Delegation for 3.26.24: Budget battle — Parkland — confirmation bias — Kabul memories

U.S. Capitol Washington, D.C.
A budget is passed — just barely.

Scraping through

Congress has passed a budget. But it arguably did so against the wishes of Florida’s congressional delegation.

When the House took up a $1.2 billion spending package, Speaker Mike Johnson used an expedited process requiring a two-thirds vote. The bill passed Friday on a 286-134 vote, barely meeting that threshold. If only Florida Representatives’ votes had been counted, it would have fallen short of even a simple majority.

Mike Johnson gets the job done — barely.

Only 11 House members from the Sunshine State supported the deal, including six Republicans and five Democrats. Meanwhile, 14 Republicans and one Democrat from Florida voted “no.” When the Senate considered the deal Sunday, both Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott voted “no,” though the measure passed on a landslide 74-24 vote in the upper chamber.

The House vote was especially eye-opening, with the bill passing without a majority of Republicans. That’s in conflict with the unofficial “Hastert rule,” a governing principle enforced by former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert that no measure should be considered unless a majority of the majority supports it.

The failure to secure a majority of Republicans came in part because of Florida. When another budget bill passed in the chamber earlier this month, it at least won over a majority of the Florida delegation. But three Florida Republicans — Reps. Vern Buchanan, Scott Franklin and Daniel Webster — all cast “no” votes on the second spending bill.

“I supported the first appropriations package because it saves taxpayers more than $200 billion, protects veterans’ Second Amendment rights, stops the (Department of Justice) from targeting parents and cuts the budgets of the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), (Environmental Protection Agency) and DOJ,” said Webster, a Clermont Republican.

“While this second spending bill provides funds for priorities and programs I strongly support, I cannot support it because of excessive spending on noncritical programs and policies. While this legislation funds additional border technology and Border Patrol agents, there are no policy changes that force President (Joe) Biden to reverse his failed policies and enforce current border laws. I owe it to my constituents to vote against legislation that lets President Biden spend more taxpayer dollars on his senseless immigration policies.”

Regardless of any misgivings, the package cleared both chambers on the Hill and Biden signed it, averting any effects of a government shutdown. But that just pushes the next debate over spending to September, months before the Presidential Election.

Most Democrats in the delegation supported the deal, excluding Rep. Maxwell Frost, an Orlando Democrat who also voted against the last spending package. Democratic Reps. Lois Frankel and Frederica Wilson both missed the vote. But Frankel issued a statement expressing her support for the deal.

“In this bipartisan Schools, Safety and Security Funding Package, Democrats put People Over Politics and made government work for American families while rejecting extreme Republican cuts,” the West Palm Beach Democrat said. “These investments will help bring down prices, increase access to child care, support programs that keep our seniors healthy and prevent falls, and reinforce America’s global leadership by supporting our allies like Israel.”

Meanwhile, Rep. John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican, said America would be better off with this negotiated package than with a shutdown and protracted spending crisis.

“This final package of Fiscal Year 2024 funding bills is far from the bills written by the House last year, but its passage means a win for Speaker Johnson and House Republicans successfully moving our conservative agenda forward,” Rutherford said.

“The alternative options were either another wasteful government shutdown or a costly CR (continuing resolution) that would have prolonged Nancy Pelosi’s DEI and Green New Deal slush funds, withheld a 5.2% pay raise and quality of life improvements for our service members and their families, and cut critical defense spending at a time when our troops are taking live fire from the Houthis and other Iran-backed militias.”

High emotions

A tour of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High by Vice President Kamala Harris renewed debate on gun control and sparked emotional reactions from families of those killed in the 2018 school shooting.

Harris in Parkland announced the debut of the National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center, dedicated to offering training and technical assistance for state red flag laws, per a White House pool email.

“This national resource center will be a place where we will, through that, provide training for local leaders on how to use red flag laws and keep communities safe,” the Vice President said.

Kamala Harris brings a compassionate ear to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

But Scott, a Republican who signed Florida’s red flag law after the Parkland shooting, pushed back on the proposal immediately. He said the Democratic administration’s agenda carves into constitutional rights in a way he did not consider as Governor.

“The work of the Parkland parents was instrumental in drafting and passing this bill — work done as they grieved the unimaginable loss of their children. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act improved school safety in Florida and has helped law enforcement make appropriate interventions with people who pose a threat of violence to themselves or others while robustly protecting due process rights that stop unlawful infringement on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Floridians,” Scott said.

