Bill Nelson – Florida Politics

Chamber of Commerce, Rick Scott to roll out ‘major announcement’ Thursday

Gov. Rick Scott, under the aegis of his Senate campaign, will roll out what is being called a “major announcement” Thursday in two major Florida markets.

And the national, state, and local Chambers of Commerce will lend support.

Scott will be at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce at 9:30 a.m., and will follow that stop with a 1:45 p.m. visit to Ring Power in Orlando.

Scott has already enjoyed the fruits of Chamber backing this week.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hitting Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on the economy with six figures worth of ad buys on Tampa and Orlando airwaves.

As first reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, the Chamber has so far spent $249,000 running getting their message out in Tampa, with another $32,000 spent on running a Spanish language version of the anti-Nelson ad.

Expect similar robust support for Scott in other major markets.

The current Chamber ad is below.

U.S. Chamber targets Bill Nelson with big ad buy

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hitting Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on the economy with six figures worth of ad buys on Tampa and Orlando airwaves.

As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, the Chamber has so far spent $249,000 running getting their message out in Tampa, with another $32,000 spent on running a Spanish language version of the anti-Nelson ad.

“After 40 years in politics, what has Bill Nelson actually done?” the Chamber ad asks before jump cuts to various actors who each deliver a line bashing the Nelson or praising Republican Rick Scott, who is termed out as governor and challenging Nelson in the fall.

“All he grows is government. He voted against our tax cuts and a whole lot of empty political promises,” the ad says of Nelson. “Now Rick Scott, he has actually delivered.”

The ad then credits Scott for cutting taxes “40 times,” cutting “red tape for better innovation” and low unemployment.

The Chamber video closes with an image of Scott – adorned in his signature Navy hat – with text saying he “gets the job done.”

The Scott v. Nelson race is likely to be one of the most watched and expensive U.S. Senate races nationwide this cycle. Scott has a penchant for boosting his campaigns with his substantial personal wealth, and Nelson hasn’t been slacking off on the fundraising trail.

Through the first quarter of 2018, he had more than $10.5 million in his campaign account. Scott has not yet filed his first campaign finance report.

Florida is one of 10 states that both voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and has a Democratic U.S. Senator up for re-election in 2018, making it a top priority for both parties.

The U.S. Chamber’s ad is below.

Steve Schale: Orlando revisited

Back in 2012, I wrote a fairly deep dive about metro-Orlando, titled Orlando Rising, to look at what was happening in the Orlando urban counties, and how both Hispanic and African-American growth rates were radically changing the area’s politics.

Six years later, I wanted to take another look, but this time with a broader lens — not just metro-Orlando, which tends to get all the media focus, but on the media market as a whole, because, as I think this piece will show, what is happening in the Orlando media market right now is very much the story of what is happening in American politics. Bear with me, there will be a lot of data in this piece, and hopefully by the end, you will see what I mean.

Before we begin, for those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you’ve probably seen me refer to Florida’s political math as a self-correcting scale. For all the state’s dynamism in population growth and demographic changes, the state’s politics almost seem to play by Newton’s Third Rule of Motion, that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, or in political terms, for every trend that benefits one party, a seemingly opposite, and a remarkably equal trend benefits the other.

This is why, despite changes in the electorate and changes in national mood, the last four major contested statewide elections — the 2010 and 2014 Governor’s races, and the 2012 and 2016 Presidential, were all decided by a point, and why there is no reason to believe the 2018 Governor’s race, and the 2018 Senate race between Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — and eventually the 2020 Presidential race won’t follow suit.

In some ways, no place is more emblematic of this than Orlando. It is the fastest-growing major media market in the state, and home to one of the fastest-changing populations. Between 2006 and 2016, the market added over 600,000 additional voters to the rolls, of which 49 percent were either African-American or Hispanic, with another 5 percent coming from growth among Asian voters. Drive around metro Orlando and you can see this change with your own eyes, as the city is growing into a diverse, global metropolitan center.

Yet for all of this, Donald Trump won the Orlando media market by virtually the same percentage margin as George Bush did in 2000. That point is worth repeating: despite the vast demographic changes happening in Central Florida, Trump’s 2.9 percent margin over Clinton in 2016 in the Orlando media market was basically the same as Bush’s 3.3 percent margin over Al Gore in 2000.

