As Democrats speak out on health care bill, Rubio’s listening tour continues
No one is certain when, if ever, the Senate will vote on its current version of the health care bill, but we now know it will be after July 4. The level of opposition to it, measured in decibels, is well known, while supporters, or those on the fence, are either soft-spoken or mute.
With all Democrats opposed, it was a handful of GOP senators that brought the process to a halt Tuesday. Florida Republican Marco Rubio was not one of those but has vowed to gain as much input from his home state as he can before making a decision.
“Senator Rubio will decide how to vote on health care on the basis of how it impacts Florida,” read a statement. “He has already spoken to Governor (Rick) Scott, Senate President (Joe) Negron and Speaker (Richard) Corcoran about the first draft of this proposal.”
Rubio also spent some time Tuesday with Mitch McConnell meeting with the Majority Leader and Scott, who was on Capitol Hill for the day. The senator was nonspecific on any changes he seeks but has also spent time meeting with Florida House and Senate staffers with health care expertise.
Panama City Republican Neal Dunn was one of few House Republicans to comment. “We must act now to repeal Obamacare and fix our broken health care system,” he said in a statement.
Reaction among Florida Democrats has been predictably negative, if not harsh. They drove home the point that the Senate version is no improvement over the House bill. None of the commentaries went as far as that offered by their party’s leader in the House, California’s Nancy Pelosi.
“We do know that many more people, hundreds of thousands of people, will die if this bill passes,” she said on CBS.
Sen. Bill Nelson said the Senate bill “is just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid.”
St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist agreed, saying “the CBO score has confirmed that the Senate bill is just as bad as the House version – the one President (Donald) Trump described as mean.”
Al Lawson of Tallahassee said, “just like the House bill, the Senate health care bill is heartless and reckless.” Tampa’s Kathy Castor told her constituents in an email: “This is a tax-cut-for-the-rich plan disguised as a health care plan that will put your health and financial security at risk.”
According to Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, for those with pre-existing conditions or other needs, “the Senate Republicans open it up for states to turn back the clock and legalize discrimination against” those individuals. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston described it as a “financial and health care horror show.”
With the House and Senate not returning to Washington until the week of July 10, much remains to be, and will be, said about the bill (and any subsequent tweaks) between now and then.
Programming note: We’re taking next week off to celebrate Fourth of July, and recharge before what will likely be a busy few weeks. We’ll return Thursday, June 13. Until then, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.
Trump presidency a hit to Mar-a-Lago banquet business
Trump’s presidency may have been good for the Trump Organization, but David Fahrenthold and Drew Harwell with The Washington Post found the banquet business at Mar-a-Lago Club could be suffering.
A recent Washington Post report found “seven nonprofit organizations — all repeat customers of President Donald Trump’s posh Palm Beach club — have announced their decisions to avoid Mar-a-Lago next winter during the social season.” According to the report, the charities gave a variety of reasons for leaving the club.
“It was not a decision based on politics,” said Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chair Peter Brock in an interview with The Washington Post. “The decision was based on the disruption on getting into Mar-a-Lago, because of all the security and hassle.”
The Post reported the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society had held its gala at Mar-a-Lago for eight straight years. The charity typically held a 90-minute cocktail hour for attendees to have a few glasses of wine and bid on silent auction items. But this year, Brock told the Post, after guests got through security checks, only 20 minutes were left during the cocktail hour.
According to the report, most of the events that left Mar-a-Lago went to the Breakers instead. A spokeswoman for the Breakers declined to tell the Post how much their business has increased, but said it continues to “experience high demand.”
Aside from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and MorseLife Health System are among those have announced moving their events to the Breakers, the Post reported.
The next FEMA head finally confirmed
Almost a full month into the hurricane season, the U.S. Senate confirmed Brock Long of North Carolina as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Long succeeds Florida’s Craig Fugate, who served from 2009 until early this year.
The vote to confirm in the Senate was 95-4. Both Bill Nelson and Rubio voted in favor of Long’s nomination. The only “no” votes came from Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Long brings experience as the former director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. During his time there, Long served as the state’s on-scene incident commander during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
Trump nominated Long in late April; he was officially received in the Senate May 11. As hurricane season began June 1, Florida delegation co-chair Vern Buchanan issued a warning to get the nomination moving.
The vote came less than three weeks later.