“This stands in stark contrast to the Biden-Harris administration’s push for nationwide implementation of radical policies, like California’s red flag law, which abandons due process to more quickly and easily take constitutional rights away from law-abiding Americans. That is unacceptable.”

But Parkland father Fred Guttenberg online blasted Scott’s terse reaction. Voicing his support for Scott’s Democratic opponent in this year’s election, the Parkland father (who lost his daughter, Jaime, in the shooting) said the Senator was rewriting history.

“I should be a Rick Scott supporter. I worked with him and other families to pass GUN SAFETY IN FL,” Guttenberg wrote. “However, as a Senator he should have been a leader on this and instead has walked away from it and lied about the efforts now. Sen. Scott, the VP came at my invitation. You were also invited to walk the school building this year. I had hoped that as my Senator and someone who should be leading on this, you would have come. You said NO, the VP said YES. Instead of lying about the work to reduce gun violence, may I suggest you just say nothing.”

But Harris’ appearance at the school shooting site, as she also stands for re-election this year, similarly sparked anger among other Parkland families.

“Stop using my daughter for your photo op!” posted Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina, was also killed.

Tweet, tweet:


Confirmation bias

For years, Rubio has raised alarms about Chinese influence in the U.S. Now he’s blocking the nominations of four State Department appointments because he is concerned that they have a too-cozy relationship with the Eastern superpower.

“Enablers of the Chinese Communist Party, individuals who fail to take accountability for their actions, leaders unwilling to protect their employees, and individuals who fail to provide meaningful information to the Committee have no business representing our nation,” the Miami Republican said.

Marco Rubio throws up some roadblocks to federal appointments, which he thinks are too cozy with China.

He placed holds on four nominations. Biden had named Robert Forden as Ambassador to Cambodia, Margaret Taylor as State Department legal adviser, Erik Woodhouse as head of the Office of Sanctions, and Michael Sfraga as Ambassador-at-large for Arctic Affairs.

All have come under fire for various reasons. Most notably, Forden served as former United States’ Chargé d’affaires to China during the pandemic.

“America must be represented by qualified individuals who are devoted to defending both our nation, our interests and our values,” Rubio said. “These nominees are deeply concerning, and I cannot, in good faith, support them or allow for expedited considerations.”

The hold prevents an accelerated confirmation of the nominees in the Senate, though a Democratic majority could still advance them. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has championed the nominations and, earlier this month, forced a hearing as a first step toward approval.

“The nominees on this panel have been pending in this Committee for an average of more than 400 days,” Cardin said.

Side effects

An effort by the Biden administration to impose price controls on medical research has Rep. Neal Dunn worried about stopping advances. The Panama City Republican and medical doctor led a letter to Human Health and Services Inspector General Christi Grimm that accused the administration of “perverse interpretation” of its own authority.

“Prescription drug prices and the cost of lifesaving treatments are out of control, but government price controls are not the answer,” Dunn said. “Government price caps have proven unintended consequences, like hindering innovation and future medical discoveries, and the Biden administration’s effort will only exacerbate the skyrocketing cost of care and eliminate treatment options. We cannot afford to jeopardize a patient’s access to quality care to score political points.”

Neal Dunn sees price controls as a way to hinder innovations.

The Federal Trade Commission in February announced plans to use “march-in rights” to address inflated pharmaceutical prices, citing powers under the Bayh-Dole Act.

“For too long, Americans have been paying soaring prices for prescription drugs — often paying more than double the average price in many other countries,” read an FTC statement at the time. “Nearly three in 10 Americans report rationing or even skipping doses of their prescribed medicines due to these high costs.”

However, the congressional letter suggests that the effort will have side effects that do more harm than good.

It reads: “History has demonstrated that imposing ‘reasonable pricing’ requirements in licensing arrangements discourages private sector research partners from entering technology transfer and licensing agreements.”

Revisiting Kabul

At a hearing on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Rep. Michael Waltz hammered generals over Biden’s decisions on exit strategy.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, he pressed former Gen. Mark Milley, former Chiefs of Staff Chair, specifically about U.S. troop presence at Bagram Air Base during the end of former President Donald Trump’s term and when an ISIS-K-tied attack killed 13 U.S. service members at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“Did President Trump leave that stay-behind-force, despite his stated desire to get everybody out because the Taliban did not meet the conditions?” Waltz asked.

