Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced the Raise the Wage Act in the Senate and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), one of only three Republicans who voted for it in the House.
520 days (1 year, 5 months, 5 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public town hall forum.
July 27, 2019 by David Silverberg
Congress has now adjourned for its August recess, so it’s time to look back at the activities of Southwest Florida’s two representatives since our last Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor in April.
This period provided a very mixed bag. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) proved to be something of an odd and unpredictable maverick. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) continued his record of unimaginative, party-line votes.
When it came to the testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the highlight of this period, neither of Southwest Florida’s representatives expressed an opinion—probably a wise course. While other members of the Florida delegation, some of them members of the Judiciary or Intelligence committees, were quite vocal, neither Rooney or Diaz-Balart, sat on the relevant committees, so they weren’t in the room.
There was a lot of action on the issue of Southwest Florida’s environment, so much so that it will be the subject of a subsequent Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor.
But here, some highlights from the past two months of congressional activity.
Rooney stands with Bernie Sanders (What?!)
In a surprising vote at odds with President Donald Trump’s position, the Republican Party and his own conservative record, on July 18 Rooney voted in favor of raising the national minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The bill, the Raise the Wage Act (House Resolution (HR) 582), passed by a vote of 231 to 199. Rooney was one of only three Republicans to vote in favor of the measure. (The others were Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.) and Chris Smith (R-4-NJ)). Diaz-Balart opposed it.
The bill increases the minimum wage over a six-year period by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. After the first and second years the wage’s economic impact will be assessed by the General Accounting Office.
In a statement, Rooney explained his position: “This 6-year gradual increase brings the minimum wage in line with inflation. The 6-year increases avoid disruptive changes to the workplace. Earlier this week I offered an amendment, which was rejected, to establish a ‘purchasing power parity option’ which would allow states and cities to adjust the wages for local conditions. What $26 buys in Ft. Myers may cost $50 in New York City. While this would have been a better option, the bill that passed will provide the gradual increases necessary to improve worker pay, keep up with inflation and mitigate the wage inequality which has increased over the last 20 years.”
In January, the bill was introduced in the Senate as Senate 150 by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist and Democratic candidate for president. It has not yet been reported out of committee.
Two-year budget deal
In another dissent from the Trump line, on July 25, Rooney voted against the two-year budget deal worked out by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a rare, bipartisan bit of cooperation.
The bill, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (House Resolution (HR) 3877), stabilizes the budget process and wards off possible government shutdowns over raising the national debt ceiling. It sets the budget at $1.37 trillion and suspends the debt ceiling until July 31, 2021.
Trump endorsed it in a tweet: “House Republicans should support the TWO YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT which greatly helps our Military and our Vets. I am totally with you!” The House duly passed it by a vote of 284 to 149. As of this writing it has gone to the Senate where it was expected to be passed and the President was expected to sign it—although with this president, one never knows until the ink dries.
Diaz-Balart voted for it along with 64 other Republicans. But it was more than Rooney could stomach.
“This budget act fails the American people, especially our children and grandchildren,” he raged in a statement. “Saddling future generations with insurmountable debt instead of making the hard decisions on spending is irresponsible legislating. Just a campaign cycle ago, Republicans across the country ran on a platform of balancing our budget and eliminating our debt. I intend to continue my opposition to out of control Washington spending.”
Humanitarian standards for detainees
Both Rooney and Diaz-Balart voted against the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act (HR 3239) on July 24.
Among a variety of standards of care for detainees, it requires US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to conduct a health examination for every person it takes into custody and provide health care for those who need it. It also requires that detainees have access to drinking water, toilets, sanitation and hygiene products.
The bill passed by a vote of 233 to 195 along party lines. It is likely to die in the Senate.
Rooney skipped an earlier vote on June 25 to provide emergency funding to relieve conditions on the US southern border (HR 3401), which passed the House 230 to 195 and ultimately became law. Diaz-Balart voted against it.
Fallout from disaster relief vote
On June 3, Rooney voted against the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019 (HR 2157), a $19.1 billion spending bill that provided emergency funds for disasters around the country. In Florida it was particularly critical for the panhandle, which had been devastated by Hurricane Michael. Diaz-Balart voted for it.
Rooney voted against it because he said it was fiscally irresponsible. In this he was joined by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.)
Rooney’s vote created a political storm of its own in Florida where the relief bill was not only popular but deemed essential. The rest of the Florida delegation, both Republican and Democrat, voted for the bill (with the exception of two members who were absent, Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-20-Fla.) and Frederica Wilson (D-24-Fla.)).
“If I was in their district, I’d vote ‘em out,” Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Republican chief financial officer told reporters in Tallahassee immediately after the vote. “Those individuals that do not realize the harm and suffering that’s happening in Northwest Florida and the recovery that we’re trying to endure right now, for them to put themselves over the better good of the recovery of other citizens in the United States is shameful. Unfortunately, it’s a round world and they’ll probably get what’s coming to them somewhere, somehow.”
When the House leadership was struggling to move the bill, Rep. Neal Dunn (R-2-Fla.), who represents hard-hit Panama City, took to the floor to denounce members who blocked it.
“For those upset at the cost, OK, spending in Washington is a problem, but are you actually willing to make an empty gesture about balancing the federal budget on the backs of Americans who have lost everything?” he said.
Predictably, Rooney voted:
- Against holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress;
- Against condemning President Donald Trump’s racist comments attacking four members of Congress;
- Against the National Defense Authorization Act;
- Against protecting Dreamers.
In the next Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor: Southwest Florida’s swamp meets Washington DC’s swamp.
Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg