Delegation TPS tug-of-war
Republicans are thought to have a built-in advantage on issues surrounding Venezuela. Sen. Marco Rubio hammered away for years on socialist President Hugo Chávez with Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, and now Sen. Rick Scott, joining Rubio to blast Chavez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, frequently.
As the crisis worsened in Venezuela late last year, South Florida Democrats seized on the issue of demanding Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for those fleeing the mayhem to reside in the United States. Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto joined with Diaz-Balart to file a bill that would grant TPS status.
After first failing, the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019 passed the House and went to the Senate. It will remain there until the Senate returns from the August recess because it was not on this week’s schedule.
Unanimous consent is also known as fast-tracking, where no amendments are permitted. Lee recognized the fact that only 39 Republicans voted for the Soto and Diaz-Balart bill.
“Just passing this unanimously is not the way we should be passing this legislation,” Lee said. “We’ve got amendments to propose.”
Rubio joined with Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey to file TPS legislation in that chamber. He told the Miami Herald he has no interest in passing the House bill “because our version is better.”
The White House “seems more likely to sign” his bill, Rubio said. In the meantime, he said he is working on getting the Donald Trump administration to accept Deferred Enforcement Departure, which Rubio claims would solve the immediate problem before a legislative solution.
It is likely at least one of the two bills will come up for full debate and possible passage when the Senate returns. In the meantime, Democrats and some in the media have five weeks to bludgeon Republicans. For example, a Miami Herald opinion columnist wrote Republicans “don’t want you here” to Venezuelan asylum-seekers.
Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables, one of those who began raising the TPS issue months ago, made clear asylum should take away any advantage the GOP has on the Venezuela issue.
“For years now, Republicans have been wrapping themselves in the Venezuelan flag and claiming to be champions for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy, yet at virtually every opportunity to help the Venezuelan people, the Republican leadership in the Senate, House, and Administration consistently let them down,” she said in a statement.
Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsell-Powell tweeted “we saw Republican hypocrisy reach a new height in the Senate.”
Soto and Diaz-Balart filed the House bill January 15. If House leadership waited until the days before a long recess to place maximum pressure on the issue, they did a masterful job.
Republicans should either pray Trump acts on the deferred enforcement idea or no Venezuelan asylum-seeker is snatched up for deportation over the next five weeks.
Budget deal passes Senate
The Senate passed a two-year budget deal as their final act before leaving Washington for the rest of the summer. The 67-28 vote ends any threat of a debt crisis and prevents any talk of government shutdowns through the 2020 campaigns.
It was approved despite the opposition from both Scott and Rubio. Despite urges from Trump to pass the deal, they joined 21 other Republicans and five Democrats who balked at the price tag, which authorizes $2.75 trillion more in additional spending through Sept. 30, 2021.
“The budget deal that was just passed by Congress allowed for significant increases in our defense spending, and if that were the only thing in this bill I would have proudly voted ‘yes,’” Scott said in an op-ed. “But it wasn’t.”
In addition to the price, Rubio thought the debt limit and the budget should have been negotiated separately. The debt limit was set to be reached September 30, while Congress had until January to lift spending caps and avoid hard cuts known as sequestration.
“Ultimately we should have dealt with the debt limit, and we should have dealt with the spending caps,” he said. “I’m not sure those two are related.”
The House passed the deal, negotiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, 284-149 July 25. Republicans voting with Democrats on passage included Diaz-Balart, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Neal Dunn of Panama City, and John Rutherford of Jacksonville.
The only Florida Democrat voting against the bill was Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.
Peace Corps oversight sought
The slogan for a Peace Corps recruiting ad campaign is “Life is calling. How far will you go?” Scott wants the Peace Corps out of China and is going as far as filing legislation to accomplish that goal.
After Peace Corps’ Director Judy Olsen refused Scott’s request to pull out of China, Scott filed the Peace Corps Mission Accountability Act. If enacted, the Peace Corps would no longer be an independent agency, but would fall within the realm of the U.S. State Department.
