Southwest Florida and entire state likely to feel labor, economic woes from anti-immigration measures

Farm laborers load freshly picked produce. (Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

May 17, 2023 by David Silverberg

A pair of recently-passed anti-immigration and border restriction measures appear set to do significant economic and labor damage to Southwest Florida.

At the state level, on Wednesday, May 10 Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed Senate Bill 1718 into law, imposing new restrictions on immigration in Florida. At a Fort Myers news conference last Friday, May 12, he stated: “The border should be shut down. I mean, this is ridiculous what’s going on. You shut it down. You do need to construct a wall.”

At the national level, Southwest Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) led the Republican effort in the US House of Representatives to put new restrictions on immigration and revive the building of former President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

That measure, the Secure the Border Act of 2023 (House Resolution (HR) 2), passed in the House last Thursday, May 11, by a narrow vote of 219 to 213.

However, the bill is unlikely to make any headway in the Democratic-dominated Senate and President Joe Biden has promised to veto it.

(A note on terminology for this article: By definition, an “immigrant” is a person who has entered and/or settled in a country legally. All immigrants are, ipso facto, “legal” and technically there is no such thing as an “illegal immigrant” or “illegal immigration.” By contrast, a “migrant” is someone who is migrating from one place to another, whether or not over international borders. An “undocumented migrant” is someone who lacks proper documentation and permissions to travel or settle in a place. An “alien” is someone from another country, whether traveling or in residence, documented or not.)

State restrictions

According to its official summary, Florida’s new state law restricting immigration does the following (the tense has been altered to reflect its passage):

“Prohibits counties and municipalities, respectively, from providing funds to any person, entity, or organization to issue identification documents to an individual who does not provide proof of lawful presence in the United States; specifies that certain driver licenses and permits issued by other states exclusively to unauthorized immigrants are not valid in this state; requires certain hospitals to collect patient immigration status data information on admission or registration forms; requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to enter a certain order and require repayment of certain economic development incentives if the department finds or is notified that an employer has knowingly employed an unauthorized alien without verifying the employment eligibility of such person, etc.”

It appropriates $12 million to an Unauthorized Alien Transportation Program to transport migrants out of Florida.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11- Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties) on March 7 and passed 27 to 10 on April 28. When considered in the state House, 17 amendments to alter it were all defeated and it passed on May 2 by a vote of 83 to 36.

Warning that there would be “huge, huge problems” when the pandemic-restrictive Title 42 lapsed, DeSantis said, “You are going to see a massive surge of illegal aliens, you have a duty to ensure that these borders are secure. This is a huge disaster on our hands,” when he signed the bill in Jacksonville on May 10. Ingoglia called it “the strongest state-led anti-illegal immigration bill ever brought forth.”

“Ron DeSantis’ legacy will forever be rooted in the fact that as the governor of the state of Florida, he signed into law the most brutal, inhumane, and anti-American immigration legislation that we’ve seen in the last 30 years of U.S. History,” Andrea Mercado, director of Florida Rising, a state voting rights organization, declared in a written statement. “It is a life-threatening, intimidating, and dangerous political stunt.”

The Hispanic Leadership Fund, a pro-business group based in Washington, DC, also slammed the new law, stating it “has a very serious potential to promote racial profiling and infringe on the rights of not just immigrants, but American citizens and their families,” according to Mario Lopez, the organization’s president.

The law takes effect on July 1.

The federal bill

On the national level, HR 2 does the following:

  • requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to resume activities to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border;
  • provides statutory authorization for Operation Stonegarden, which provides grants to law enforcement agencies for certain border security operations;
  • prohibits DHS from processing the entry of non-U.S. nationals (aliens under federal law) arriving between ports of entry;
  • limits asylum eligibility to non-U.S. nationals who arrive in the United States at a port of entry;
  • authorizes the removal of a non-US national to a country other than that individual’s country of nationality or last lawful habitual residence, whereas currently this type of removal may only be to a country that has an agreement with the United States for such removal;
  • expands the types of crimes that may make an individual ineligible for asylum, such as a conviction for driving while intoxicated causing another person’s serious bodily injury or death;
  • authorizes DHS to suspend the introduction of certain non-US nationals at an international border if DHS determines that the suspension is necessary to achieve operational control of that border;
  • prohibits states from imposing licensing requirements on immigration detention facilities used to detain minors;
  • authorizes immigration officers to permit an unaccompanied alien child to withdraw their application for admission into the United States even if the child is unable to make an independent decision to withdraw the application;
  • imposes additional penalties for overstaying a visa; and
  • requires DHS to create an electronic employment eligibility confirmation system modeled after the E-Verify system and requires all employers to use the system.

“Border security is national security,” tweeted Diaz-Balart after its passage. “[House Republicans] passed my bill HR2 to take back control of the border while the Biden Admin keeps saying the border is secure. Biden admin needs to get its head out of the sand.”

