July 14, 2017

Bill Nelson on Obamacare repeal: It's on the ropes, 'the message has gotten through'

Bill Nelson 71417U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was approaching the dugout at Tropicana Field to throw out the first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Red Sox on July 7, when a woman shouted his name.

"She came down the aisle to tell me: Please don't let them take my health care away," Nelson recalled. "I hear that all the time. People come up to me on the airplane, street corners, public buildings, ballgames -- where ever I am. Some people have told me 'I would be dead without my healthcare.'''

Because of that, Nelson said, he predicts that the revised Senate healthcare bill, which was released on Thursday, is all but dead and repeal of Obamacare is on the ropes.

"I think the message has gotten through,'' Nelson said Friday after a series of constituent meetings at his Tallahassee office. "I think it's going to be hard for them."

Even Gov. Rick Scott, a long-time advocate of repealing Obamacare, said in an op-ed released Friday that smaller changes should be on the table even though he still says "Obamacare must be repealed immediately." 

"D.C. politicians have focused only on the grand bargain of repealing and replacing Obamacare, ignoring the opportunity to make incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state,'' Scott wrote. 

Nelson believes that Florida has put itself in a bind by refusing to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of poverty, which he says is about $45,000 for a family of four.

"Now the states like Florida are saying we want you to make us equal with all 31 states that have expanded Medicaid, including states that have Republican governors,'' he said. "This is not only the irony but the travesty of the situation."

Under Obamacare, Florida could have drawn $5 billion a year in federal funds and would have had to match a maximum of $500 million a year to cover an estimated 800,000 uninsured, he said.

Instead, Florida has persuaded the Trump administration to expand the Low Income Pool program and reimburse hospitals and health care about $1 billion over the next two years  to compensate for the care for the uninsured. But to get that money, local governments must pay a 40 percent match for 60 percent of the federal funds.

"So the people of Florida are going to pay $400 million to get $600 million when in fact, if they had expanded Medicaid, they would have paid a maximum of $500 million to get $5 billion," he said.

"They are paying more for it out of the pockets of the taxpayers of Florida and now when the health care bill revision is up, they say they want extra compensation so that the state's that expanded Medicaid don't get ahead of us. It's backwards."

July 13, 2017

Conservative group targets Bill Nelson and Carlos Curbelo in tax reform ads

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@amysherman1

Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative group, is targeting U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican, in digital ads urging them to support tax reform.

The ads target House Ways and Means lawmakers who have expressed support for comprehensive tax reform, but who have yet to take a stand against the Border Adjustment Tax on imported goods, according to Freedom Partners. The ads, which also target key Senate members, target members from both parties and in Florida also includes U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

Freedom Partners supports a series of changes to taxes including lowering individual and corporate rates, eliminating most tax credits and deductions and the estate tax and taxes on gifts.

When asked for his opinion about the proposed changes, Curbelo's spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez replied: “Congressman Curbelo is still reviewing all the different proposals and concepts for comprehensive tax reform. His goal is a simpler, fairer tax code that leads to greater economic growth, prosperity, and opportunity for Florida families and employers.”

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC, helped Curbelo in the 2014 race by attacking his Democratic rival U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

 

July 12, 2017

Air Force agrees with Florida politicians on continuing oil drilling moratorium

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via @craigtimes

The U.S. Air Force agrees with Florida politicians that an existing moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico should be extended, according to a letter that Sen. Bill Nelson released to reporters Tuesday.

The current moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf ends in 2022, A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers backs proposed legislation extending it another five years, to 2027 -- despite President Donald J. Trump's executive order pushing for an expansion of offshore drilling.

General David L. Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, wrote to Nelson on June 27 to say that the Air Force "needs the certainty of the proposed extension" to guarantee that it can continue testing and training flights in that area. The largest air force base in the world, Eglin Air Force Base, is located in the Florida Panhandle, covering three counties and more than 724 square miles of land as well as 123,000 square miles into the Gulf..

Goldfein's letter comes less than two months after the Pentagon's acting under secretary of defense for defense and readiness sent a similar letter to Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz supporting an extension.  

The Department of Defense "cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium,” Anthony M. Kurta wrote in the letter to Gaetz.