Nelson “cringes” for nominee to run TSA
Florida’s senior senator expressed sympathy toward the nominee to run the Transportation Security Administration. Sen. Bill Nelson reacted to retired Vice Admiral David Pekoske’s defense of the TSA portion of Trump’s recent budget proposal.
Pekoske appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last week for his confirmation hearing. During the hearing, Nelson asked Pekoske about the president’s 2018 budget plan, which proposes TSA cuts of $1 billion from the current year’s levels.
“At the end of the day, I support the President’s budget,” Pekoske told Nelson, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “But I wanted to make sure that as the appropriations process proceeds, members of Congress have the information they need to make their own assessment of what’s in the budget.”
Nelson responded that Congress is “going to have to save you from yourself” by providing more funding for prevention and response efforts.
“I cringe for you that you have to support the president’s budget because you have to, when in fact everybody in this room knows it ought to go the other way,” Nelson said.
Rubio teams with Ernst to launch EMPOWERS Act
Florida’s Republican senator joined his GOP colleague from Iowa, Joni Ernst, to propose a bill designed to modernize the country’s welfare programs. The Economic Mobility, Prosperity and Opportunities with Waivers that Enable Reforms for States (EMPOWERS) Act would allow states the opportunity to modernize benefit programs and better assist individuals to achieve success.
Rubio and Ernst point out that more than 80 programs exist to help those in need, but do not create a path to self-sufficiency when the programs are meant to provide temporary assistance. The bill envisions the states as the place for pilot programs featuring new ideas.
“The EMPOWERS Act recognizes what Americans already know: Washington doesn’t have all the answers,” Rubio said in a joint release. “More than 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, it’s clear our social safety net programs are in desperate need of innovation and modernization.”
The bill calls for requiring states to submit proposals, complete with accountability measures, for cost-neutral demonstration projects which focus on reducing poverty and promoting ways for beneficiaries to eventually reach self-sufficiency. It also permits waivers for states to develop the means to cut costs and reinvest savings to help low-income families.
“I’ve heard from Iowans struggling to make ends meet that due to our current federal programs in place, taking one step forward often means taking two steps back,” said Ernst. “Worse yet, these programs sometimes punish self-sufficiency through stiff phaseout rates, or ‘cliff effects’ which inadvertently penalize individuals when they gain employment or are rewarded a raise.”
Rubio, Nelson show rare bipartisan support for Florida judicial nominees
An op-ed by Linda Geller-Schwartz of the National Council of Jewish Women notes that Florida’s two senators, in a rare show of bipartisanship, have jointly sent a letter to Trump asking him to renominate three of Obama’s judicial nominees to Florida federal courts.
Both Rubio and Nelson vetted and approved the three nominees — Patricia Barksdale and William Jung for the Middle District of Florida, and Phillip Lammens in the Northern District — who are still waiting for hearings after their nominations expired in January.
Nelson and Rubio say that “timely action is needed as the two vacancies in the Middle District are considered judicial emergencies.”
The letter also refers to the failure of Senate leaders to take “timely action in the last Congress,” as Floridians deserve and expect a fair and functioning judicial system.
7 Florida Republicans join call for Ginsburg’s recusal
While all 9 U.S. Supreme Court Justices agreed to lift the stay on portions of Trump’s “travel ban,” several members of Congress want only 8 of the justices to hear arguments before the Court in the fall.
In a letter to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 58 Republican House members, including seven from Florida, called on Ginsburg to step aside when the Court hears arguments on the constitutional merits of Trump’s executive order.
“As an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, you are required to recuse yourself in cases in which your ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned’ and where you have ‘a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party,’” they wrote.
To fortify their position, the members cited a New York Times editorial criticizing Ginsburg’s disparaging remarks toward candidate Trump in 2016. They concluded by stating Ginsburg’s participation would “violate the law and undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Florida Republicans signing the letter included Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra, Neal Dunn of Panama City, Dan Webster of Orlando, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, John Rutherford of Jacksonville, Bill Posey of Rockledge, and Francis Rooney of Naples.
The Supreme Court will return for their next term in October.
Florida delegation hears the horrors of human trafficking
The Florida delegation, co-chaired by Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan and Miramar Democrat Alcee Hastings, focused on the crime of human trafficking during a meeting on Wednesday. Members heard from experts who informed, among other things, that children account for more than half of the cases of human trafficking, a crime in which they are abducted or recruited for sexual exploitation.
