April 06, 2017

Florida voters support Medicaid expansion, survey finds


via @dchangmiami

As the White House and House Republicans continue to discuss plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a new survey of more than 7,000 registered voters in eight states, including Florida, finds growing public support for the health law’s Medicaid expansion option.

In four states that didn’t expand Medicaid — Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia — more than six in 10 voters said they’d like their states to provide the extra coverage, according to the study conducted by the University of Marylandbetween November and January. Voters in the states that had expanded Medicaid — California, Maryland, New York and Ohio — also said they favored the measure.

In Florida, 67 percent of all voters surveyed favored Medicaid expansion compared to 64 percent nationally.

Keep reading here.

March 29, 2017

Curbelo on health care: 'We should continue working on this'

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The Republican effort to overhaul the nation's healthcare system isn't over yet, at least not for Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo told constituents Wednesday he's committed to replacing the Affordable Care Act, even after the American Health Care Act, House Republicans' proposed alternative, was unceremoniously withdrawn from consideration last week due to insufficient GOP support.

"I believe we should continue working on this -- if not this year, next year -- and figure out a way to empower consumers," Curbelo said on a telephone "town hall" meeting organized by the AARP for seniors in his 26th congressional district. The congressman hasn't held any in-person town halls.

The call wasn't solely on health care. But coming days after the AHCA's failure, a majority of listeners' questions inevitably focused on what would happen to the system in place known as Obamacare. The AARP had opposed the legislation.

One caller, Alonzo from Miami, called the AHCA a "horrible bill" and asked Curbelo why he supported it. Curbelo noted he backed it on the Ways and Means Committee but later had concerns.

"I had not made a final decision on the bill," he said -- in part because he knew he probably wouldn't have to. "I had known for some days that there wasn't sufficient support here in the House...so I doubted that there would be a vote."

Some callers helped Curbelo make his points about the existing ACA being too costly for some people -- especially in the Florida Keys, where the federal insurance marketplace only offers a single provider.

"This is the first year that I have not been able to afford healthcare," said Sally, an X-ray technician from Summerland Key who said she chose to pay her mortgage instead. "What do I pick: health care or my house?"

Another caller, Julia from Miami, questioned seeking to overturn the ACA entirely.

"Why don't you take the time and the effort to fix the Affordable Care Act, instead of throwing away all the effort and time that has gone into getting it done?" she asked. "Isn't it much better to just change it?"

Curbelo responded that a lot of conservative Republicans opposed the replacement bill because they argued the GOP was doing just that -- trying to pass "Obamacare 2.0," or "Obamacare lite."

"For a lot of people, this was a political effort: It was about a law named after a president," Curbelo conceded. "I took a much more sober approach to it."

For now, however, he acknowledged that nothing would be undone.

"That effort is kind of on pause," he said, "and we'll just have to see if there's the political will to get it going again."

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

Miami Republicans divided over internet privacy rules

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Two Miami Republicans, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, voted this week to lift restrictions on internet providers from tracking and sharing personal data without consent, joining a Republican majority that sent the legislation to President Donald Trump's desk.

Diaz-Balart's office said he supported the bill because it "eliminates confusing regulations" that allow both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to regulate the internet. The FCC rules that would be repealed by the law apply only to major providers like Verizon but not to giant websites like Google.

"This evens the playing field for the entire internet," Diaz-Balart spokeswoman Katrina Valdés said in a statement. "At the end of the day, the bill doesn't strip consumer privacy, but rather, strengthens the power of the one agency that had already been enforcing it."

Curbelo made a similar argument.

"The FCC has been trying to expand its rulemaking authority and grow our government and regulations in a way that inhibits the free market competition," he said in a statement. "This joint resolution does not modify or reduce existing privacy regulations, and does not put consumers at any increased risk."

But the third local Republican lawmaker, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, disagrees. Ros-Lehtinen was absent from Tuesday's vote because she had to go out of town to be with her daughter, the congresswoman's office said Wednesday. But if Ros-Lehtinen had been in Washington, she said she would have broken with Diaz-Balart and Curbelo.

"I would have voted no on the bill because of the potential for individuals' private information to be shared," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald after a reporter inquired about her absence. "Many treat their online searches and activity as a part of their private lives and to have that information exposed for no or little other purpose than targeted advertising or data mining betrays the public's trust." 

All House Democrats voted against. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which plans to target Curbelo in the 2018 election, accused him of putting "corporate interests over the private, personal interests of Florida."

When the Senate passed the measure last week, Floridians Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio split their votes along party lines. Rubio, a Republican, voted in favor, while Nelson, a Democrat, voted against.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Paul Ryan heads to Palm Beach to meet with top donors

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@PatriciaMazzei @katieglueck

House Speaker Paul Ryan will travel to Palm Beach this week to meet with his top political donors, several sources told the Miami Herald and McClatchy.