On May 2, the National Migration Forum, a pro-immigration advocacy group, in an extensive analysis of the bill, called it “an expansive proposal [that] represents an enforcement-only approach to migration-related challenges at the United States-Mexico border and beyond.”

It continued: “In practice, the bill package would severely restrict the right to seek asylum in the US, curtail other existing lawful pathways, place unnecessary pressure on border communities, intensify labor shortages faced by small businesses and essential industries, establish new criminal penalties, and make other significant changes to U.S. immigration law.”  

A date for consideration of HR 2 by the Senate had not been set as of this writing.

Impacts on Southwest Florida

While much of the population of Southwest Florida resides on the coast, most of the region’s land is either protected from development or used for agriculture. The agricultural sector is heavily dependent on seasonal migrant labor. The new state restrictions will undoubtedly affect Southwest Florida’s economy, especially in agriculture, construction, hospitality, tourism and services.

When it comes to agriculture, major local crops include tomatoes, strawberries, melons and citrus. Ranching and livestock breeding are also part of the mix. An estimated 6,626 people were employed in Southwest Florida agriculture, according to the US Census as quoted by Florida Gulf Coast University’s 2022 Agriculture Southwest Florida Economic Almanac Series. Most field workers are migrants, whether documented or not, and work seasonally, depending on the crop.

 “Everybody is in a panic because nobody knows what’s going to happen,” immigration attorney Gina Fraga told WPTV in Palm Beach.

Denise Negron, the executive director of the Farmworker Coordinator Council of Palm Beach County, told the TV station: “I’ve been hearing that probably they will not be sending their kids to school, and they are afraid to go to work, and it’s sad,” she said.

The stresses on the agricultural labor force come on the heels of the devastation to crops and the agriculture industry in the area caused by Hurricane Ian. Directly in the storm’s path were roughly 375,000 acres of citrus; over 200,000 acres of vegetables; more than 180,000 acres of hay; as well as 95,000 acres of other field crops, like sugarcane, cotton, and peanuts, according to Growing Produce, an industry website.

One local voice calling for a balance between border security, immigration reform and agribusiness is the area’s former congressman, Francis Rooney, a Republican conservative.

“Congress must balance the need for border security with the need for workers. Secure the border, fix our visa and asylum systems, and finally solve the immigration issue instead of using it as a political football,” he tweeted on May 11.

In contrast, the sitting member of Congress representing coastal Lee and Collier counties, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), has been relentlessly on the attack about border security, hammering Republican talking points and raising money for his own reelection, without addressing the impact on the district.

“Democrats ALWAYS wanted this massive surge at the border with no checks or balances AT ALL,” he tweeted on Monday, May 15. “What’s going on now is due to Biden’s recklessness & desire to end all Trump policies that ACTUALLY secured our border. Now they’re scrambling to find fixes to the problem Biden created.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a local farm labor advocacy group, put out a statement on HB 1718 that goes into detail about its possible effects on both labor and the economy. It merits quotation in full:

“We stand firmly against SB 1718, and against the fear, division, and economic hardship it will bring to Florida.  The malicious provision requiring public hospitals to ask for immigration status will cruelly discourage people in need of medical attention, including young children, from seeking the care they need.  The transportation provision will criminalize everyday Floridians – including travel team coaches and commercial bus drivers, parent chaperones on field trips, and small businesses keeping the state’s fragile economy running – for innocently traveling in and out of our state.  The law is inhumane, impossible to fairly enforce, and leaves our communities less safe and more divided than ever.  

“When it comes to the law’s inevitable economic impact, lawmakers in Tallahassee have missed critical lessons from recent history.  One need only look to the agricultural fields in Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona in 2010 and 2011, full of rotting peaches, peppers, and watermelons, to see the disastrous impact of anti-immigrant legislation on labor supply and tourism. In addition to the contribution immigrants make to our state’s economy every single day, which is easily measurable in ever-rising labor productivity and millions of tax dollars, the authors of this bill also entirely neglect the immeasurable gifts of immigrant families in our schools, our sanctuaries of faith, and our communities everywhere across our state.”

There has been discussion of boycotts of Florida, especially by truckers, particularly in Hispanic social media, although no protests or boycotts have been formally announced by established organizations.

Commentary: Putting the border in perspective

Southwest Florida has a direct stake in the situation on the US southwestern border and US immigration policy but the situation has been overly hyped and politicized to the point where a clear picture is not being presented to the public.

The Republican mantra is that the border is “open,” meaning completely uncontrolled and unregulated. That is simply not true. The United States has considerable controls both at its ports of entry and between them and is adding to them by surging its own resources.