Members heard from experts on ways to recognize and combat the rapidly growing crime. Florida is third in the nation in reported cases, trailing only California and Texas. The state saw an increase of 54 percent last year.
During the hearing, members were advised to focus on providing resources to help victims reclaim their lives. A need for greater awareness and training was another topic of discussion.
“We need to have the public understand this is a public health issue,” said Dr. Suzanne Harrison, with the Florida State University College of Medicine. “Victims go unrecognized in clinics and emergency rooms.”
Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the Abolish Human Trafficking Act in Congress.
“Human trafficking is a vile and monstrous crime against women and children,” Buchanan said. “Unfortunately, Florida is a hub for human trafficking and that’s why we must do all we can to stop this crime.”
Wednesday’s meeting was the third delegation meeting of 2017. Along with Buchanan and Hastings, those in attendance were Democrats Lois Frankel, Kathy Castor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Val Demings. Republican members included Brian Mast, John Rutherford, Ted Yoho, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, Gus Bilirakis, Francis Rooney, and Neal Dunn.
Gaetz, Murphy host Florida Defense Day
Republican Rep. Gaetz and Democratic Rep. Murphy joined forces this week to host Florida Defense Day at the Florida House on Capitol Hill.
The daylong event was meant to preview the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and featured a series of roundtable discussions highlighting Florida’s military posture and the state delegation’s need for a united front on military and defense issues.
Gaetz and Murphy both sit on the House Committee on Armed Services.
The event featured remarks by Rep. John Rutherford; a presentation by Tony Principi, the CEO of the Principi Group, on military readiness in Florida; a panel discussion on missions and installations in Florida; a roundtable on the future of defense in Florida, featuring Reps. Neal Dunn and Ron DeSantis; and a presentation by G. Derrick Hinton, the principal deputy director of the Test Resource Management Center.
Dunn, Yoho join Agriculture Committee in Gainesville
The House Agriculture Committee came to the University of Florida last weekend for the first of several “listening sessions” designed to gain input on a new 2018 farm bill. Yoho, whose district includes the University of Florida, joined Dunn of Panama City and committee members representing districts from around the country to hear from those who make a living in the industry.
“Everybody in this room is involved in agriculture,” Yoho told attendees. “You’re either producing it; farming, ranching, or you’re consuming it. So, we’re all involved in agriculture.”
Attendees from the region represented all sectors of the agriculture industry. The purpose of the hearing was to gain input from those involved as the committee crafts the new farm bill set to expire next year.
“Agriculture is a risky business, and while Congress can’t control the weather, we can create a climate of sound, consistent farm policy to help farmers and ranchers manage risks as they produce affordable, safe and abundant food and fiber,” said Dunn.
Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas led the proceedings, which elicited a broad range of comments and suggestions from attendees.
“I appreciated today’s productive conversations with producers and stakeholders in Florida, Georgia and surrounding areas and look forward to continuing the discussion with producers across the country as we work to craft the next farm bill,” said Conaway.
Soto presses Ryan Zinke on Everglades, drilling
Rep. Darren Soto hoped to get assurances from Interior Secretary Zinke that the offshore drilling ban is in “no real jeopardy,” reports Scott Powers with Orlando Rising.
During a Natural Resources Committee meeting last week, the Orlando Democrat pressed Zinke on the offshore drilling ban and whether he would support a Wild & Scenic River Program designation. Zinke told Soto he planned to come to Florida in the coming months to work with state officials on solutions.
“My intention is to be down in Florida right after the break, in there to look and assess,” Zinke continued. “I’d be glad to work with you on that. I understand it is a huge problem. But there are solutions. My commitment to you is to work together to find the solutions.”
The offshore drilling ban, pushed by Soto and most other members of Congress from Florida, is only in jeopardy if the military determines it does not need the restrictions requested and put in place years ago by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Crist calls for “Day of Civility” — Rep. Charlie Crist is leading a bipartisan effort to be kind.
Crist — along with Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson and Democratic Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán — recently announced bipartisan legislation to establish July 12 as a National Day of Civility.
“Too often all the American people see of Congress are the disagreements over policy and partisan bickering, which has risen to new heights in Washington in recent years, unfortunately,” said Crist during a recent press conference. “What they don’t see is when the cameras are turned off we’re all friends. The policy disputes, they happen. But they aren’t personal, even when they are passionate. And they are passionate.”