Michael Waltz is blasting the administration again for the Afghanistan pullout.

“When the administrations changed hands there were 2,500 soldiers,” Milley responded, also noting he did not recommend a complete drawdown of troops.

Milley said he predicted the Afghanistan government might collapse without a U.S. presence. Milley originally expected that could happen within several months of a U.S. withdrawal that started in May 2021, with the general suspecting a Taliban takeover by Thanksgiving. The government dissipated much faster. Kabul fell on Aug. 13, while the airport attack occurred on Aug. 26.

Waltz also heavily criticized the State Department for its handling of the matter.

“The State Department, to use a military term, had its head up its rear,” Waltz said.

“It was not planning. It, in fact, thought we could just have an embassy and the ‘good Taliban terrorists’ (would) take care of the ‘bad Taliban terrorists.’ I mean, that is essentially what happened. And because of that, we did not get our people out, we did not get our citizens out, we did not have the force posture, we did not have the basing. We failed and their loved ones are dead because of it.”

Another rescue round

Add another 23 Americans to the list of people Rep. Cory Mills has evacuated from Haiti. The New Smyrna Beach Republican’s Office announced a team working for him had evacuated 13 additional people from the island, which is now chiefly under the control of gangs. That’s on top of 10 others he already personally helicoptered out of Port-au-Prince.

Cory Mills evacuates more Americans from violence-riddled Haiti.

“Our team extracted 13 Americans, who were volunteers for a children’s ministry, trapped in Haiti. Among them were a 2-month-old baby and a 3-year-old little girl,” Mills said. “Our team’s efforts have surpassed those of the entire Biden administration, further highlighting his pattern of abandonment and failed leadership. This is not the first time we’ve had to step in to do Joe Biden’s job for him. Previously, we rescued 255 people from Israel in October 2023, and we facilitated evacuations from Afghanistan in 2021.”

Mills has said the State Department and U.S. embassies should play a greater role in removing Americans from dangerous regions.

For a landing

The U.S. Air Force announced Florida will serve as the official home of Space Delta 10, the Space Force’s war gaming program. It will operate at Patrick Space Force Base and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Space Delta 10 has a new home in Florida.

Rep. Bill Posey cheered the selection.

“Florida’s booming Space Coast is the world’s premiere spaceport and the perfect location for the Space Delta 10 unit,” the Rockledge Republican said. “We are honored to be selected as the location for this important military unit.”

Last year, Space Force announced STARCOM would be located on the Space Coast as well, an effort Posey led the delegation in championing. His office also credited advocacy by Scott and Rubio as well. Space Delta 10 will operate under STARCOM auspices.

Home health care

Two Tampa Bay lawmakers are working across the aisle to make a pandemic-era health care initiative permanent.

Reps. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, and Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, filed the At Home Observation and Medical Evaluation (HOME) Services Act. As written, the bill would allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to test a hospital-at-home initiative for two years, allowing hospitals to provide some acute care at patients’ homes.

Castor said, “Hospitals in Tampa Bay have been leading the way in providing high-quality care to patients across the region.”

Kathy Castor is behind a bill bolstering at-home care for seniors.

“This bipartisan legislation will allow our local providers to expand their services into patients’ homes, freeing up hospital beds for those who need it most and keeping our neighbors healthy and well and treated in a more comfortable setting. I am thankful for the local hospitals who are always looking forward toward more innovative and efficient models of care, as well as my colleague Rep. Vern Buchanan for partnering with me on this critical legislation.”

Buchanan chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and said there is tremendous potential in allowing more home health care options.

“This common-sense legislation builds upon the incredible success individuals have seen in hospital-at-home programs and is a much-needed solution to the health care challenges facing our country,” he said. “The HOME Services Act is an important step in ensuring patients receive the level of care they need and deserve in the comfort of their own homes.”

BayCare President and CEO Stephanie Conners, Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris, and Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew endorsed the bill.

“With the incredible advancements in technology, we are reimagining how vital health care services can be delivered, and hospital-at-home is one of those innovative advancements,” Mayhew said. “The sophistication of 24/7 comprehensive remote health care monitoring combined with personal in-home visits with a clinical team allows patients to receive top-quality hospital care from the comfort of their own homes.”

VA transparency

When Veterans Affairs Department employees get disciplined or fired, Franklin wants the federal government to remember.