How is that possible? Well, let’s start back in that fateful election.

In 2000, Bush won the urban core of the market by about 2 points, and the surrounding counties by about 4.5 percent — a difference of about 2.5 percent. For my purposes, I describe the urban core as the counties of Orange, Osceola and Seminole, and the surrounding counties (going west to east then south): Marion, Sumter, Lake, Flagler, Volusia, and Brevard Counties. In 2004, Bush did a little better in the surrounding counties, winning them by about a 6.5 percent larger margin than he won the urban counties, but still, voting behavior across the entire market was pretty consistent.

Fast forward to 2016, and we saw an entirely different map, with the urban counties and surrounding counties functioning as differently as two base states; Hillary Clinton winning the urban counties by 18 percent, and Trump winning the surrounding counties by 21 percent. Two Americas, right in one nine-county region.

Let’s break this down a little further, starting in the urban core.

Of the 2.7 million voters in the nine-county media market, 48 percent of them live in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. For those unfamiliar with the region, Orange is home to Orlando, with Osceola located to the south and west, and Seminole to the east. Osceola for many years was a mostly rural county, and now is home to some of the fastest-growing Puerto Rican communities in America. On the other hand, Seminole is largely a bedroom community, traditionally very Republican, which is trending more Democratic as the county gets more diverse. The urban core (which economically includes Lake County) is the 32nd-largest economy in the country, bigger than both the countries of Morocco and Kuwait.

Change here has been rapid, and significant politically.

On the rapid side: the number of people who voted in the 2016 Presidential election was nearly double what it was in 2000. Between 2006 (when the state standardized the reporting of voter registration by racial and ethnic background) and 2016, the voter rolls grew by 303,000, with 78 percent of that growth coming from people of color. On the political significance side, these three counties went from giving Bush a roughly 9,000 and 34,000 vote margin respectively in 2000 and 2004, to giving Clinton a 166,000 vote margin in 2016. Another 40,000 voters have been added to the rolls since 2016, and the ratios remain the same.

Driving this change: voters of color, particularly Puerto Ricans. And this is the story that gets written about all the time, the idea that this trend, and this trend alone — particularly in the wake of President Trump’s complete botching of post-Maria cleanup in Puerto Rico, and the fallout both in terms of migration and politics, will drive Florida blue.

And yes, if demographic change, particularly among Puerto Ricans, was the only factor at play, Florida would be a solidly Democratic state. To this point, if you take just the urban Orlando counties, then add Dade and Broward counties, Clinton won these 5 counties by 500,000 more votes than Gore did in the tied election of 2000, with more than 40 percent of that change happening in Central Florida. If nothing else in Florida changed, she would have won the state by roughly five points.

But alas, looking at only the change in urban Orlando doesn’t tell the whole story.

Again, the Orlando media market is comprised of nine counties, the three described above, and six others, which wrap around the north and eastern sides of the urban core. While there are some rural areas in these six counties, they are more “exurban” in nature. The counties to the north: Lake, Marion, Sumter, and Flagler, are home to large retiree populations, anchored in the northwest corner of media market by a community known as “The Villages.” To the east, Volusia and Brevard have a rust belt, blue-collar feel to them. For many years, Volusia, home to NASCAR, was considered a base Democratic county, and Brevard, home to the Space Coast, is the area Sen. Nelson served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

While alone, none of these counties can compete politically or from a population standpoint with the Orlando urban core, taken as a whole, these six counties are home to more voters than the urban counties, and since 2006, in terms of voters, they are growing at roughly the same rate as the urban core of the media market.

Going back to that idea of Florida — or in this case, the Orlando DMA being a self-correcting scale

Between 2006 and 2016, the voter rolls in the urban counties grew by roughly 315,000 voters, while the rolls in the surrounding counties grew by just over 303,000. As the urban counties grew more diverse, adding about 120,000 more African-American and Hispanic voters than the suburban counties, the suburban counties added 130,000 more non-Hispanic white voters than the urban counties. Thus, given the nation’s current political voting behavior — the more diverse and Democratic-trending electorate in the urban counties voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, while the fast-growing, and GOP-trending white population in the surrounding counties turned out a similar margin for Trump.

The difference between Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Trump in 2016 was the margins in those surrounding counties. Whereas Clinton lost those Orlando exurban counties by over 211,000 votes, Obama kept the margin to roughly 115,000 in 2012, and just over 67,000 in 2008. Both Nelson and Scott have traditionally done well in this market, so whether Orlando looks more like 2012 or 2016 will go a long way to deciding not only their race, but also the Governor’s race. And if my party can figure out how to claw back a few points of white support on a regular basis, both this market, and Florida start to look a lot more “blue.”

And I know what question is coming next: But Steve, you are forgetting the Puerto Rican migrants from Maria will swamp the GOP in Orlando and everywhere in 2018. If you are curious, here is the piece I wrote about this in October, but the answer then, as it is now, is yes, the growth of Puerto Ricans will impact Central Florida politics, but no, it won’t change the state alone.

Since the 2016 election, the voter rolls in the Orlando market have grown by about 55,000, and while in fairness, they have grown the most in the urban core, at this point, it would be a stretch to say that more than 15,000 to 18,000 of that growth is from Hurricane Maria — numbers which at this point, are somewhat balanced out by white growth in the surrounding counties.

In fairness, I suspect the average Maria migrant, having upended their life, is focused on everything other than registering to vote (which is a good reminder that big gains in voter registration don’t happen organically), so the number will surely grow, but unlikely anywhere near where some of the outside experts predicted back in October.

The challenge with covering the political mechanics of Florida is complicated, but it is also close, and the latter particularly always drives a spate of stories trying to determine the silver bullet that will drive the state in one party’s direction or the other. But there are no silver bullets, or as my friend Kevin Sweeny often likes to say, the secret is, well, there is no secret.

The Sunshine State is just work, never easy on either side of the path to 50 percent. And arguably, no place exemplifies this more than the Orlando media market. In Florida, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Rick Scott, Bill Nelson head to Kissimmee to talk Puerto Rico

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson – opponents in this year’s U.S. Senate election – both went to Kissimmee Friday afternoon to talk to Puerto Rican residents about their needs.

But while Nelson spent a town hall talking with Puerto Rican migrants’ struggle to find housing, Scott’s town hall mostly roamed other issues from small businesses’s challenges to the safety of children.

Scott’s town hall, which officially was a U.S. Senate campaign event, included Puerto Rican small business owners, pastors and a small handful of active leaders in the Central Florida Puerto Rican community, touched briefly on housing needs, but the governor heard more about concerns involving how small businesses can get more state business, the pardons program, the appearance lately of children panhandlers, and Venezuela.

Nelson’s town hall, which officially was a U.S. Senate office event, was more focused, and included eight or nine people who had come to Central Florida from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, and who now were living in motels in Kissimmee, desperate for more stable housing. Also attending were several church leaders and a few public officials, including Democratic Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez and Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres.

Nelson began offering them good news and bad news, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday agreed to extend their temporary shelter program to May 14, but that FEMA declined to extend it into June. Nelson said he, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto had requested that longer extension so that Puerto Rican families who had enrolled children in Florida schools could see them through the end of the school year.

He heard several stories, some of them in Spanish, of Puerto Rican migrants who had come, found work, couldn’t go home to Puerto Rico, but couldn’t find housing in Central Florida, and were stuck living in motels.

Among them, Gustavo Santiago, 47, who’s living in a motel and said he had been terrified that he, among hundreds of Puerto Rican families, was on the verge of being pushed out onto the street Friday, until FEMA agreed to the temporary housing assistance program’s extension to May 14.

Santiago said he and his fiancé and her son came to Florida on Nov. 1 because his house, his car, and everything else he owned was totally destroyed, by ten feet of water, and without a car he lost his job. In Kissimmee, he found a job at a Wal-Mart store, where he’s been working since December.

It’s a challenge, very difficult, this uncertainty of whether people will be extended or not. It’s not like we’re not looking for housing, we are. I’m pretty sure everybody here has gone out there. I’ve been out there, searching. and the response that we’re getting is there is no availability.

“And some of the places where there is availability, we don’t qualify because we don’t make enough money, or we make too much money,” Santiago said. “So what do we have to do? We’re not here for a hand-out…. We’re not here to live off the government. But right now we need help.”

Scott said he, Rubio, and Soto will continue to push FEMA to extend the housing vouchers beyond May 14.

But there is no plan for any immediate next-step housing for the migrants. Scott, too was asked about housing, and he talked of long-term programs to build more affordable housing, particularly in Central Florida and the Florida Keys. But he said there was no interim-step program.

He turned the focus to economic development noting that Orlando’s growth has added 42,000 jobs in the past year.

“Here’s the issue we’re dealing with right now. This state has been growing so rapidly, it’s causing housing process to go up,” Scott said. “And so where our problem when I got elected was we had housing that was being foreclosed on, that’s not the issue anymore. Our issue is housing prices have gone up so much, and it’s difficult to stay up with the growth, when you have 400,000 or 500,000 people moving here a year.”

Space Florida backs new NASA leader

Florida’s aerospace agency praised the long-delayed confirmation Thursday of Oklahoma Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine as the next leader of NASA, pointing to further growth coming to the private space industry.

Space Florida officials said they anticipate Bridenstine will reinvigorate the industry, noting that he’s been hands-on in Congress.

“We look forward to working with him as the nation moves to leverage the relationships between government and the private sector and between states and federal agencies,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said in a statement after the Senate confirmed Bridenstine in a vote along party lines.

“His leadership of a NASA focused on research and exploration will be critical to reinvigorating U.S. leadership in space by bringing the true strengths of all facets of American ingenuity together for the expansion of human activity in space,” DiBello added.

But President Donald Trump’s choice of Bridenstine for the job was controversial, drawing opposition from lawmakers such as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who as a member of Congress traveled as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia in January 1986. Nelson maintained that Bridenstine is too partisan for the post.

“The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional,” Nelson said while on the Senate floor Wednesday. “That’s what this senator wants, a space professional, not a politician as the head of NASA.”

Nelson said the administrator should also be “technically and scientifically competent and a skilled executive.”

“More importantly, the administrator must be a leader who has the ability to bring us together to unite scientists and engineers and commercial space interests and policymakers and the public on a shared vision for future space exploration,” Nelson said.

NASA’s administrator position has been vacant since Charles Bolden, who led the agency under President Barack Obama, stepped down in January 2017. The vacancy was the longest the federal agency has gone without an administrator.

Before the confirmation vote, Gov. Rick Scott tweeted his support for Bridenstine, who was named to the job last September by Trump.

“I hope Jim Bridenstine gets confirmed,” Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, tweeted. “It isn’t helping NASA to have obstructionist Senate Democrats delay the confirmation process. Like me, he served in the Navy and will fight for our space program — not just talk about helping it like so many of the career politicians in DC.”

Bridenstine’s confirmation was able to advance after Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida agreed to support the confirmation, which had been deadlocked in the Senate.

“While I wish the president would have nominated a space professional to run NASA, the unexpected April 30 retirement of the acting administrator would leave NASA, an agency whose mission is vital to Florida, with a gaping leadership void …,” Rubio said in a prepared statement.

Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, called it “terrifying” to have Bridenstine in the job as the Republican is a climate-change “denier” and doesn’t have a scientific background.

“Either Mr. Bridenstine has not bothered to read up on the scientific consensus on the most pressing scientific issue of our generation or he does not agree with that consensus,” Schatz said on the floor. “Either explanation makes him unqualified to run NASA.”

However, Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said Bridenstine, who has served on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, will help bring a “renaissance” needed at NASA, as the U.S. has been “retreating” from space since astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969.

“From that position (Bridenstine’s) been a thoughtful leader on American space policy as it relates to national security, commerce and weather forecasting,” Lee said.

Rick Scott Spanish ad touts jobs, tax cuts

Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s second television commercial of his U.S. Senate campaign is a Spanish pitch touting jobs and tax cuts and heading for Spanish TV.

The ad, “Tanto,” [“So Much”] will be airing on Spanish-language networks and stations in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando. It’s part of a $3 million buy that also includes the English-language ad “Term Limits” that began airing earlier this week.

Scott is taking on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in this year’s election.

The ad begins with Scott declaring, in Spanish: “Together we’ve achieved a lot.”

