VA — ROI — shuffle — public safety — insurance

Border run?

Multiple delegation members will push for legislation that stops any diversion of Veterans Affairs resources to the border.

Several Florida Representatives with heavy veteran constituencies signed on as co-sponsors after Arkansas Republican Steve Womack introduced the Veterans First Act of 2022, and touted the bill in public statements. All criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for even considering the move.

“Our veterans and their families make the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedoms we hold dear,” said Rep. Dan Webster, a Clermont Republican. “I am committed to holding the Biden Administration accountable for their consideration of redirecting funds earned by our nation’s heroes to address their own gross policy failures. We must ensure that those who have already sacrificed so much for this country receive the care they were promised when they entered our nation’s service. We owe them a debt we can never repay.”

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified to the House Appropriations Committee that his agency has been in talks to bring VA doctors and nurses to the Mexican border to manage an influx of immigrants.

The GOP blocks a plan to send VA doctors to the border.

“An interagency effort is precisely what the challenge of migration requires — and it’s not specific to 2022, 2021, 2020, or any of the years preceding,” he said, according to Fox News.

Ultimately, the VA makes the call on whether any personnel should go toward assisting with the situation.

Rep. Kat Cammack, a Gainesville Republican, said Congress should step in now and make clear it cannot happen.

“It’s absolutely unconscionable that this administration would even think to send VA resources to the southern border to manage the crisis that Biden created,” she said. “Any time our VA doctors are spending time away from their primary mission is unacceptable, and at a time when more veterans than ever are utilizing VA care, it is infuriating that this administration is willing to divert precious resources away from veterans and to illegal immigrants, all in the name of a political agenda. We must always put our veterans first.”

Added Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican: “It is unconscionable that the Biden Administration would even consider diverting resources from our nation’s heroes to tend to the needs of those who are illegally entering our country. This is yet another prime example of how this Administration has its priorities screwed up.”

Reps. Brian Mast, Bill Posey and John Rutherford also co-sponsored the bill. But the legislation remains unlikely to pass in the House, where Democrats have a majority.

Protecting IP

In recent years, universities in Florida and other states saw the sometimes-covert infusion of Chinese support for research.

The America COMPETES Act (HR 4521) includes language penned by Sen. Marco Rubio to protect the intellectual property created and scientific work done in U.S. institutions.

The America COMPETES Act seeks to boost U.S. competitiveness with China on the world economic stage. The Senate, in conference, adopted Rubio’s amendment, which would require the establishment of counterintelligence screening to protect American taxpayer dollars, intellectual property, research and development and innovation efforts from being obtained by China.

Marco Rubio makes moves to protect intellectual property.

“We need safeguards in place to protect American research,” Rubio said. “I am encouraged that my colleagues recognize the need for a counterintelligence screening process, and I look forward to working with the conferees to ensure the language actually protects American dollars and this important research.”

Rubio proposed similar language last year, but the Senate rejected it.

At the time, he warned colleagues the threat of China stealing intellectual property from the U.S. needed addressing; colleagues have begun to come around.

Florida’s senior Senator gave a speech ahead of the vote on the language, saying we must be vigilant.

“We’re about to spend tens of billions of dollars on research,” he said. “If we’re going to do that, I think we should take steps to make sure the tens of billions aren’t also stolen. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and most people would agree, to spend all of this public money on research without enough protections to keep the Chinese from stealing it.”

Checking the ROI

The legislation remains controversial and Sen. Rick Scott pushed for additional financial analysis of the bill before the Senate completed its work. The Senate supported his motion this week for a return-on-investment analysis to be included in the bill.

“The U.S. federal government is $30 trillion in debt, but Congress is working every day to spend money like it’s burning a hole in our pocket,” Scott said on the floor.

“This bad bill, which does almost nothing to actually combat the threats posed by Communist China, spends $250 billion in taxpayer dollars and has zero mandates for return on investment. That makes no sense. No American would make a deal like this for their business or family, and that’s why I proposed a common-sense measure to subject these funds to a real return on investment analysis with clawback provisions.”

Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will probably pass bills and send legislation to Biden — with or without the support of any Florida Senator.

But Scott said it’s good that the upper chamber at least allowed provisions to safeguard spending.

“I am glad my colleagues voted to support my proposal and ensure taxpayer funds are not deliberately wasted,” he said. “I have no doubt this bill will only fuel inflation without actually confronting Communist China, but the Senate’s vote to approve my proposal should send a clear message to the conferees that American families can’t afford more failed policy and reckless spending from a broken Washington.”

To watch Scott’s speech, click on the image below:

Musical chairs

Since passing a new congressional map in Florida, most have anticipated Jacksonville Republican Rutherford would seek re-election in the coastal seat in Florida’s 5th Congressional District. Federal Election Commission records now show he now has shifted his candidacy there.

The Congressman still has his candidacy listed with the Florida Division of Elections in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, his current district number. But it always seemed the incumbent under this map would run in CD 5. The FEC governs election laws in Congress, and the move there signals his intention.