The annual gathering of Ryan's donor network will take place Thursday and Friday. It is slated to be held at the luxury Breakers resort, according to a Republican with knowledge of the event. A spokesman for the Team Ryan organization didn't respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

After House Republicans' healthcare plan imploded last Friday, Ryan told Team Ryan donors in a call Monday that he would continue to try to find a way to undo the Affordable Care Act, The Washington Post reported.

"When we're in Florida, I will lay out the path forward on health care and all the rest of the agenda," Ryan said on the call, according to the Post, which obtained a recording. "I will explain how it all still works, and how we're still moving forward on health care with other ideas and plans. So please make sure that if you can come, you come -- it will be good to look at what can feasibly get done and where things currently stand. But know this: We are not giving up."

--with Amy Sherman

Photo credit: Cliff Owen, Associated Press

Nelson defends backing Gorsuch filibuster

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson defended his decision to join a filibuster against Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch despite opposing one a decade ago for Samuel Alito.

“Each nominee is different, and how Sen. Nelson votes for one nominee has no bearing on how he’ll vote for another,” spokesman Ryan Brown said in response to a Tampa Bay Times question.

“Plus, the motion to invoke cloture on Alito’s nomination wasn’t as controversial as the upcoming cloture vote on Gorsuch. Nearly three-quarters of the Senate – including nearly half of the Democratic caucus – voted for cloture on Alito in 2006. Trying to compare the two would be like trying to compare apples and oranges.”

Does he regret at all supporting Gorsuch in the past?

“The Senate confirmed Judge Gorsuch’s nomination in 2006 by unanimous consent,” Brown said. “Under Senate rules, a request for unanimous consent is approved unless one senator objects. Nelson did not object to Gorsuch being an appeals court judge, which is significantly different than supporting his nomination to the Supreme Court.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

March 28, 2017

Miami Republicans call Trump order on climate change 'dangerous,' 'misguided'


Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo on Tuesday once again criticized President Donald Trump, their party's leader, this time over his executive order undoing many of the Obama administration's climate change rules.

The reversal is "troubling" and "dangerous," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. Curbelo called Trump's action "misguided."

Both lawmakers represent coastal South Florida districts directly affected by rising sea levels and other effects of global warming. They have already been critical of Trump's executive order on immigration.

"The administration's decision to roll back emissions standards is troubling due to the impact it has on sea level rise and ocean acidification on our South Florida beaches," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Instead of taking this dangerous path, we should be working to promote clean energy and other methods that will help preserve our environment for future generations to come. My coastal South Florida district is negatively impacted by this order and it takes us backward during a time when we should be monitoring climate change and working assiduously to stop its damaging impact."

"While I am encouraged the Administration did not ask the EPA to reconsider its endangerment finding, which declares greenhouse gas pollution threatens human health and welfare, today's rollback of emission standards is misguided," Curbelo said in a statement of his own. "Climate change is occurring and it is not a coincidence global temperatures have risen at the same time tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide have been added to the atmosphere.  We see the effects of climate change firsthand in South Florida, resulting in rising sea-levels, bleached coral reefs, and salt water intrusion. Climate change is also a threat to our national security and local economies across the country. We cannot, and must not, ignore these challenges.

"I continue to believe economic growth and dealing with this threat are not mutually exclusive. We have a responsibility to our citizens and future generations to support market-based solutions, investments, and innovations that could alleviate the effects of climate change and make our nation more resilient. In South Florida we know well that the economy and the environment are one in the same. Weak environmental policies ultimately lead to the destruction of jobs and quality of life. I hope the Administration will work with me and my colleagues in the Climate Solutions Caucus to Act on this in a responsible, bipartisan way going forward, but today that is clearly not the case."

Democrats also decried Trump's action -- including Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman.

 That prompted the National Republican Congressional Committee to criticize Luján for caring "more about serving his far-left environmentalist financial backers than New Mexico families."

The same NRCC will be tasked next year with defending Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen from almost-certain challengers in their Democratic-leaning districts.

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio slams Democrats' plan to filibuster Gorsuch

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday blasted the growing possibility of a Democratic filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, a preview of the next round of fighting to reach Capitol Hill.

On Monday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he'd join a filibuster, which would force Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change the rules for a simple majority. Nelson in 2006 opposed a filibuster of Sameul Alito, though voted against him.

Democrats counter GOP criticism with two words: Merrick Garland.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

March 27, 2017

Nelson makes up his mind: He'll vote 'no' on Gorsuch

Senate Supreme Court

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson announced Monday that he will vote against Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. 