There are “open” borders around the world and one of the most open used to be in Mexico’s south, where there were virtually no controls between Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. People would simply cross the river marking the boundary with Mexico on rafts, while truckers on the bridge crossing the river would bribe guards to let unexamined loads go through. That border has now been tightened up, thanks to US-Mexican agreements.

Migrants from Latin America cross into Mexico on rafts during a migration surge in the mid-2010s. (Photo: Author’s collection)

The purpose of rational border control is to facilitate legitimate trade and travel and keep illegal goods and unauthorized people out. US trade with Mexico was worth $614.5 billion in 2019, a commercial flow that neither the United States or Mexico want to cut off, which is what would happen if DeSantis had his way and closed the border.

While tensions between the United States and Mexico date back to Mexico’s independence in 1821, they were deliberately ratcheted up by Donald Trump during his candidacy in 2015.

In his very first speech as a candidate he accused Mexicans of “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He painted a picture that has persisted to this day and has not changed for his followers or in the minds of millions of Americans.

Trump’s solution was a brick and mortar wall along the US-Mexican border, which he proved unable to build during his time as president, even with a Republican-controlled Congress. The sections that were erected are already crumbling and corroding.

However, the mirage of a completely sealed, impermeable, walled border through which not a molecule passes continues to mesmerize MAGAs, Republican lawmakers as well as Trump, DeSantis and Diaz-Balart (whose parents came to the United States as refugees from Castro’s Cuba and whose aunt was Fidel Castro’s first wife). This delusional vision is being promoted in HR2 and on the campaign trail as candidates jostle for the 2024 presidential nomination.

What is happening at the border with Mexico is a surge of migrants seeking asylum that has overwhelmed many existing border resources. It needs to be pointed out, though, that asylum seekers are not migrants attempting to cross the border illegally or covertly. They are applying for asylum through procedures the United States has established. When Title 42 ended, contrary to the apocalypse that was feared, the number of applicants dropped by half and applicants were required to apply through an online application or face stiff penalties.

Asylum-seekers are now being processed and sent around the country for adjudication. Illegal border crossers are facing five-year penalties if caught.

Ultimately, the issues of border security and immigration are inextricably intertwined. Until there is comprehensive immigration reform, including a rational guest worker program that works for both labor and business, the crisis will continue. The US Congress came very close to bipartisan agreement on reforms in 2007 and 2013 but both failed in the face of intransigent opposition. The day may come when another effort is made.

The current surge needs to be put into context because the United States is not unique. About 2.3 percent of the world’s population—184 million people, including 37 million refugees—live outside their country of nationality, according to the World Bank.

There is a global south-to-north movement of people seeking better lives, simple refuge, or fleeing climate change and life-threatening situations. In an effort to enter Europe, waves of African migrants have attempted to overwhelm the border controls of the two remaining Spanish possessions in North Africa, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In the Mediterranean Sea, migrants from the Middle East and northern Africa have set out on rickety, overcrowded boats to reach Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta. In Asia, poverty in Bangladesh and oppression in Myanmar have led people to flee those countries. Wars in Ukraine, Syria, and Sudan have led to massive refugee flows that directly impact neighboring countries, which try to cope as best they can while providing humanitarian aid.

Around the world, people are on the move toward better lives, greater freedom and simple safety. The United States is no exception.

What is complicating the American situation is the continuing MAGA view of migrants as criminals and rapists threatening the white population physically, politically and demographically.

It also reflects a deliberate attack on American confidence in the power of rationality and the strength of American values. In the past, Americans had confidence that their democracy, their values and their freedoms were so compelling that they could absorb and convert immigrants into loyal, productive Americans. Now, they want to exclude them on the basis of race and national origin. They no longer believe that America is an idea all can embrace; to them it’s a club that should exclude everyone but themselves.

In the short term, Florida’s attempted exclusion of immigrants will work to its detriment and at a cost to its economy and businesses. It is only with time that it will learn just how deep, painful and costly it will prove—and soon, Southwest Florida will be among the first regions to feel those effects.


Editor’s note: From 2004 to 2012 the author served as editor of the magazine Homeland Security Today, which extensively covered border security and policy. A three-part series on Mexico’s drug cartel wars, their history and causes that he conceived, organized and edited, “Savage Struggle on the Border,” won the 2010 National Gold Award for Best Feature Series from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. In 2014 he was also founding editor of the, an online effort to cover news of all the world’s borders.

A US Border Patrol agent examines a shipment of jalapeno peppers destined for the United States for contraband and contamination. (Photo: CBP)

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Reps. Donalds and Diaz Balart vote to allow pollution of SWFL waters

Fish killed by red tide on the beach in Naples, Fla., on March 6, 2023. (Image: NBC2 News)

March 14, 2023 by David Silverberg

Last Thursday, March 9, Southwest Florida congressional representatives voted to roll back protections and allow increased pollution, which would have a direct impact on the region’s waters.