The state designation must only change before he qualifies for the ballot. Actively moving his candidacy should also put to bed rumors Rutherford will retire rather than seek a fourth term.

John Rutherford shifts districts for a re-election bid. Image via AP.

As drawn, the district covers southeast Duval County, including Jacksonville east of the St. Johns River and St. Johns County north of County Road 214.

For the moment, FEC records suggest Rutherford will face Al Lawson, who represents CD 5 now, but the Tallahassee Democrat likely will not run for that seat. He currently represents a district stretching from Tallahassee to Jacksonville that was dismantled in the map drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff based on the belief the jurisdiction was racially gerrymandered contrary to the Florida Constitution.

Lawson could run in the new CD 5, which spans a lot of Rutherford’s current district, including all of Nassau and Clay counties. It also covers familiar territory for Lawson in west Duval. But Lawson told POLITICO that should he seek another term, it will likely be in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers Tallahassee. That would pit him against another Republican colleague, Panama City Republican Neal Dunn.

Public safety training

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy presented a $475,000 check to Seminole State College that will go toward new state-of-the-art equipment and software for students training to be first responders and respiratory care professionals.

While Murphy was at Seminole State Wednesday to announce the federal grant for the college’s Center for Public Safety, she also announced submitting a request for another $400,000 in federal funding for Seminole State College’s fire science program.

Stephanie Murphy touts a sizable grant for public safety.

The first grant came from the Consolidated Appropriations Act (HR 2471), approved in March.

“These are purpose-driven people who are going to go on to save lives in our community,” Murphy said of the students in the programs. “Working as first responders and paramedics and respiratory therapists, basically people who are going to be helping our citizens at their most vulnerable moments. I think these are noble and honorable professions. They are also positions for which we have a real shortage of qualified workers.”

Tanking Apopka

The booming City of Apopka received $1.5 million for a new water system storage tank, delivered from federal grant funding presented Thursday by Orlando Democrat Val Demings.

The 1.5-million-gallon water storage tank is proposed to cover Apopka’s growing residential and commercial needs, especially during potential fire emergencies.

The Apopka water project is one of six Central Florida projects Demings designated for federal funding grants, totaling $6 million. Other grants include police body cameras in Orlando, a park restroom and concession building on the Ocoee lakefront, and wastewater and sewage infrastructure upgrades in Eatonville.

Val Demings awards a big check for Apopka water.

“When Mayor (Bryan) Nelson told me that the city of Apopka was reaching critical capacity on its freshwater infrastructure and that firefighters might not have enough water in an emergency, I knew we had to take action,” Demings said.

Nelson said Demings sought him out.

“Given the rapid growth in northwest Apopka, our greatest need is an additional water tank to store drinking water. Thanks to Congresswoman Demings, we have $1.5 million in the budget for a 1.5-million-gallon storage tank that will help serve our area for the next 20 years,” Nelson said.

Federal insurance reform

On Thursday, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist introduced legislation to reduce homeowners’ insurance premiums. The Fueling Affordable Insurance for Homeowners Act, or FAITH Act, would provide a federal backstop for catastrophic losses by issuing loans to state insurance commissioners for insurance costs over a set threshold. Loans could be repaid at low-interest rates over the next decade, similar to federally backed Terrorism Risk Insurance support allowed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.

Crist, a candidate for Governor, conspicuously filed his bill after insurance reform failed to pass in the Florida Legislature this year.

“While Florida’s government is busy fighting culture wars, our people are facing a chaotic and deteriorating property insurance market, driven by excessive reinsurance at exorbitant rates,” Crist said. “With hurricane season right around the corner, premiums are increasingly unaffordable, and carriers are leaving the market altogether. Floridians cannot wait for bold action to bring down premiums, and that’s exactly what my bill would do.”

Charlie Crist takes on Florida’s insurance crisis with his own hands.

The state Legislature will convene again in May. There’s no telling if the federal legislation could serve as a model for a bill DeSantis may sign. But the bill boasts the support of the Federal Association for Insurance Reform and other experts in the industry.

“Reinsurance is the largest expense for homeowners’ insurance companies, and those expenditures ultimately get passed on to consumers through their insurance premiums,” said Paul Handerhan, president of the Federal Association for Insurance Reform. “Creating a federal catastrophic excess of loss (CAT XL) reinsurance backstop for the most severe natural catastrophes will stabilize an increasingly volatile insurance sector being driven by the increased frequency and severity of catastrophic weather events. If this legislation is codified into law, consumers will enjoy more market competition, increased insurance product offerings, and significantly less rate pressure on their insurance premiums for natural catastrophe coverage.”

Back to work

As Gov. DeSantis’ administration cheered the advance of its suit against what it contends are administration border policies that aren’t restrictive enough, Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz cheered Biden’s decision to relax the expiration on immigrant work permits.

The Weston Democrat issued a statement saying she had pushed for the 18-month extension on expiring work permits and called it a win-win that would benefit both individuals and their employers.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is cheering Joe Biden’s decision on an 18-month pause of the expiration of immigrant work permits.