In a news release, Scott said the “Peace Corps has no effective oversight, operating as an independent agency within the executive branch.” The Secretary of State would have the authority to set the agency’s budget and put it in line with the foreign policy goals of the executive branch.
“The Peace Corps has an honorable mission of promoting freedom and spreading American ideals to developing countries around the world,” Scott said. “We want the Peace Corps to do good work across the globe — just not with our enemies like China.”
“The Peace Corps continues to use taxpayer dollars to support programs in places like China, which continues to steal our technology and intellectual property, refuses to open up their markets, is militarizing the South China Sea, violates human rights and supports Maduro’s genocide in Venezuela,” he continued.
House outlaws horse abuse
A cruel practice known as horse soring, where pain is inflicted on the animal to make it perform at an artificially exaggerated gait, is legal in the United States. With the passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, the practice is one step closer to becoming illegal.
The bill, sponsored by Oregon Democrat Kurt Schrader, amends the Horse Protection Act of 1970 to end the practice. Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho helped introduce a similar bill with Schrader in 2013 and was the first co-sponsor of Schrader’s bill. Both are veterinarians.
“As a veterinarian and lover of animals, it is time we end the inhumane practice of horse soring,” Yoho said. “The walking horse industry had plenty of time to self-police and change their ways, but they decided to press on. They have failed to take advantage of this opportunity, and now it is time for horse soring to end.”
The bill had 307 co-sponsors, including 21 from Florida. All delegation members voted for the bill except for Republicans Rutherford and Daniel Webster of Clermont.
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, a co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, described soring as “animal torture.”
“We need to end this inhumane practice by making clear that anyone who abuses horses in this manner will be prosecuted.”
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Economic affordability plan proposed
Young people and senior citizens are often confronted with economic challenges from student loan debt to having enough to live comfortably in retirement. This week Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee introduced the Economic Affordability Plan, a package of legislation that looks to reduce the challenges that millennials, recent college graduates and senior citizens face.
The package consists of 3 bills to help first-time homebuyers, while also offering Social Security benefit increases and protecting its solvency. Lawson, who serves on the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, believes student debt and retirement security should be the main focus.
“Too many Americans are hamstrung by student debt or denied the cornerstone of wealth-building through homeownership and lack retirement security,” said Lawson. “As the program is currently operating, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034 — leaving millions of disabled workers, retirees and children without a firm financial foundation.
Specifically, the bill addresses the Student Loan Deferment Act, the First Time Homebuyers Act of 2019, and the Social Security for Future Generations Act.
These look to provide relief to borrowers who need an extended grace period before paying student loans and offer an avenue for potential homeowners to save money in an interest accruing account for the purchase of their home. Also, it extends Social Security benefits for widows, widowers, and students to the age of 22, and updates the cost of living adjustments formula to all beneficiaries.
“My Economic Affordability Plan remedies these fundamental flaws and allows citizens to achieve the American dream,” Lawson added.
Backpack project continues
In Florida, preparations are underway for schools to reopen. The sales tax holiday is set for this weekend, where items such as computers, backpacks and other necessities are tax-free.
Webster is helping some of the youth in his district with free school supplies. He is donating backpacks filled with school supplies to the YMCA of Suncoast and the Hernando County Education Foundation.
“I believe every student should have access to a quality education that will empower them to achieve success,” Webster said in a news release. “Sadly, many children start school without the basic tools and supplies.
“Through the backpack project, I am able to help provide students with essential supplies and thereby contribute to their excitement of starting a new school year and encourage academic success.”
The backpack donation has been a pet project of Webster for nearly a decade. Numerous community organizations throughout the district have received backpacks filled with supplies such as pencils, crayons and notebooks.
Helping start businesses
Startup businesses are a sign of economic growth, but to get off the ground, they need an affordable location from which to conduct business. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist and Bilirakis, along with both Florida Senators, were excited about a $7.5 million grant announced this week by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for the construction of the new Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator to be located in downtown St. Petersburg.