The vote was on House Joint Resolution (HJRes) 27, which passed by a vote of 227 to 198, largely along party lines.

The resolution changed the definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) to potentially allow greater water pollution. It seeks to return to the status of regulation under former President Donald Trump.

Protecting the purity of water is a priority for Southwest Florida, which is currently suffering a major red tide bloom.

Both Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) voted for the resolution. Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) did not vote, still absent due to an accident he suffered on Jan. 18. One Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.) voted against the resolution. Nine Democrats voted for it.

Neither Donalds nor Diaz Balart issued statements explaining their votes. Donalds did not mention his vote in his weekly newsletter to constituents.

The House action is unlikely to take effect given Democratic dominance in the Senate and a pledge by President Joe Biden to veto the Republican House measure if it reaches his desk.

The water issue

The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates US waters to prevent pollution, giving primary enforcement responsibility to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In 2015, WOTUS was put in place under President Barack Obama to protect a variety of streams, rivers and wetlands that serve as sources for larger bodies of water, in an effort to reduce pollution. In particular, the rule covered water sources that run intermittently or underground. The rule particularly affected Southwest Florida whose streams and wetlands impact much larger bodies of water like the Caloosahatchee River and the Everglades.

In January 2020, President Donald Trump rolled back WOTUS with his own administration’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which eliminated many of the previous protections. Developers and industries were no longer required to get permits under the Clean Water Act before dumping waste and pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers into water sources like creeks and streams. Essentially, the Trump administration held that if a body of water wasn’t “navigable” anti-pollution measures wouldn’t apply.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” Trump boasted when he ended the protections. “That was a rule that basically took your property away from you.”

“This is a horrible setback for wetland protection in the USA,” wrote Bill Mitsch, a globally recognized wetlands expert and eminent scholar and director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park at Florida Gulf Coast University at the time. (Mitsch has since retired.)

“I have followed this tug of war for all these years between those who appreciate the many ecosystem services that wetlands provide, including cleaning our waters, sequestering and permanently storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and providing the best habitat for hundreds of threatened and endangered species, and the industrial-scale agricultural, energy, and real estate giants” Mitsch wrote. “It has always been a David vs. Goliath [battle].”

In June 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration restored the previous anti-pollution restrictions of WOTUS. Both the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement.

“It’s a good move,” Mitsch told The Paradise Progressive in an interview when the rule was reapplied. “I’m happy because it’s the right direction.”

Mitsch continued: “I’m delighted both agencies have stepped forward. This, in my view, is a good turn for Southwest Florida and especially the Everglades.”

With its vote last Thursday, the Republican-dominated US House voted to remove the Obama-Biden protections and allow Trump-era pollution.

Although the measure is unlikely to take effect, Southwest Florida’s waterways and wetlands remain under threat since the state took over the permitting process from the federal government in one of the Trump administration’s last acts.

“I’m very much afraid of Florida taking wetland management away from the feds. What the feds are doing is great but I’ve seen it before,” Mitsch said at the time.  “There’s no question why [the state] wanted to take over water regulation; it was for development.” 

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rick Scott, already in a hole, digs deeper

Sen. Rick Scott. (Illustration: Donkey Hotey)

Feb. 13, 2023 by David Silverberg

There’s an old adage: “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

But Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), seems to have turned that wisdom on its head: already deep in a hole, he’s digging deeper.

Just where he’ll end up is anybody’s guess.

The hole

President Joe Biden reads from Sen. Rick Scott’s “American Rescue” plan during his visit to Tampa on Feb. 9. (Image: CSPAN)

What hole is Scott in? Consider the following:

In early 2022 Scott was explicitly told by his ostensible boss, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), not to issue a Republican platform based on the 1994 “Contract With America.”

But as Scott would put it in a post-election letter to his fellow senators, “after travelling the country to support our candidates I believe voters want a plan. They are begging us to tell them what we will do when we are in charge.” McConnell wanted to keep the Republican platform vague.

Scott chose to deliberately defy him and on March 30, 2022 unveiled an 11-point (later 12-point) “Rescue America” plan in collaboration with former President Donald Trump. Among its points: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” (More about that later.)

After being entrusted by his fellow Republican senators in 2020 to win the Senate for the Party, Scott oversaw the disappointing Republican 2022 returns, having boosted such fringe candidates as Herschel Walker in Georgia, Kari Lake in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, all of whom went down to embarrassing defeats. Democrats kept the Senate and gained a seat.

Even the famously taciturn McConnell was moved to comment: “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” McConnell’s insight was proven correct.

Having now failed his Party, his colleagues and his boss, Scott turned on McConnell and ran against him for Party leader.

In a Nov. 15 letter to colleagues, Scott wrote: “I’m writing to you today because I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past.”

He brushed aside the criticism of his performance at the National Republican Senatorial Committee: “Despite what the armchair quarterbacks on TV will tell you, there is no one person responsible for our party’s performance across the country.”

He noted that he had heard voter requests for a Republican plan and stated: “Unfortunately, we have continued to elect leadership who refuses to do that and elicits attacks on anyone that does. That is clearly not working and it’s time for bold change”—clear criticism of McConnell.

Scott was endorsed by Trump, who even before the midterms called McConnell a “lousy leader.”

“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s attitude toward McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it.” He later added that Scott was “underrated”—perhaps winning over some Trumpers.

But when the election for Senate minority leader came to pass, McConnell, a superb vote-counter announced, “I have the votes.” Indeed he did, crushing Scott by a vote of 37 to 10.

McConnell was gracious in victory. “I’m not in any way offended by having an opponent or by having a few votes in opposition,” he said in a not-so-subtle dig at Scott’s lack of support.

Still, McConnell was clearly disgusted with Scott and on Feb. 2 removed him from the prestigious Senate Commerce Committee. Scott told a reporter, “Well, he just kicked me off a committee. So that was pretty petty.”

On the home front, Scott didn’t do any favors for Florida, the state he ostensibly represents. In September he voted against the $1.7 trillion Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833) that included $20 billion in disaster relief, funding desperately needed by a state reeling from Hurricane Ian.

In doing this he also once again defied the Senate Republican leadership, which supported the bill. And as though the potential injury of his negative vote was not enough, he added insult by calling President Joe Biden “a raving lunatic” just before the president came to Southwest Florida to see the damage for himself and pledge full support for the region’s recovery.

Then, in the past two months as Republicans began engaging in fiscal brinksmanship over raising the national debt ceiling and appeared to jeopardize vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Scott’s “American Rescue” plan came back to bite him. That 6th point sunsetting all federal programs after five years was the chief Republican threat to the key trio of social safety programs.

President Joe Biden, Scott’s “raving lunatic,” hammered the Republicans for menacing the programs, using the American Rescue plan as a wedge. First, he did it in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Then, when he came to Tampa last Thursday, Feb. 9 he had copies of the plan placed on the seats of attendees at the University of Tampa.

“The very idea the senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years I find to be somewhat outrageous, so outrageous that you might not even believe it,” said Biden. “But it’s what he…I won’t do it again,” he said of reading Scott’s plan, then changed his mind, “but, well, I will,” and he pulled the pamphlet out of his jacket.

“Twelve-point American Rescue plan,” he read. “One of the points: ‘All federal legislation sunsets every five years. If the law is worth keeping, the Congress can pass it all over again.’ Look, if it doesn’t get reauthorized, it goes out of existence. If Congress wants it, they got to keep it and they got to vote on the same thing. And then, in case there was any doubt, just yesterday, he confirmed that he still, he still likes his proposal.”

Biden continued: “Well, I guarantee you, it will not happen. I will veto it. I’ll defend Social Security and Medicare.”

In addition to these blows to his policy proposals and standing in the Senate, Scott had harbored presidential ambitions in 2024, although he said these were contingent on Trump not running. On Jan. 26 Scott announced he would not be seeking the presidency, would seek re-election to the Senate and would remain neutral in the presidential nominating process.

To add it all up as of this writing: Scott failed in his mission to elect a Republican Senate, failed to unseat the Republican Senate leader, failed to vote for aid to his state, failed to advance his presidential ambitions, provided a weapon for Democrats to hammer Republicans, became the face of Republican callousness, may have lost all of America’s senior voters—and he did all this while personally insulting the president and his own boss in the Senate.

That’s a pretty deep hole.

Digging deeper

Fox News host John Roberts challenges Sen. Rick Scott on his “Rescue America” plan. (Image: The Lincoln Project)

Most people, having failed in their pursuits and offended their friends, colleagues and the world at large, might draw back a bit, quiet themselves, contemplate their failings, ask forgiveness, humbly seek redemption and try to make amends.

Not Rick Scott. He has doubled down and dug deeper.

The morning after the State of the Union speech, Scott issued a statement arguing that he wasn’t advocating ending Social Security.

He stated that while “Last night, Joe Biden rambled for a while,” and was “confused,” Scott argued that accusing him of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare was “dishonest” and a “lie” resulting from Biden’s “confusion.”

“In my plan, I suggested the following: All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again. This is clearly and obviously an idea aimed at dealing with ALL the crazy new laws our Congress has been passing of late,” he stated.

Implying that Biden’s assertion was the result of senility, Scott stated, “Does he think I also intend to get rid of the U.S. Navy? Or the border patrol? Or air traffic control, maybe? This is the kind of fake, gotcha BS that people hate about Washington. I’ve never advocated cutting Social Security or Medicare and never would. I will not be intimidated by Joe Biden twisting my words, or Chuck Schumer twisting my words – or by anyone else for that matter.”