"Deciding whether to confirm a president's nominee for the highest court in the land is a responsibility I take very seriously," Nelson said in a statement. "Over the past few weeks, I have met with Judge Gorsuch, listened to the Judiciary Committee's hearings and reviewed his record with an open mind. I have real concerns with his thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees, as in the case of a freezing truck driver who, contrary to common sense, Judge Gorsuch would have allowed to be fired for abandoning his disabled rig during extreme weather conditions.

Nelson also made clear he would join Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who last week urged his colleagues to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination.

"I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation," Nelson said.

Nelson faces reelection in 2018 and is a top target of national Republicans, who have been pressuring him to back Gorsuch. In 2006, they noted, Nelson voted against Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito but did not join the filibuster against him.

"In the past, Nelson thought nominees deserved an up or down vote," the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a statement. "Remember, in 2006, Nelson voted for cloture to end the filibuster on Judge Alito’s nomination. The same year, Nelson joined his Senate colleagues to confirm Judge Gorsuch to the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in a unanimous vote. Clearly Nelson has been in Washington way too long and is forgetting he represents Florida, not Washington liberals."

Object preview

Shortly after revealing his decision, Nelson emailed supporters asking them to pitch into his campaign.


Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Democrats launch first video ads against Curbelo and Diaz-Balart over healthcare votes in committee


Republicans failed last week to pass an Affordable Care Act replacement -- but not before two GOP lawmakers from South Florida voted for the proposed American Health Care Act in congressional committees.

Those votes by Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart will be highlighted in a new digital ad campaign -- the first of the 2018 election cycle -- by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which says it's spending five figures to roll videos against 14 vulnerable Republicans who also voted in committee for the doomed legislation.

"You deserve better," the ads say. 

The ads, geographically targeted and set to pre-roll ahead of videos on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are geared at "swing voters 35 years and older, grassroots activists in the districts, and those that have engaged with the topic of 'healthcare' on social media," the DCCC said. 

The party will be spending more in Curbelo's swing 26th district than in any other district in the country -- six times more, to be exact -- in order to test which voters might be more persuaded by healthcare attack.

Curbelo voted for the AHCA in the Ways and Means Committee but later said he was undecided on the final bill; Diaz-Balart voted in the Budget Committee and ultimately said he'd vote for the legislation. It never came to a vote because Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew it, knowing he didn't have enough Republican support.

"This targeted ad campaign makes clear that Representatives Curbelo and Diaz-Balart’s vote for this devastating Republican repeal bill will not be forgotten," DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. "Curbelo and Diaz-Balart knowingly voted for a bill to raise premiums and deductibles, slap an age tax on older folks, and rip insurance away from 24 million hardworking Americans."

The National Republican Congressional Committee came to Curbelo and Diaz-Balart's defense, particularly noting Curbelo's ambivalence toward the final bill.

"Congressman Curbelo and Congressman Diaz-Balart promised to reform health care, and were committed to moving proposals forward to continue the debate," NRCC spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement. "For his part, Curbelo never came out in support of the bill because he was working to secure changes would be made to in the Senate to protect his most vulnerable constituents, and that the Administration would rectify Obama's disastrous funding cuts to Florida's Low Income Pool."

This post has been updated.

Curbelo, Rutherford played it safe on health care

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Some of their responses came slowly, others right away. But each Republican member of Congress from Florida indicated their stance on the Obamacare replacement that imploded Friday.

Except two.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami and Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville refused to give a position.

Curbelo’s spokeswoman later said he was undecided. “He had not made a final decision because he was working with Senate offices to get assurances on increased tax credits for lower income Americans and with administration officials on restoration of Florida’s Low Income Pool funding. It was clear to him the bill needed improvement and he was fairly certain that we would not be voting today.”

Curbelo voted to advance the bill in the Ways & Means Committee, before the legislation faced a damaging assessment from the Congressional Budget Office. The details then changed to appease conservatives.

Rutherford would not answer a simple yes or no question on the bill.

“Maintaining a status quo is not an option,” he said after it was pulled from the floor. “There is a widespread consensus that President Obama’s signature health care law is broken and unsustainable. I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare to improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable health coverage.”

His reticence stands out because Rutherford had appeared with Vice President Mike Pence at a Jacksonville event designed to sell the Obamacare replacement.

Trump reportedly wanted a vote, even if the bill would die, so that he could see who was on his side — a feeling shared by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.

“Today the Republican controlled House of Representatives let down President Trump and, more importantly, the American people,” Gaetz said. “We did so in the most cowardly, craven way possible by failing to  vote on the repeal of Obamacare. … We should know who was willing to stand with President Trump and who wasn’t. Now we never will."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times