September 14, 2016

Competing demands crowd Zika money

  

@jamesmartinrose

WASHINGTON Turns out, Zika isn’t the only urgent problem that needs federal funds fast.

Florida lawmakers pushing to get $1.1 billion for Zika prevention and research into a rapidly evolving broader appropriations bill are competing with members of Congress from across the country who want their needs addressed.

On his second day in Washington to push for Zika funding, Gov. Rick Scott met with members of Congress from the state who briefed him on the rapidly evolving negotiations over federal spending.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s jousting with other panel members seeking vital funding for their districts and states.

Lawmakers from Louisiana want billions for flood relief. Congressmen from Michigan want millions to clean contaminated drinking water. Others are pushing for more money for veterans’ healthcare.

“Florida’s not the only state with urgent needs,” Diaz-Balart told reporters after he and other Florida lawmakers met with Scott.

The governor said that Florida can’t wait any longer to receive federal aid to help with treating the almost 800 people in the state infected with the virus and preventing it from spreading further.

“We need help, and we need help now,” Scott said.

Scott criticized Sen. Bill Nelson for joining other Democrats in having voted down earlier Zika bills because they contained extraneous provisions related to abortion, Planned Parenthood and the federal health insurance law.

Scott’s criticism drew a rebuke from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fellow Republican from Miami.

“We don’t need to be calling people out,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Sen. Nelson has been trying to help get Zika funding.”

Beyond the competition among different funding needs, there was disagreement on Capitol Hill over how much time the omnibus spending bill, called a Continuing Resolution, should cover going forward.

Appropriators sought a short-term measure that would keep the government operating into December. Some conservatives wanted it to be funded until March. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress were pushing for a bill to cover the entire next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 and lasting through Sept. 30, 2017.

Video credit: Ken Cedeno, McClatchy

 

 

September 13, 2016

Perhaps eyeing 2018, Scott slams Nelson over Zika funding vote

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Less than a minute into his news conference this afternoon calling for an end to politics over Zika funding, Gov. Rick Scott swung hard at Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for voting against a funding bill last week that Democrats say is an attack on Planned Parenthood.

“He turned the back on Floridians,” Scott charged, a striking accusation lobbed the second floor of the Hart Senate Office Building.

Moments earlier Scott declared: "I'm here because the time for politics is over. The time for political debate has passed."

Scott on Tuesday began a two day tour of Capitol Hill to press for funding. He did not reach out to Nelson, whom could see Scott challenge him for re-election in 2018.

"In a health care crisis, there is no excuse for partisanship," Nelson said in interview earlier Tuesday. "That's all I can say." In a statement after Scott spoke, Nelson added: “Just as we’re about to reach a deal to pass a clean emergency Zika funding bill, the governor chooses to fly up here and stir things up politically. He should know better. This is a serious situation, not a time for partisan politics.”

Democrats have objected to a GOP bill that included policy riders, including one they say is designed to prevent money to Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico. The Zika virus can be transmitted sexually.

Nelson has joined in that criticism but has been a vocal advocate on the Zika issue and has worked with Sen. Marco Rubio, who agrees a "clean" bill should be taken up, even though he's voted for the measure Scott knocked Nelson over. On Tuesday, Nelson joined a bipartisan group of House members in calling for more urgent action.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

September 09, 2016

Patrick Murphy touts Bill Nelson 'endorsement' after Nelson defended Marco Rubio

Nelson murphy - jjr may 2016

@ByKristenMClark

Democrat Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign on Friday heralded what it cast as a fresh endorsement from current Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson -- just days after Nelson undercut Murphy's latest attack on his Republican opponent.

Earlier this week, Nelson defended incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the man Murphy wants to unseat in November.

Murphy, a two-term congressman from Jupiter, began the week off by attacking Rubio for not doing enough to get a Zika funding bill passed through Congress. But Nelson told reporters on Capitol Hill hours later that the fault lies not with Rubio but with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Remember, (Rubio) voted for the $1.9 billion and he was my co-sponsor. And he voted for the $1.1 billion with no riders," Nelson said, diminishing Murphy's criticism that Rubio had failed to "deliver" on a "clean" Zika bill.

Murphy's campaign on Friday also tried to cast Nelson's endorsement as recent, noting that Nelson is someone who "has openly supported Murphy since the (Aug. 30) primary."

But Nelson has actually "openly supported" Murphy for more than a year -- at least 15 months, to be exact.

Nelson gave Murphy's campaign a $5,000 donation in June 2015, the Herald/Times reported last fall. And Nelson hasn't been shy about praising Murphy's candidacy in the months since.

For instance, Nelson had this to say about Murphy in May, when addressing a crowd of Democrats at a Miami fundraiser for state Senate candidate Jose Javier Rodriguez

"This is the man, if you look at the kind of credentials -- what you’re going to be offered if you’re a Democrat in the Democratic primary or if you’re a Republican, what you’re going to be offered in the general election between him and his opponent -- I think you’ll see why I’m excited by Patrick as well."