He argued that, to the contrary, Democrats in essence cut Medicare when Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act gave the federal government power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.

“They lie about it and the liberal media covers for them,” he complained. “If they think they can shut me up or intimidate me by lying… I’m here for it… I’m ready to go. I will not be silenced by the Washington establishment.”

But even conservative media hadn’t bought Scott’s plan when it was unveiled. The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump, pro-democracy media organization, gleefully released a March, 2022 sound bite of Fox News host John Roberts arguing with Scott that his plan cut Social Security and Medicare.

Scott dismissed Roberts’ assertion as a “Democratic talking point,” to which Roberts forcefully responded, “It’s not a Democratic talking point, it’s in the plan,” and kept repeating “it’s in the plan” despite Scott’s denials.

Not content with denials and arguments, on Feb. 7, Scott announced on Twitter that he was  releasing an advertisement to run in Florida, calling on Biden to resign. “I’m Rick Scott. Biden should resign. I approve this message,” it concludes.

That suggestion is not likely to go far.

Analysis: Channeling Trump and digging deeper

Sen. Rick Scott and then-President Donald Trump listen to a briefing on Hurricane Dorian on Aug. 31, 2019. (Photo: White House)

In this give-and-take over whether he wants to cut essential social safety net programs, Scott has clearly chosen to take the Trump approach to criticism: never apologize, never back down, attack your attackers and discredit the media that reports your failings.

Using this approach, Trump bulldozed his way through scandals, two impeachments, a failed coup and even, arguably, treason.

Scott is trying to do the same thing, only he’s not driving a bulldozer, he’s pushing a spade on the end of an idiot stick and the only place he’s going is deeper into the hole he’s already in.

As chronicled before (“Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle”), Scott, who has been able to essentially buy his elections in Florida, was out of his depth on the national stage when he tried to win the Senate.

Now he’s denying that his “Rescue America” plan implicitly endangers Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. However, as Joe Biden, John Roberts and a host of other commentators and critics have pointed out, it does precisely that by jeopardizing all longstanding, duly legislated programs.

In fact what this whole affair really shows is that Scott, in pursuit of broad-brush, politically advantageous slogans was and is unable or unwilling to truly think through the full implications of his policy proposals. In this he is also like Trump—and that’s not a good attribute for presidents or senators.

As previously noted, Scott is not a natural politician, either in his approach to people or leadership. His policy prescriptions are shallow, extreme and unimaginative. He’s not a deep thinker. In his challenges to McConnell and the Republican Senate leadership he’s demonstrated ineptitude and insensitivity and an almost total lack of self-awareness. Outside his own MAGA cheerleading section and whatever voices are in his head, his own statements and actions are coming back to haunt him.

Not to be forgotten in this is his friction with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a leading Republican presidential possibility. The two have never gotten along and their antipathy is likely to intensify as the presidential nominating process proceeds. His protestations of neutrality aside, Scott will no doubt remain a Trump partisan and there is always the possibility that he could be primaried by a viable DeSantis loyalist.

Florida Democrats should welcome Scott’s run for another term in 2024. By his arrogance, blindness and incompetence, Scott is making his Senate seat available. It’s an opportunity for the Florida Democratic Party to reconstitute itself and recapture a statewide office. Like all Scott races it will be expensive. Scott spends whatever it takes to buy votes, but he nonetheless offers Democrats a ray of sunshine after an otherwise dark season.

How deep a hole will Scott dig? He shows no signs of slowing down or changing course. But as anyone who has ever dug a pit knows, the deeper you dig, the more dangerous and unstable it becomes—and when you’re in over your head, that hole just may become your grave.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL’s stake: Biden protects Social Security in State of the Union speech—forcing raucous Republicans to agree

President Joe Biden addresses the joint session of Congress last night, Feb. 7. (Photo: White House)

Feb. 8, 2023, by David Silverberg

Updated 3:00 pm with statewide statistics and addition of “Commitment to America.”

Southwest Florida’s seniors were reassured last night, Feb. 7, that Social Security will continue uncut thanks to President Joe Biden’s skillful handling of Republican detractors during his State of the Union address.

“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage — I get it — unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what those plans are,” he said at one point during the speech. “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority.”

When Republicans booed and shouted out denials they had any plans to cut Social Security, he took that as support for Social Security and responded: “Folks — so folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be — all right. We’ve got unanimity.”

He continued: “Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors. Americans have to pay into them from the very first paycheck they started.

“So tonight, let’s all agree — and we apparently are — let’s stand up for seniors. Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.

“Those benefits belong to the American people. They earned it.

“And if anyone tries to cut Social Security, which apparently no one’s going to do, and if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I’ll stop them. I’ll veto it. And look, I’m not going to allow them to take away — be taken away.

“Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. But apparently it’s not going to be a problem.”