A narrator then says, ” In Florida, since Rick Scott has been Governor, 1.5 million jobs have been created. Taxes have been reduced by 10 billion dollars. In Washington, getting something done has become impossible.”

Scott then finishes, in Spanish, “It’s unacceptable. That’s why I’m running to be your Senator. I know we can do better. I’m Rick Scott and I approve this message. Let’s keeping working. “

Joe Henderson: Is Marco Rubio eyeing another presidential run?

If one is inclined to read between the lines, Marco Rubio sounded like a man running for president, again, with his blunt talk about Florida’s vulnerability to a Russian attack on the upcoming elections.

That doesn’t mean what the junior senator from our state had to say can be dismissed as political grandstanding. Hopefully, he convinced members of the Florida Association of Counties, the group to which he was speaking, that the threat is real.

It doesn’t hurt Rubio’s standing, though, to be a leading Republican voice about this national security issue.

Now, if he can just convince President Donald Trump this is serious stuff that goes to the core of what we value as a nation, we might have to give Rubio a prize for exceptional public service.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Rubio’s talk, which included this gem of a quote about the operatives: “These are not people sitting in the basement of their mom’s house. These are nation state threats. They have significant resources and assets at their disposal to do this.”

That sounded a lot like a passive-aggressive swipe at the president, who dismissed concerns about Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election with the pithy comment, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke in to DNC.”

Speculation about Rubio’s long-range plan has been increasing lately.

A New York Times story this week noted Rubio’s recent hire of Michael Needham, former CEO of the conservative think tank Heritage Action for America, to be his chief of staff is the kind of move made by someone with long-term aspirations.

“The move is certain to raise questions about whether Mr. Rubio, whose hopes of becoming president in 2016 were dashed by Mr. Trump, may be positioning himself for another run,” reporter Jeremy W. Peters wrote.

“And it underscores how unsettled the conservative movement remains nearly two years after Mr. Trump won the Republican presidential nomination and became the party’s improbable leader.”

Rubio, of course, dismissed such speculation, telling the New York Times, “It’s so far-off in the future, I don’t know where my mind will be.”

It’s smart strategy though to position himself on the side of being able to say, “I told you so,” especially given the president’s disdain/fear about the issue of voter fraud.

He has been on the right side of this issue from the start.

After all, when the extent of hacking first came to light during months before the presidential election, Rubio warned,”… my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.

Rubio wasn’t ready for prime time when he ran for the top spot in the last election, and let’s just say that now there would be a lot of room on the “Rubio 2020” bandwagon.

But he is looking more like an actual senator lately than just a young man in too big of a hurry.

He was visible and active trying to secure hurricane relief for Florida. His very public cooperation and working relationship with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is refreshing.

He held out his vote on the Trump tax package and won concessions for a better child care credit. And when he believes the president has done something good, he has been willing to be supportive.

Whether all that is a prelude to another run for the top job, well, it’s too soon to say.

What we can say, though, is that Rubio has been doing more things right lately. You don’t have to read between the lines to see that.

Bill Nelson again blasts Jim Bridenstine as nominee for NASA administrator

Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took another swing Wednesday morning at the nomination of Oklahoma Republican U.S. Rep. James Bridenstine‘s appointment as the next NASA administrator, calling him partisan and unqualified.

During a 16-minute speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Nelson suggested that Bridenstine could be dangerous overseeing NASA missions that had previously ended in tragedy when higher-ups dismissed scientific and engineering warnings about potential problems.

Bridenstine, a three-term Republican, is a former U.S. Navy pilot, and a former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.

But Nelson said that is not enough. After recounting the tragic errors that led to the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, Nelson declared that the space agency is not a place for someone as divisive as he said Bridenstine has been in Congress.

“To make those decisions, the administrator must draw on all of his or her knowledge of engineering principals and of space flight, and all of his experience of managing large technological organizations, and every bit of judgment, reason and impartiality he or she can muster,” Nelson declared.

“Because leading NASA is for an experienced and proven space professional. The success or failure of leadership at NASA is quite literally a matter of life or death,” he added.

It’s not the first time Nelson has gone after Bridenstine’s nomination, not even the first time on the floor of the Senate. He did so back in November, and in the Senate Commerce Committee, which supported the nomination along party lines.