In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican, successfully brokered a deal to ban oil drilling off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast through most of 2022. As a result, there is currently a no-drilling zone that extends 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast and as far as 235 miles at some points to protect vital military training areas in the eastern Gulf until June 30, 2022. 

Florida's long-held opposition to offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf was bolstered by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Although the explosion and subsequent spewing of oil occurred off the coast of Louisiana, eight Florida counties wound up with oil washing up on their beaches -- in some cases, for years afterward.

July 11, 2017

Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job

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@alextdaugherty 

An Interior Department official who removed the Everglades from the United Nations’ endangered-sites list during the Bush administration is back.

The Interior Department announced last week that Todd Willens, a longtime Washington-based lobbyist and congressional staffer, will take an assistant deputy secretary job under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In 2007, Willens urged the United Nations World Heritage Committee to remove Everglades National Park from the list of endangered natural and cultural sites over the objections of the committee’s scientific advisory group.

The UN acquiesced to Willens’ request, and the Everglades was removed.

That decision didn’t sit well with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Democracy and Human Rights, I plan on holding an investigative hearing into the circumstances surrounding this over-reaching and inappropriate decision to downplay the Everglades,” Nelson wrote in 2007. “This action is absolutely unacceptable and, I believe, warrants Willens’ removal.”

Fast forward to 2017, and Nelson is incredulous that Willens is headed back to the Interior Department.

“It didn’t even come to my attention until you called us,” Nelson, a Democrat, said to a reporter. “Is this the same guy coming back to the Department of Interior? He might try to take it off the list again. Anybody who has a disregard for the importance of the Everglades like this fella has indicated...shouldn’t be in the Department of Interior in a high and influential position.”

The Interior Department argued in 2007 that taking the Everglades off the list was evidence of progress on a longtime effort to cleanup the massive wetlands. But Nelson said the decision was politically motivated, and called for Willens to be fired.

In 2010, Nelson successfully lobbied the Obama administration to put the Everglades back on the list. The Everglades is the only U.S. site of the 54 on the UN’s endangered list.

“The ’Glades remains at risk and should’ve never been removed in the first place,” Nelson said in 2010. “There’s still a lot that needs to be done to restore the River of Grass.”

When asked if he plans to push for the Everglades’ removal from the UN list again, Willens referred questions to an Interior Department spokeswoman, who did not comment.

Read more here.

July 05, 2017

Rick Scott, Jose Javier Rodríguez want to ban Florida from doing business with Maduro in Venezuela

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@alextdaugherty 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday his plan to ban the State of Florida from doing business with any entity that supports embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. 

“During the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet in August, I will bring forward a proposal that will prohibit the State of Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the oppressive Maduro dictatorship," Scott said in a statement. "Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state, we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs." 

Scott's announcement comes hours after Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez said he will file legislation seeking divestment by the State of Florida from businesses who work with the Maduro regime. He also encouraged state agencies not to wait for legislation to divest. 

"Venezuelan Independence Day is a fitting time to propose a response by the State of Florida to Goldman Sachs' callous decision to turn a profit at the expense of the Venezuelan people -- I call on state agencies to immediately initiate divestment from Goldman Sachs and I call on my colleagues to support legislation I intend to introduce during the 2018 Legislative Session that would prevent future business ties between the State of Florida and the Maduro regime," Rodríguez said in a statement. 

Rodríguez is vying for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's open congressional seat in 2018 while Scott is likely to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018. 

July 5 marks Venezuelan Independence Day, and pro-government militias attacked Venezuelan lawmakers during a special session that coincided with the holiday. 

 

Republican ad ties Bill Nelson to Elizabeth Warren

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via @learyreports

Republicans are re-opening a familiar playbook against Sen. Bill Nelson and attempting to tie him to the liberal wing of the Democratic party.

A Facebook ad released today by the NRSC contends Nelson has voted with Sen. Elizabeth Warren "90% of the time" and implies he stands with her on single-payer health care. He hasn't been vocal on that issue, however, and drew complaints in 2009 for being cautious in general to Obamacare.

On Monday, Nelson was in Tampa for a meeting with constituents worried about the GOP replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.. "The ACA is not perfect, and there are a bunch of things we ought to fix," Nelson said.

The broader goal is to show Nelson as a liberal, a label he's been able to shake off in past elections. This is the second known digital ad this year from Republicans linking Nelson and Warren. The first came in February, also on low-cost Facebook.