“Pinellas County is fast-becoming a launchpad for new businesses and innovative ideas,” Crist said in a news release. “But for many entrepreneurs, the high cost of office space is a significant barrier to getting off the ground. The new Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator will provide a critical boost for entrepreneurship in our region.”
The funding will be used to provide affordable office space for startup businesses in Pinellas County. This state-of-the-art facility is 45,000 square feet and will be matched with $4.5 million in local funds. It is also expected to create more than 460 jobs and incentivize more than $66 million in private investment.
“Small business growth is the backbone of our success,” Bilirakis said. “This federal investment in Pinellas County will spur private investment in our community and help emerging entrepreneurs create local jobs-a win/win for taxpayers.”
The structure is to be located in an Opportunity Zone established by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. The project is funded under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (PL 115-123) through the Department of Commerce.
Rubio said the project would “train a qualified workforce with the skills they need to pursue dignified work.” Scott said it would help “give more Florida families the opportunity to succeed.”
Hattersley challenging Spano
Previous reports of Democratic State Rep. Adam Hattersley challenging first-term Republican Ross Spano are accurate and will become official next week. The first-term Democrat will officially announce his candidacy Monday.
Hattersley blasted Spano’s campaign finance irregularities, saying he was “embarrassed” while also touting his record as a Navy veteran and businessman. Democrat Andrew Learned is expected to withdraw from the Congressional race and seek the now-vacant seat in the legislature.
“Washington is filled with self-serving career politicians like Ross Spano, but I believe politics should be about working together to help people — not helping ourselves,” Hattersley said. “The only way we can change Congress is by changing the type of people we send there, and as a veteran and small-business owner, I’m ready to lead the way.”
Hattersley was elected to the Florida House in November, winning the seat vacated by Spano to run for Congress. He did not declare his party affiliation until one week before filing for the seat.
Despite the challenge from Hattersley, Spano’s team says he will continue to do his job no matter who wishes to run against him.
“Regardless of whomever his opponents are, Congressman Spano will continue his laser focus on serving the people in District 15,” Spano campaign spokeswoman Sandi Poreda told the Tampa Bay Times.
“The Congressman has kept his finger on the pulse of the District and is proud to report that the economy is showing continued signs of growth, unemployment is at historic lows, and optimism is spreading across District 15.”
Playing games with debates
The stage at both second-round Democratic debates was crowded with 20 candidates arguing about whether policies like Medicare for all was a path toward socialism. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg said to stop worrying about what Republicans will say, “no matter what, they will call us crazy socialists.”
Buttigieg may have had Republicans like Palm City’s Brian Mast in mind. Mast and others from his party shared a Word Search game on social media where those playing needed to find hidden buzz words like socialism, Green New Deal, free college, amnesty and several others.
“Ready for Round 2?” Mast tweeted. “The #DemocratDebate Bingo was a huge success! For this round of debates, we want to invite you to join us in a game of Word Search!”
Student loan debt challenged
With the costs of four-year colleges skyrocketing and the mountain of student loan debt rising, alternatives are becoming more popular. Naples Republican Francis Rooney has introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act to promote alternatives to four-year college, cap federal student loans, and hold colleges and universities accountable to student success.
Rooney blames a 439-percent rise in tuition over 25 years in part on “the excess of federal loans available. He pointed to a 2015 study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that for each additional dollar the federal government allows students to “borrow, colleges and universities increase their tuition by 60 cents.
The HERO Act would streamline federal student loans and create caps to ensure that students can afford their education and pay back their loans once they graduate,” Rooney said in a news release.
In addition to capping student loans at $30,000 per year with a 15-year repayment period, the bill would require reporting measures on whether students graduate on time, monitoring the debt burden on degree holders, and assessing the success rate among students finding jobs in their field of study.
It also allows states to accredit innovative, nontraditional programs such as online courses, apprenticeships or vocational schools.
“Further, education policy should be dictated at the local and state levels, and not by an out of touch bureaucracy in Washington,” Rooney added. “Many students have aptitudes and career goals that do not require and are not enhanced by college.”
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is sponsoring the companion bill in the Senate.