Nelson’s opponent in this year’s election, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, came out in support of Bridenstine Wednesday, tweeting: “I hope Jim Bridenstine gets confirmed. It isn’t helping NASA to have obstructionist Senate Democrats delay the confirmation process. Like me, he served in the Navy and will fight for our space program- not just talk about helping it like so many of the career politicians in DC.”

Shots fired: Rick Scott teases governors on tax ratings

He’s no Donald Trump, but Governor Rick Scott is beginning to peek out of his Twitter shell.

Three consecutive tweets fired off from the Governor’s state account Tuesday (he has a campaign one, too) mark a break from Scott’s online persona of unflinching positivity. His digital activity is usually reserved for highlighting progress or appearances across the state — but this time the Governor had some fun.

Following a study from WalletHub that showed Florida had the fourth lowest tax burden, Scott dished out comments to leaders of three of the better-ranked states via Twitter.

The remarks are competitive, but they’re by no means aggressive. And with Scott’s clout, they should warrant some interesting responses, especially because two of the other governors aren’t Republicans. 

Subtle shade was thrown at Alaska Governor Bill Walker, a former Republican who was elected as an independent candidate in 2014. Scott “congratulated” him on keeping taxes low for a small population (talk about a backhanded compliment):

Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, got a friendly lesson from Scott: There’s no personal income tax in the Sunshine State:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, was reminded that Florida is dead set on keeping taxes at bay:

Scott’s Twitter fingers are itchin’ — and it’s no surprise the uptick in digital activity comes after his entrance into the U.S. Senate race.

Though the term-limited Governor has made a point of flexing on other states in the past, touting Florida’s fertile business climate in attempts to convince companies to relocate.

He told businesses in Connecticut last year to “give up” on the Nutmeg State, and in 2016 made headlines when he suggested Yale come to Florida. In October, he brought a similar message to Chicago, Illinois.

The WalletHub rankings were released on April 9, the day Scott launched his bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Scott wisely released the Tweet assault on Tuesday, as it’s the federal deadline for reporting 2017 income.

Per WalletHub, “To determine the residents with the biggest tax burdens, WalletHub compared the 50 states across the three tax types of state tax burdens — property taxes, individual income taxes and sales and excise taxes — as a share of total personal income in the state.”

Senators back hospitals on payment challenges

Tampa General Hospital is throwing its support behind a bipartisan proposal that, if passed by Congress, would allow it and other large health-care systems to challenge how the government estimates additional Medicare payments.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson are filing legislation Tuesday that would strike a provision in current law that precludes hospitals from challenging such payment decisions or the data used in reaching the decisions.

John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, said in a statement that the legislation would restore “transparency, fairness, and due process for Tampa General Hospital and all of Florida’s safety net hospitals, allowing us to challenge major errors made by the (federal) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) when they occur.”

Tampa General was at risk of losing $2 million in what are known as Medicare “disproportionate share” payments last year after a Medicare claims administrator did not include updated Medicare uncompensated-care claims data in government forms. Rubio’s office intervened to prevent the cut to the 1,011-bed hospital, which serves as the primary teaching hospital for the University of South Florida’s medical school and cares for large numbers of low-income patients.

The legislation, though, would offer a more-permanent fix by eliminating a prohibition on administrative and legal challenges.

The original purpose of Medicare disproportionate share payments was to provide additional money to hospitals that treat large shares of low-income patients, who tend to be sicker and cost more.

The so-called DSH payment is calculated as a percentage add-on to the basic Medicare payments hospitals already receive. The amount of DSH money a hospital receives has traditionally been determined by a formula that includes the sum of two ratios: the proportion of all Medicare days that are attributable to beneficiaries of Supplemental Security Income and the proportion of all patient days for which Medicaid is the primary payer.

The federal Affordable Care Act changed the DSH formula, though, and after fiscal year 2014, hospitals are receiving 25 percent of the amount they previously would have received. The federal law, better known as Obamacare, also made clear that hospitals aren’t entitled to administrative or judicial review of any estimate used to determine DSH payments.

Stephen Harris, Tampa General Hospital vice president of payor and government relations, told The News Service of Florida that “a good deal” of hospital information is used to derive the formulas.

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