Warren does support Nelson; earlier this year, her PAC donated $10,000 to his re-election effort.

The NRSC said the ad "will run statewide while Nelson is home for the July 4th recess and throughout the month."

Read more here.  

July 03, 2017

Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson urge Commerce Department to allow red snapper fishing in South Atlantic

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@alextdaugherty 

Florida anglers have a line to Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. 

The state's Republican and Democratic senators may be divided on hot-button issues like health care but the pair can agree on one thing: the U.S. Department of Commerce should allow recreational red snapper fishing in the South Atlantic. 

Last week, Rubio and Nelson penned a letter to commerce secretary Wilbur Ross expressing disappointment over a decision not to allow recreational red snapper fishing off of Florida's east coast in 2017. 

"We cannot stress enough how important the red snapper fishery is to Florida's economy," the senators wrote. "This decision is disappointing for residents and small business owners from Jacksonville to Miami especially considering the enhanced opportunities being afforded to their peers along Florida's Gulf coast." 

The letter comes after the federal government announced an extended red snapper season off of Florida's Gulf Coast in mid-June. Recreational anglers now have 39 days to fish for red snapper this summer after the federal government initially announced a three day season at the beginning of June, raising the ire of fisherman accustomed to a longer season. 

"It is clear that excessively limiting recreational opportunities to fish for red snapper in federal waters--even as populations continue to rebound--threatens to further erode the public's trust in the federal institutions charged with science-based fisheries management decisions," the letter said. 

The federal government has jurisdiction over red snapper fishing in federal waters, which begin nine miles offshore on the Gulf Coast and three miles offshore on the Atlantic coast. Closer to shore, the state of Florida regulates recreational red snapper fishing. Recreational anglers can fish for red snapper in state waters on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through September 4.  

Read the letter here. 

 

 

June 28, 2017

Good news for Bill Nelson? Floridians elect senators from the president's party just 29 percent of the time

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@alextdaugherty 

Floridians have voted for senators that align with the incumbent president's party just 29 percent of the time since 1966, potentially good news for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson ahead of the 2018 election since Republican Donald Trump occupies the White House. 

The senate election data was crunched by the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics, and it shows that the 10 Democratic senators defending seats in states won by Trump might have an easier time beating the GOP in 2018. On average, voters in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin elected a senator that aligned with the incumbent president's party just 38 percent of the time.

But Nelson has already bucked the trend twice. He won reelection in 2000 and 2012 when Democrats controlled the presidency. 

Nelson is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally. 

Nevada and Arizona, the two states occupied by potentially vulnerable Senate Republicans in 2018, voted for a senator from the president's party just 41 percent of the time since 1966.

Read more here. 

June 20, 2017

Nelson tries to avoid getting pinned down on Trump Cuba shift

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via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Bill Nelson was quiet as President Donald Trump unveiled his new policy on Cuba. So we were curious about his views, especially as future rival Rick Scott embraced the change.

What we got Monday evening was a statement that seemed to have it both ways.

"While I support the embargo and agree that American dollars shouldn't go to the Cuban government or military, I also support the people of Cuba,” the Democrat said. “I support families helping families. And I believe allowing more Americans to interact with the people of Cuba is in their best interest, while we continue to pressure the Castro regime for human rights and freedoms."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times file

June 13, 2017

VA accountability bill sponsored by Rubio and Nelson passes House, heads to Trump's desk

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@alextdaugherty 

A bill sponsored by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson that aims to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire bad employees passed the House by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it soon. 

The bill, dubbed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, passed the House by a vote of 368-55. A group of liberal Democrats, including South Florida Reps. Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson, voted against the bill. 

The legislation would authorize VA secretary David Shulkin to fire or demote senior and non-senior employees and lowers the burden of proof needed to dismiss an employee. The bill also protects whistleblowers by not allowing Shulkin to fire employees who have filed a formal complaint regarding conduct at the VA.

In 2014, the VA was rocked with scandal after a some veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital and employees created secret lists to cover up the delays. 

The House passed a similar bill earlier this year that passed largely along party lines when the largest union of federal employees opposed the swift appeals process for employees accused of misbehavior.

The Senate revamp of the bill lengthened the appeals process to please Democrats and won the approval of the union, and it passed the upper chamber on a voice vote last week.