The Lakeland Republican filed the Personnel Integrity in Veterans Affairs Act (HR 7734), which would require all records of alleged inappropriate behavior to be retained, even when employees facing discipline reach court settlements. That follows up on congressional testimony dating back to 2016 that showed that in 96% of settlements, records of the action did not appear In employee files.

Scott Franklin is pushing for a better paper trail for VA employees who have been disciplined.

“VA staff must not be allowed to hide behind settlement agreements and other bureaucratic loopholes to avoid scrutiny and evade accountability for misconduct,” Franklin said. “I believe in due process, but what the VA is doing is not due process. Striking deals to ‘save time’ sweeps potential wrongdoing under the rug and can prevent a full account of the facts. My common-sense bill will help ensure this practice, as well as the recent mishandling of sexual misconduct at the VA, does not continue.”

Stopping weapons trafficking

As Florida argues how best to prepare for an exodus of people from Haiti, Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick believes it is also important that guns don’t move from the U.S. to the island nation.

The Miramar Democrat just introduced the Caribbean Arms Trafficking Causes Harm (CATCH) Act, which calls for a crackdown on illegal firearm exports into neighboring Caribbean nations. The only Haitian American in Congress said the abundance of illicit arms has contributed to a gang takeover that has left Haiti largely without any acting government.

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick wants to keep Haitian refugees in, and illegal guns out.

“Weapons trafficking by way of the United States is a major contributor to Haiti’s growing gang crisis and the current instability that plagues the country,” said Cherfilus-McCormick, a Co-Chair of the House Haiti Caucus. “We must ensure the Department of Justice is effectively utilizing the new anti-firearm-trafficking provisions in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Our standing in the region and our national security depends on it.”

She introduced the bill in the House with Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tim Kaine of Virginia will carry a Senate companion.

Cherfilus-McCormick praised domestic efforts by the Biden administration to curb firearm trafficking and noted that Harris and the Justice Department announced a coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions specifically focused on stopping the arms trade in the region. She said her legislation would implement a more significant strategy in addressing the problem with greater communication between state, federal and local law enforcement and between the U.S. and CARICOM, an international alliance of Caribbean governments.

Murder at the VA

The death of patients is part of running a hospital. But rarely do those checked in to receive care end up strangled to death.

Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, is demanding answers after a murder allegedly took place at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. Federal prosecutors say Christopher Schweikart strangled a roommate at the acute mental health unit in Riviera Beach, as reported by WPTV. The victim’s name has not been released and Schweikart remains in custody after being denied bail.

Brian Mast demands answers on a murder at the VA.

“This is absolutely tragic on all fronts,” Mast said. “The West Palm Beach VA needs new leadership to solve widespread issues at this facility. This unnecessary loss of life is unacceptable, especially in a hospital that should be doing everything possible to help veterans who have committed their lives to protecting our nation.”

He sent a letter, along with Scott and Rubio, to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, explicitly calling for West Palm Beach VA Medical Center CEO Cory Price to be held accountable.

“It is abundantly clear that changes in leadership are necessary to address the pervasive issues plaguing the facility and to ensure that such deeply tragic incidents do not recur,” the letter reads.

Mast has questioned Price’s leadership of the institution, citing numerous safety and management concerns raised with his office. He sent a letter to VA leadership last year asking about several staffing and spending decisions.

On this day

March 26, 1953 — “Jonas Salk announces polio vaccine” via — The American medical researcher announced on a national radio show that he successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus that caused the crippling disease of polio. In 1952 — an epidemic year for polio — there were 58,000 new cases reported in the United States, and more than 3,000 died from the disease. For his work in helping to eradicate the disease, known as “infant paralysis” because it mainly affects children, Salk was celebrated as the great doctor-benefactor of his time.

March 26, 1979 — “Egypt, Israel conclude peace treaty” via POLITICO — At a ceremony on the White House South Lawn presided over by President Jimmy Carter, Egypt and Israel, having fought four wars since 1948, signed a formal peace treaty. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the agreement. The accord came 16 months after Sadat had traveled to Jerusalem — an unprecedented move by an Arab leader that angered much of the Muslim world — to meet with Begin and address the Israeli Parliament. In September 1978, the two leaders met again under Carter’s auspices in the United States, where they negotiated a framework deal known as the Camp David Accords.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Laurel Lee, who turns 50 today, March 26.


Peter Schorsch publishes Delegation, compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.

Staff Reports

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