The threatening record

Despite vehement denials, there are Republican proposals to end, or at least jeopardize, the continuation of Social Security and Medicare.

The chief antagonist is Florida’s own Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) who issued his 11-point “Rescue America” plan early last year. That plan would subject Social Security and Medicare to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility that it could be terminated at any time. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) proposed subjecting the programs to annual renewals, making them even more precarious.

In the House, Rep. Kevin Hern (R-1-Okla.), the leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Washington Post in January that, “We have no choice but to make hard decisions,” when it came to cuts. Coming on top of Republican threats not to raise the debt ceiling, the remarks indicated a willingness to sacrifice Social Security. A House Republican “Commitment to America” called for cuts but was vague about its commitment to preserving Social Security and Medicare.

The debate over Social Security and Medicaid is particularly relevant in Southwest Florida.

As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.

As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.

In Collier County, out of a total 2021 population of 385,980 people, 29 percent were 65 years or older and 48 percent of them received Social Security benefits, according to the 2021 Profile of Older Floridians (the latest available).

Some 29 percent of the 2021 Lee County population of 787,976 was also 65 years and older, according to the US Census, and 12,547 received Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

Since all these were 2021 figures, the numbers have probably gone up.

These are substantial segments of the Southwest Florida population and they would be devastated by cuts to Social Security and Medicare, especially given the increased needs in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s destruction.

Discussion of the debt ceiling and the future of the national budget will continue. However, for Southwest Florida seniors dependent on Social Security for their income and Medicare to pay their medical bills, their benefits now appear safe for the moment, thanks to an unruly consensus forged by the president in the midst of a State of the Union speech.

To see the entire 1-hour, 20-minute speech, click here.

To read the full text as published by The New York Times, click here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Southwest Florida faces fiscal storm as great as Hurricane Ian

A scene from the 2000 movie “The Perfect Storm.” (Image: Warner Bros.)

Jan. 24, 2023 by David Silverberg

In 1997, the book The Perfect Storm told the story of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, which sailed into weather that was a “perfect” combination of three different storms blending into one catastrophic tempest.

Today, Southwest Florida is facing a “perfect” fiscal storm that blends three political squalls into a single horrendous gale that could prove as devastating in its own way as Hurricane Ian.

This storm is not of Southwest Florida’s own making. It’s the result of extreme ideas and doctrines being pursued in the nation’s capital. Nor will it affect Southwest Florida alone; the entire nation and the world will also suffer if the worst comes to pass.

However, Southwest Florida has unique factors that will increase the impact of this fiscal hurricane if it reaches full strength.

It’s a classic case of political passions being blindly pursued without an appreciation for their impacts on the ground or on the lives of everyday citizens. It’s also an illustration of the ways national policy affects an area as remote from the center of power as Southwest Florida.

The trend is dangerous, damaging and needs to be stopped. Fortunately, it’s the result of decisions yet to be made. So it’s not a perfect storm—yet.

Storm 1: The debt limit

On Thursday, Jan. 19, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them that the United States had reached its statutory debt limit. Treasury would now take “extraordinary measures” to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States. However, those measures would only sustain the nation until June.

In the US House of Representatives, extreme Make America Great Again (MAGA) Republicans are insisting that raising the debt limit be accompanied by major concessions by the White House. House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) has largely followed their direction. President Joe Biden is maintaining that the United States paying its debts is a national obligation that transcends party politics and is refusing to treat it as a political football. If the House doesn’t act, the United States will go into default for the first time in its history. (A fuller explanation of the debt limit is at the end of this article.)

How would Southwest Floridians feel the impact of a US default? In a 2021 paper explaining the issue, White House economists pointed out that: “everyday households would be affected in a number of ways—from not receiving important social program payments like Social Security or housing assistance, to seeing increased interest rates on mortgages and credit card debt.”

In other words, everyone would get poorer—in Southwest Florida and everywhere.

Storm 2: Social Security

The Social Security program has been in Republican crosshairs since it was initiated in 1935. Eighty-eight years later, that hasn’t changed and the threat, if anything, has become more acute.  

Most recently, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) issued a “Commitment to America” plan last year that would have subjected Social Security to five-year reauthorizations, meaning that it could be eliminated at any time. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) proposed renewing the reauthorization every year, making it even more precarious.

Given the age of its population, Southwest Florida’s seniors are particularly dependent on Social Security to maintain their fiscal viability. Some 3,984 Collier County residents and 12,547 Lee County residents were Social Security recipients as of December 2021, according to the Social Security Administration. Nationally, 65 million Americans receive Social Security benefits.

If Social Security is severely cut or eliminated—for example as a result of a federal default or a crippling deal on the debt limit—those seniors would lose a significant chunk of their income. That, in turn, would kick a major pillar out of the year-round local economy, depressing it further after the blow of Hurricane Ian.