“Huge relief has arrived for thousands of people in South Florida and across the country!” read Wasserman Schultz’s statement.

Those immigrants who are here under work permits face a delay in getting their permits renewed because of a backlog at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office, Wasserman Schultz said.

“This move by the Biden administration grants a lifeline to the thousands of people put in turmoil because of expiration dates that are now extended for 18 months,” she said. “I have for months pushed for this extension to address the flood of constituents who contacted my office because they lost jobs and were ineligible for government benefits.”

The Temporary Final Rule that went into effect this week seeks to address a bottleneck of about 1.5 million work permit applications, POLITICO reported.

Demings also cheered the decision.

“I’m excited that USCIS has followed our recommendation and is working to protect legal immigrants who have done what they were supposed to do and followed the rules,” she said. “People who have fled hardship and tyranny deserve a fair system, not one where they are punished for playing by the rules. After letters, phone calls, congressional hearings, and community roundtables here in Central Florida, this change will help ensure that the rules are fair, clear, and work for our economy and our families.”

Besties

Hialeah Republican Mario Díaz-Balart last week celebrated a century of international relations between Egypt and the U.S. As co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Friends of Egypt Caucus, he issued a joint statement with Maryland Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger noting the 100-year anniversary of an international partnership that endured even as chaos created many other rifts in the Middle East.

“This is a partnership built on a shared commitment to peace, stability and economic growth for both countries,” the joint statement read.

Mario Díaz-Balart takes a moment to honor one hundred years of U.S./Egypt relations.

“Our countries have confronted many challenges together, such as the global threat of terrorism and working toward a solution for the Israeli and Palestinian people. For example, decades after the Camp David Accords, we continue to honor that historic agreement with robust contributions to the peace and security of the entire region.”

The accords, approved in 1978 during Jimmy Carter’s administration, serve as one of the few enduring peace treaties between Israel and an Arabic nation. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was later assassinated, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the agreement.

“It is our shared hope that Egypt will continue to lead on the world stage and that Egypt and the United States will enjoy another century of partnership and progress to the mutual benefit of the Egyptian and American people,” the Congressmen said.

Charged

This week, the Florida Bankers Association reached out to Scott and Rubio to lobby against credit card legislation. While Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, wants to regulate interchange fees on cards, the professional group cited a Florida TaxWatch study as evidence such a move would hurt consumers.

“We share the concerns outlined in their analysis,” the bankers’ letter states. “We also have specific concerns relating to the proposed new mandates on routing credit card transactions because we believe that this would be a heavy-handed additional layer of federal red tape on the banking industry at a time when we are already facing the uncertain headwinds of inflation. In short, this Durbin proposal seems to be a solution in search of a problem.”

Florida TaxWatch takes exception to Dick Durbin’s call for credit card fee regulation.

The bill, bankers said, would eliminate banks’ ability to work directly with partners of their choosing on routing and processing transactions.

“Because thousands of banks offer credit cards, these new requirements would mean banks must reissue every single credit card and program an entirely new microchip to handle these hypersensitive transactions,” the letter reads. “This would be an incredibly expensive undertaking for our industry, and we are concerned our consumers and cardholders would ultimately be left to pay the price.”

Welcome back

Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee just brought on a staffer familiar with Florida. Coleman Garrison took a staff position with Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, to manage the conservation and climate portfolios for GOP members.

He most recently served as government affairs director for the National Association of Conservation Districts. But before that, he held several jobs on Capitol Hill, including working for former Rep. Sandy Adams, a Seminole County Republican who served from 2011 through 2013.

“We are excited to welcome Coleman to the committee,” Boozman said. “His experience and subject matter knowledge will be extremely valuable to the team as we begin writing the new farm bill. I look forward to working with him to help ensure our farmers continue to feed, clothe and fuel the world while maintaining our global leadership in efficiency and sustainability.”

On this day

May 6, 1960 — “Civil Rights Act of 1960 signed by Dwight Eisenhower” via the African American Civil Rights Movement — This act did not introduce a new law but was aimed at strengthening and covering loopholes in the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It established federal inspection of local voter registration polls by appointed referees to oversee southern elections and ensure that African Americans could vote and penalties for anyone who obstructed someone’s attempt to register to vote or vote. It extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission, which was previously limited to two years. The Commission would oversee voter registration and practice. Prosecution for interfering with court orders regarding school desegregation.

May 6, 1882 — “Chinese Exclusion Act signed by Chester Arthur” via the National Archives — This provided an absolute 10-year ban on Chinese laborers immigrating to the United States. For the first time, federal law proscribed entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities. The Chinese Exclusion Act required the few non-laborers who sought entry to the United States (such as diplomatic officers) to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate. But this group found it increasingly difficult to prove their status because the 1882 act defined laborers as “skilled and unskilled … and Chinese employed in mining.”

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Anne Geggis and Scott Powers.


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