Nelson was among the Democratic heavyweights in the party establishment who either quietly or unabashedly supported Murphy in his contested primary against fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson -- a strategy that vaulted Murphy into front-runner status and kept him there by paving the way for further endorsements and lucrative campaign donations.

Murphy's campaign said Friday that Nelson will begin headlining campaign events for Murphy. No details have been announced.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

September 07, 2016

Bill Nelson comes to Marco Rubio's defense on Zika funding

Nelson_ap

@ByKristenMClark

One of Patrick Murphy's key supporters in his bid for U.S. Senate has undercut the Democratic congressman's recent attack on Marco Rubio over federal Zika funding.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson came to Rubio's defense Tuesday following another unsuccessful vote in the Senate.

Nelson told reporters on Capitol Hill that it's not Rubio, Florida's Republican incumbent, who has failed to deliver on the federal aid -- as Murphy alleged in a media conference call earlier in the day.

"The person that hasn't delivered the Zika funding bill is (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell. We already passed it in the Senate, clean, without the political riders," Nelson said, adding that Rubio "can point to that he has voted for it in the past."

"If McConnell would insist that the House not put the political riders on it, we'd have it done," Nelson added.

Murphy earlier Tuesday criticized Rubio for "not being able to deliver" on a "clean" Zika bill and for having "very little pull there with leadership in the Senate."

But that accusation doesn't match Rubio's own voting record.

"Remember, he voted for the $1.9 billion and he was my co-sponsor. And he voted for the $1.1 billion with no riders," Nelson said, adding that he doesn't care so much about individual politicians getting credit. "I don't care how we get it done; I just want to get this thing addressed head-on."

Murphy campaign spokesman Joshua Karp said in a statement Wednesday that Rubio's membership in the Senate majority and his ties to McConnell should translate into better influence -- on this issue, in particular -- but haven't.

"Senator Rubio, who was begged to run again by his at-risk majority leader, clearly doesn't have the pull he brags about," Karp said. "Speaker (Paul) Ryan clearly won't do Patrick or Democratic leadership any favors, and Patrick's pull with the Republican House speaker isn't at issue."

Nonetheless, Karp said, "over the past several weeks, Patrick has worked hard to cut through the Washington dysfunction." For instance, Murphy -- like Rubio and other members of the Florida delegation -- unsuccessfully called on Congress to return early from its summer recess to approve the Zika funding.

Murphy -- a two-term congressman from Jupiter whom Nelson endorsed -- has repeatedly attacked Rubio in recent weeks for Congress' inability to pass a "clean" bill for $1.9 billion in aid to fight the Zika virus. Murphy, who twice voted against funding proposals, said he specifically wants a measure that's for the full amount requested and that's free of "de-funding of health clinics or any other nonsense games."

One proposal stalled last month over language excluding funds for Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico, causing Democrats and Republicans to point fingers at each other -- including Murphy and Rubio.

Reporter Lindsay Wise of McClatchy's Washington D.C. bureau contributed to this report.

Photo credit: AP

August 25, 2016

Rubio raps FEMA over algae blooms

Senate 2016 Rubio_Ordo (1)-082516

@jamesmartinrose

Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the Obama administration for again declining to issue a federal disaster declaration in response to toxic algae in Florida's waterways.

"Even though the end to this disaster is not in sight, the President is telling our state we are on our own," the Miami Republican said Thursday in a statement.

Barack Obama did not appear to be involved in the decision. In a brief letter earlier Thursday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate rejected Gov. Rick Scott's appeal of his agency's earlier denial of extra money to help fight the algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee discharges intended to protect its aging dike.

"After a thorough review of all information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that supplemental federal assistance under the Stafford Act is not appropriate for this event," Fugate wrote to Scott. "Therefore, I must inform you that your appeal for an emergency declaration is denied."

The thick algae blooms look like guacamole and smell bad. The algae has fouled Treasure Coast waterways fed by Lake Okeechobee.

"The Administration has chosen yet again to turn a blind eye to the livelihoods of Floridians who are affected by this toxic algae," Rubio said.

For more on Rubio's response:

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

 


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article86989367.html#storylink=cpy

 

August 02, 2016

Nelson chides Senate Leader McConnell for Zika inaction

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida poked at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday over the Zika virus, suggesting McConnell might take the disease outbreak more seriously if it was happening in his own state.

"Wait until a mosquito bites one of the people who is traveling to Kentucky and then he gets a transmitted case in Kentucky," Nelson, a Democrat, told a pool reporter in Washington. "Then we'll get action."