The resolution came on the heels of a report, according to Crist’s office, which showed 9 out of 10 Americans agreed that increased incivility leads to intimidation, threats, harassment, discrimination, violence and cyberbullying. The report also found a majority of Americans believe incivility in politics encourages general incivility in society and deters citizens from engaging in public service.
The legislation, Alex Leary with the Tampa Bay Times reports, calls for National Day of Civility to be on July 12, a reference to Matthew 7:12.
Crist and Johnson are also distributing yellow wrist hands with the words “Practice the Golden Rule every day!” to members of the House and Senate.
Crist, estranged wife selling $1.5M St. Pete condo — Crist is looking to sell the $1.5 million waterfront home he owns with his estranged wife, Carole. The couple bought the three-bedroom, three-bath condo in July 2015 for $1.036 million. The Tampa Bay Times notes it was at a time when the St. Petersburg Democrat was first considering a U.S. House run. At the same point, amid Florida’s legal battle over congressional redistricting, the couple also bought a house on St. Pete Beach, which sold earlier this year for $1.030 million.
According to the listing, the Beach Drive condo has: “Sprawling views of the waterfront and downtown St. Petersburg,” an area that continues to be a strong seller’s market. In the past six months, 30 condos have sold for $1 million or more, with one going for $3.725 million in early June.
F. Rooney touts support for technical education
A bill that could help Floridians get the skills they need to enter the workforce, without incurring thousands upon thousands of dollars in student debt, is heading to the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Francis Rooney touted his support for the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which passed the U.S. House on a voice vote last week. The bill, which was co-sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, now heads to the Senate for its consideration.
“Career and technical education is a key solution for the most critical needs of our economy. There are hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree,” said Rooney in a statement. “The pursuit of career and technical education will allow students to enter the workforce with usable skills that fulfill real world needs, without incurring tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. CTE is a win for students, businesses and for our economy.”
The bill, among other things, gives states more flexibility to use federal resources in response to changing education and education needs; enhances career and technical education through an increased focus on employable skills, work-based learning opportunities, and meaningful credentialing; streamlines performance measures to ensure career and technical education programs deliver results; and reduces administrative burdens and simplifies the process for states to apply for federal resources.
“Given the dramatic evolution of our nation’s workforce, it is imperative that we create clear pathways to education and training for students interested in pursuing careers in high-demand industries and technical fields,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson, the Pennsylvania Republican who, along with Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, introduced the legislation, in a statement. “This bill will work to restore rungs on the ladder of opportunity for every American regardless of age or background.”
Deutch praises European Parliament for adopting anti-Semitism definition
Rep. Ted Deutch is praising the European Parliament for its passage of a working definition of anti-Semitism.
The European Parliament voted in favor of endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on June 1. The resolution, according to Tamara Zieve with the Jerusalem Post, also calls on European Union member states, institutions and agencies to adopt and apply the working definition.
“Passing a working definition of anti-Semitism isn’t just symbolic. European Jewish communities, feeling threatened and under attack, have been looking to their national and EU leaders to stand with them and take action to protect them,” said Deutch in a statement. “As we’ve seen here with the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, having a clear guide helps governments better identify and address cases of anti-Semitism. EU member states should follow the European Parliament’s meaningful action by adopting a definition and committing to protecting Jewish communities and combating anti-Semitism.“
Deutch joined his colleagues on the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism in signing a letter to the EP applauding them on the passage of the resolution. In the letter, the members noted the U.S. House unanimously passed the “Combating European Anti-Semitism Act (H.R. 672), which would encourage greater coordination and partnerships between the United States and European countries to address anti-Semitism.”
“This and other important initiatives for combating anti-Semitism, including efforts to integrate a working definition of anti-Semitism into various aspects of U.S. policy and practice, are top priorities for many members of Congress. We must continue to build on the momentum created by this bill’s passage and the passage of the working definition,” they wrote. “We look forward to working closely with the EU and individual member states in achieving the shared goal of protecting Jewish communities and combating anti-Semitism.”
In addition to Deutch, Floridians Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Lois Frankel and Gus Bilirakis also signed the letter.
Curbelo applauds funding for addiction research program
Florida International University will receive a more than $140,000 grant for research on the use of oxytocin to treat morphine addiction in HIV-infection patients.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo announced the school will receive a $146,500 U.S. Department of Health and Human services grant through the 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which Curbelo supported. The Miami Republican said the grant will be key to helping the continued study of patients’ addictions patterns.
