.38 per gallon. That’s the cost of gas in mid-January when Biden took office.
The tour reached Panama City on Thursday.
Fight for light
As Crist turns his attention back to state government, he still wants to draw attention to work done in Congress that could especially benefit Florida. He noted on Thursday that the Inflation Reduction Act just signed by Biden includes provisions directly from the Sunshine Forever Act first filed by Crist in 2019.
“As your Representative in Congress, making solar energy more affordable for Florida families has been a top priority of mine since Day One,” Crist said. “I’m proud that the Inflation Reduction Act includes provisions inspired by my Sunshine Forever Act to reinstate and extend the solar tax credit for another decade — cutting installation costs so millions of Floridians can make the switch to solar. More solar panels in Florida means more energy competition, lower costs for consumers, and cleaner air for everyone. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re protecting Floridians from climate change and big utility price hikes.”
The new law provides for tax credits of up to 30% on solar installation costs and battery storage. His office projects the credits could lead to 1.1 million more solar panels being installed in Florida alone.
A similar credit stood from 2006 through 2019 but expired. The legislation puts the measure back in place through 2032.
Tampa health care
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor visited Tampa’s St. Joseph’s Hospital Thursday to talk about the impact the new Inflation Reduction Act will have on lowering health care costs.
The measure will lower the cost of prescription drugs for older individuals on Medicare, as well as cap the price of drug costs at $2,000 for those on Medicare Part D.
Castor highlighted the extension of the tax credits originally set to expire at the end of this year. The law will save Floridians an average of about $590 per year and expand coverage to roughly 543,000 more Floridians.
“Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, health care coverage has never been more affordable,” Castor said. “Here’s the kicker for Florida families and families across the Tampa Bay area — we continue those lifesaving tax credits that make health care coverage affordable.”
Castor also spotlighted the Hillsborough County Health Care Program while there. That program provides low-cost insurance to residents who can’t afford traditional medical insurance. It’s supplemented by a half-cent sales tax.
“We are fortunate to live in a community where we look out for each other and we take care of each other, and that includes making sure that health care coverage is affordable,” she said.
Radio free Cuba?
Could the signal be fading on U.S. radio in Cuba? Hialeah Republican Mario Díaz-Balart slammed a decision for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to begin a “reduction in force” for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) as “shameful.”
“For years now, USAGM has requested roughly $13 million for OCB, despite OCB’s usual annual budget of roughly $30 million in previous fiscal years,” the Congressman said. “USAGM continues to blame Congress for the cuts, and certainly, the Democrat majority shares a large part of the blame. Yet to date, I have yet to receive an explanation as to why USAGM continues to request such an abysmally low number for OCB year after year while fully knowing the consequences. In fact, USAGM has not affirmed whether it is initiating these layoffs due to the administration’s plans for ‘reform’ or due to its requested budget cuts. In fact, in recent fiscal years, Congress has provided transfer authorities to shore up OCB and prevent layoffs. Nonetheless, the Biden administration is irresponsibly barreling ahead with devastating firings — just before the holidays — based on scant justification.”
Díaz-Balart also repeated a frequent criticism from Florida Republicans, that the Biden administration has done too little to force change in Cuba since anti-communist protests broke out on the island more than a year ago.
“As we recently marked the one-year anniversary of the protests on July 11, hundreds of political prisoners remain imprisoned in Cuba, including several children,” Díaz-Balart said. “Diminishing this crucial source of outside, objective information at this time is an insult to the heroes who continue to risk their lives for freedom. It shows once again that the Biden Administration is failing them in order to appease the Communist oppressors. The Biden Administration and USAGM should abandon this despicable attempt to weaken OCB before they cause irreparable harm, and finally stand with the Cuban people at a time when they need it most.”
Last of Champlain
Wilson announced that a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will help clean up a deadly condominium collapse in Surfside last year. The $1.05 million will go toward the removal of debris at the site where 98 died during the collapse of Champlain Towers South, covering 90% of the total cost of removal of remaining materials.
“From day one, President Biden and I have stood with the people of Surfside — listening, providing support, and working swiftly to help our community heal. This $1.05 million FEMA grant announcement will help to remove debris and reaffirms our commitment to Surfside,” Wilson said.
“Though it will take many years for survivors and neighbors to fully recover, we know that the President remains committed to helping the Town of Surfside move past its darkest moment and onto brighter days ahead.”
The last remnants of the building, 3,681 tons of debris classified as evidence in an investigation of the cause of the collapse, sits now at a final disposal site. The FEMA grant will allow for the removal from the community.
While Democrats expect to be on defense this Midterm cycle, the only member of Florida’s House delegation under heavy alert remains María Elvira Salazar. With Democrats choosing a nominee in state Sen. Annette Taddeo, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) stepped up attacks on the GOP incumbent in one of Florida’s most closely divided districts.
Democrats have particularly seized on a recent radio interview where Salazar, lamenting gridlock in the Democrat-controlled Congress, unartfully spoke of inaction in the first person.
“I’ve been here 18 months and I haven’t done anything in order to help the average American,” she said.
The DCCC made clear this week it will size on those statements, widely distributing the remains with reporters, while citing votes Salazar cast against infrastructure spending, abortion rights and capping the price of insulin.
“María Elvira Salazar told us herself that she’s done nothing to help Floridians during her time in Congress. Instead, she has stacked up ethics violations, joined her party’s dangerous crusade to strip women of their fundamental freedoms, and voted against multiple efforts to lower costs and combat inflation,” said DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney. “Annette Taddeo is a champion for working Floridians and has proven she knows how to deliver for her community. When South Floridians send Annette to Congress in November, she will ensure Florida’s 27th Congressional District gets the leadership Rep. Salazar has failed to provide.”
On this day
Aug. 26, 1920 — “Women’s suffrage becomes official with signing of 19th Amendment” via the National Constitution Center — Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation behind closed doors at 8 a.m. at his own house in Washington, ending a struggle for the vote that started a century earlier. Women’s suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt had asked Colby to allow groups in his office for the document’s signing and to film the event. Instead, Colby told reporters that “effectuating suffrage through proclamation of its ratification by the necessary 36 States was more important than feeding the movie cameras.”
Aug. 26, 2021 — “U.S. troops, Afghans killed in suicide attacks outside Kabul airport” via CNN — Thirteen U.S. service members and at least 60 Afghans have been killed in two bombing attacks outside Kabul’s airport, according to the Pentagon and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health. The deadly blasts came as the United States and other Western countries raced to complete a massive evacuation of their citizens and Afghan allies following the Taliban takeover of the country. An official with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health said more than 60 Afghan people were dead and 140 wounded; 18 U.S. service members were injured in addition to the 13 dead, said Capt. Bill Urban of Central Command.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Kelly Hayes.