Safe from the start
Two bipartisan members of the delegation joined with New York Democrat Grace Meng to introduce legislation that would help improve U.S. efforts to combat gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies around the world. West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel and Diaz-Balart are co-sponsoring the Safe From the Start Act.
The bill would codify the Department of State-United States Agency for International Development’s Safe from the Start Initiative. This is a program to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies such as conflict settings and natural disasters.
“From the start of their lives, women and girls everywhere must have the right to safety and security,” said Frankel in a joint release. “Never are they more vulnerable than when their country is in crisis. Rape is commonly used as a tool of war. Access to reproductive care becomes scarce. We have seen this in Syria and now dramatically in Venezuela and Yemen.”
The legislation would also provide needed Congressional oversight, requiring the Secretary of State — in coordination with the Administrator of USAID — to submit a report to Congress detailing the progress made in preventing, mitigating and addressing gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies.
“The global risk of violence and exploitation against girls and women increases during emergencies, such as natural disasters and turmoil,” said Diaz-Balart. “I am proud to be the co-sponsor of this bipartisan legislation that would play a significant role in combating gender-based violence while also providing the necessary resources to mitigate and prevent such crises.”
Deutch joins impeachment club
One week after former special counsel Robert Mueller appeared before two House committees, the number of Democrats calling for the outright impeachment of Trump, or at least an inquiry, has increased. Add Ted Deutch to the latter list.
In an op-ed published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Boca Raton lawmaker says an inquiry has already been underway in the House Judiciary Committee since March.
“No additional step is required,” Deutch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, wrote. “No magic words need to be uttered on the House floor. No vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry is necessary.”
Deutch’s announcement was a milestone. He became the 118th member of the House Democratic caucus to call for impeachment proceedings, now representing more than half of the caucus.
He joins fellow Democrats Mucarsel-Powell and Val Demings from Orlando in calling for action against the President. Deutch reminded readers the committee has full authority to proceed.
“We don’t need a vote,” Deutch added. “We need President Trump to stop obstructing.”
Holocaust survivors act introduced
This week, Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced the Trauma-Informed Modernization of Eldercare (TIME) for Holocaust Survivors Act in the House. The legislation would help ensure that the roughly 80,000 Holocaust survivors now living in the United States have access to the specialized care and services that are tailored to their unique health needs.
The bill designates survivors as a group with a significant social need within the Older Americans Act, and creates a portfolio within the Administration on Community Living to take responsibility for Holocaust-related issues. TIME is designed to ensure that nutrition services through the Older Americans Act meet the special dietary needs of Holocaust survivors and others.
“Holocaust survivors have endured the worst of human atrocities and deserve special care for the duration of their remaining years,” said Wasserman Schultz in a news release. “The TIME for Holocaust Survivors Act can tend to that unique pain in this closing chapter of their lives and allow them to live out their remaining years with dignity.”
Joining Wasserman Schultz in co-sponsoring the bill, among others, are Democrats Shalala, Deutch, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.
“The survivors of the Holocaust are a living testament to the indomitability of the human spirit,” said Shalala. “We have a duty to ensure that those who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust are cared for in their old age. This bill would bring us closer to making sure that the specific needs of these survivors are fully met.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin earlier filed a companion bill.
On this day
Aug. 2, 2004 — President George W. Bush indicated he would back a proposal to create a position in the federal government that will oversee U.S. intelligence operations. Bush is supporting a recommendation for the 9/11 Commission that calls for a director of national intelligence that would not answer to the White House but would be nominated by the President and subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Bush said the new position would ensure those charged with protecting Americans would have the best tools at their disposal. Bush’s opponent in the fall election, Sen. John Kerry, lamented it has taken “almost three years to get to the point where these recommendations are now being adopted.”
Aug. 2, 2015 — When prominent politicians seek higher office, dominoes often fall when candidates try to run for a now-open seat. Rubio’s plunge into the presidential race has set off a scramble to replace him while he takes on Jeb Bush, Trump and several others.
Democratic Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson are in the race as are Republican Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has also announced his candidacy.