“The drug addiction crisis facing our nation needs the attention of researchers across the country,” he said in a statement. “This grant is critical to aiding the continued study of HIV-patient’s addiction patterns and discovering treatment solutions that put these patients on the path to a healthier life.”
Curbelo has continually advocated for federal funding of research and treatment programs of HIV and AIDS, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Ros-Lehtinen proposes bill to help young cancer patients
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is taking steps to help young cancer patients.
The Miami Republican recently filed legislation, co-sponsored by Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter, that would let individuals diagnosed with cancer to defer payments on public student loans while actively receiving treatment. Under her proposal, students would be able to defer the loans without interest accruing during the deferment period.
“No person should have to endure cancer treatments while being concerned about pending student loan payments,” she said in a statement. “We should show compassion and help those who are living likely the most difficult period of their lives and allow them to focus on beating cancer, not fretting about repayments and answering to creditors, and this bill will do just that. During the difficulties of those we are called upon to help, not hinder, their treacherous road.”
The Miami Herald reported that Kate Houghton, a Florida International University alumna and former Capitol Hill staffer who was diagnosed with cancer in her 20s, helped drive the bill. She now heads a group called Critical Mass, which provides resources for young adults with cancer.
The bill, according to Ros-Lehtinen’s office, is a common sense solution to address the rising number of student loans among borrowers by empowering patients to continue repayment after they are healthy.
“The hardships created for individuals and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis is only exacerbated by the financial burden of a student loan when one is receiving active treatment,” said Perlmutter in a statement. “It should be a no brainer while an individual is receiving treatment to defer payments without penalty during this difficult time.”
Scott goes to Washington
As the Senate’s health care plan hung in the balance this week, Rick Scott traveled to Washington, D.C. in hopes of providing input to Senate leadership about how they could “make the bill better for Floridians.”
The Naples Republican, who is believed to be considering a 2018 Senate bid, was in D.C. for just one day, but, according to the public schedule released by the Governor’s Office, it was chock full of meetings with movers and shakers, as well as a few national media interviews squeezed in.
Scott, according to his schedule, kicked off his day with a meeting with Florida’s Agency of Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior, who was in D.C. and met with Rubio earlier in the week. Scott squeezed in an interview with Fox News’ Bill Hemmer, before heading to a meeting with Rep. Buchanan.
The governor then met with Vice President Mike Pence, before holding a media availability with the Washington press corps and another interview, this time on CNBC’s Power Lunch. According to his schedule, Scott’s afternoon was filled with meetings with HHS Secretary Tom Price, Sen. Lamar Alexander, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rubio.
It wasn’t all work, though. Scott, according to the schedule, attended a welcome reception with the congressional delegation in the early evening, before doing one last quick hit interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum.
Floridians to lobby against cuts to mental health coverage
More than 1,000 member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness — including more than 40 from Florida — will are traveling to Washington, D.C. this week about cuts to mental health coverage under the proposed health care bill.
NPR reported this week that, under the proposed Senate plan, states could request waivers to opt out of requiring essential health benefits, including mental health care. The Congressional Budget Office, according to the NPR report, said if a state opted out of coverage for mental health care, “insurance that includes mental health care coverage could become ‘extremely expensive.’”
Forty-five people from Florida are expected to be in D.C. on Thursday, including NAMI supporters from Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Port St. Lucie, Orlando, Jacksonville and Palm Beach. They are expected to meet with Sen. Bill Nelson and an aide to Sen. Marco Rubio, along with members of the U.S. House.
Trump get speaking gig at Hall of Presidents
Disney has added the new president after every election, and Jacquee Wahler, vice president of communications at Disney, told News13 in Orlando that the “same thing that we’ve done with other presidents, is the same plan we have for President Trump.”
A Change.org online petition called for Trump to remain silent. It gathered 14,706 signatures but did not convince the theme park giant to squelch the sitting president.
The attraction, modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, features audio-animatronic figures of all U.S. presidents. It was one of the original attractions at the Magic Kingdom, which opened in 1971.
Abraham Lincoln and George Washington give speeches, along with the current president. The attraction was last closed in 2009 to add former president Barack Obama.
The attraction has been closed since January 17 for renovation and is scheduled to reopen by the end of the year.