Nelson said he sent McConnell, a Republican, a letter Tuesday urging him to pass a Zika-funding bill through a procedural maneuver that wouldn't require the Senate to convene in emergency session. Lawmakers are in recess while Zika is spreading in and near Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

McConnell didn't respond to his letter Tuesday, Nelson said. Florida members of Congress separately urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday to give the state more money to fight the virus.

"If they don't understand that this is now a crisis, with what has just happened in Miami, then they've got really -- they are putting their heads in the sand," Nelson said.

July 26, 2016

'A mistake' not to feature more DNC speakers from Florida, Bill Nelson says

07262016_115927_frankennelson_8col

via @learyreports

PHILADELPHIA -- Sen. Bill Nelson said it was a "mistake" for Democratic convention organizers not to feature more Floridians.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks Wednesday and Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, will speak Tuesday. But that's it, a thin showing from the biggest swing state in the country.

"They should have had maybe a mayor in South Florida. But you can't be perfect in everything," Nelson said at the Florida delegation breakfast.

Nelson also defended Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "Debbie's my friend and she has worked so hard to have this a successful convention and it is going to be."

UPDATE: We hear Nelson may regret the mistake comment as he's learned of more Florida participation. Rep. Lois Frankel and Val Demings will join Nancy Pelosi for a Democratic women address. And more Florida names will be released soon.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

July 12, 2016

Are Rubio and Nelson still working closely together on Zika?

via @learyreports

Partisan fighting over Zika continues on Capitol Hill and there’s little sign of a resolution before lawmakers take off on another recess.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson called for consideration of a $1.1 billion funding bill that already passed the Senate. "We now have 13 more cases, bringing a total in our state to 276, which includes 43 pregnant women – and that’s just one of the 50 states in the union,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “At what point does the majority and the majority leader decide to stop playing these games and simply do what is needed?”

Sen. Mitch McConnell objected to unanimous consent, shutting down Nelson.

Sen. Marco Rubio has also called for action and tomorrow will convene a Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Zika. But Democrats are trying to paint Rubio as part of the problem. On Tuesday, Senate candidate Patrick Murphy and Florida Democrats issued releases asserting that Rubio only began to care about the issue as prepared to announce he was running for re-election.

Rubio and Nelson had pushed for $1.9 billion in funding but don't appear to be working closely now. The Senate in May passed $1.1 billion in funding but the House added provisions Democrats say were designed to hurt Planned Parenthood. Nelson then joined Democrats in blocking the bill, which Rubio supported while calling it imperfect.

Rubio on the Senate floor last week: “I truly hope that in the hours and days leading up to our recess, we will find a rapid and quick way forward so we can address this and fix it and give our people the help they need in the short term and ultimately move towards the money we need to research for a vaccine so this issue can be prevented -- so this disease can be prevented from spreading in the future."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 29, 2016

Environmentalists question Nelson, Rubio move on Biscayne National Park

via @jenstaletovich

A marine preserve in Biscayne National Park — a key piece of a new management plan 15 years in the making and designed to protect Florida’s dwindling reef tract — may be derailed by a new bill proposed by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

The bill, proposed Friday and fast-tracked through a committee hearing, would undo the preserve and require the National Park Service to consult with Florida wildlife managers, who opposed the preserve.

“This is a reasonable bill that will ensure the park consults with the state and uses the best available science moving forward,” Nelson said.

Rubio called the bill, dubbed the Access to Sportsfishing Act of 2016, a “model to address the proposed closure.”

But environmentalists say the rare move by Congress sets a dangerous precedent “that would block the National Park Service from doing its legal authority to protect America’s national park,” said Caroline McLaughlin, Biscayne program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

More here.

Nelson wants feds to act on 'bright neon-green' beach waters

 

@jamesmartinrose

 

Sen. Bill Nelson fired off a letter Wednesday asking federal officials to release more water from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and take other steps to stem the green algae washing up on Treasure Coast beaches.

Nelson acted a day after Martin County commissioners asked the state and federal governments to declare an environmental disaster while urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the locks between Florida's largest freshwater lake and the St. Lucie River.

"To strongly prevent this environmental and economic crisis from spreading, I strongly urge the Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action," Nelson wrote to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.

Nelson added: "The water washing up on the beaches in Martin County, Florida, is bright neon-green. Officials there are concerned about potential health risks associated with the blue-green algae plume forming off their coast and have closed several South Florida beaches as a result, just days before the popular Fourth of July holiday."

The corps regularly releases water from the lake's western and eastern outlets into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers in order to keep its levels no higher than 15.5 feet above sea level, but heavy rainfall has kept the level at 15 feet.

Saying that business owners along the coast "could incur significant financial losses" if visitors avoid the algae-laden beaches and waterways, Nelson asked Darcy to raise the water level in the L-29 canal north of the Tamiani Trail between Miami and Tampa.

The rest of Nelson's letter is here.