Storm 3: Attacks on healthcare

Among the cuts being discussed are those to Medicare and Medicaid, the two major health insurance programs. No Republican has threatened these programs more than Scott, whose Commitment to America would have stripped Medicare of the right to negotiate drug prices and removed a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket pharmacy expenses.

Given the age of its residents, cuts to these programs would disproportionately affect Southwest Florida’s population. In 2021 Collier County had 109,305 Medicare enrollees and Lee County 210,408, according to the Florida Department of Health.

If Republican-proposed cuts went through, not only would the recipients see an abrupt cut in their benefits but Southwest Florida’s otherwise robust healthcare system would face a sudden, drastic drop in its revenues, which in turn would affect the rest of the regional economy.

This would come on top of the physical devastation of Hurricane Ian—at a time when affected Southwest Floridians need all the help they can get with shelter and the basic necessities of life.

Commentary: Avoiding the storm

At this point there’s no telling how the discussions over the debt limit will play out. Even responsible Republicans are horrified by the prospect of an American default.

“America must never default — we never have, and we never will,” vowed Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the Senate minority leader, in 2021.

Interestingly enough, even former President Donald Trump has warned against cutting Social Security and Medicare.

“Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” Trump warned in a two-minute video message posted online on Jan. 19. While otherwise attacking Biden, Democrats, immigrants and advocating cuts in other areas, he emphatically stated: “Do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives. Save Social Security. Don’t destroy it!”

For once, both the former and current presidents are in agreement: “This is something that should be done without conditions, and we should not be taking hostage key programs that the American people really earned and care about — Social Security, Medicare, it should not be put in a hostage situation,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre yesterday, Jan. 23.

Locally, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has warned that cuts are coming. “Newsflash for the admin: We’re going to negotiate, we’re going to have meaningful spending cuts & we can talk about the debt ceiling,” stated Donalds in a tweet yesterday morning, Jan. 23. “We should end COVID-era overspending. We have to get our budget back on track! If they think they’ll be cutting some side deal they’re mistaken.”

Is there anything that a citizen opposed to this cataclysm can do about this? The measures for voter feedback and input are in place: contact lawmakers to make opinions known—in the case of Southwest Florida that’s Donalds and Reps. Mario Diaz Balart (R-26-Fla.), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) (currently laid up due to a fall from his roof and not voting in Congress until he can return to Washington).

Even if e-mails, phone calls and letters don’t change members’ public stances it at least registers the opinions of their constituents and they have to take that into consideration as they stake their positions.

Also, members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) have a powerful lobbying voice in Washington and active engagement with that organization can help shore up important programs of vital importance to seniors.

The impact of local officials on these matters should not be overlooked either. Officials like county executives and mayors are in contact with Washington lawmakers. If they know the importance of these programs to local residents and the fact that residents—and voters—are watching, that concern will percolate upward to congressional lawmakers. Local officials need to be pressed to make their positions known by issuing public letters to members of Congress stating the importance of programs like Social Security, Medicare and aid to the region and their jurisdictions.

Treasury Secretary Yellen’s “extraordinary measures” run out in June. If an agreement isn’t reached before then, the fiscal storm will hit and Southwest Florida will feel the brunt of it.

And that’s one storm that can’t be mitigated with hurricane shutters and extra bottles of water.

*  *  *

A brief primer on the debt limit

The “debt limit” or “debt ceiling” is the amount of debt that the United States is allowed to have outstanding. The “national debt” is all the money the United States has borrowed throughout its history. It incurs that debt when revenues, for example from taxes, don’t cover its needs and it issues bonds or sells securities to cover the shortfall. These are perfectly legal and well established means that all governments use to meet their needs.

Since its founding in 1776, the United States has always met its obligations. It has incurred debts but it has paid those debts on time and in full. Through war, depression and political change, this reliability and predictability has made the United States the foundation of the world financial system. People, institutions and other governments have been able to count on America honoring its promises (its “faith”) and making its payments (its “credit”).

The US national debt currently stands at $31.381 trillion and it needs to raise its statutory limit to cover payments on its debt. This is not discretionary; the full faith and credit of the United States depends on it meeting its obligations. Its creditors, which include other governments, are depending on its payments. If the United States fails to meet its obligations, the entire global financial system could collapse, setting off an international panic and bringing about a crash as terrible as that of 1929.

The debt limit must be raised by Congress. Since the debt limit was established by Congress in 1917, raising the limit to cover obligations already incurred through legislation has been a relatively routine and non-controversial matter. Congress passed appropriations legislation to spend money that must be covered by borrowing, now the United States would pay the obligations it had freely and deliberately incurred.

It was a practice based on a simple proposition: honorable people pay their debts and they do it on time and in full. As it was for individuals, so it is for the nation. Support for US solvency has been broad and bipartisan throughout its history.

However, because raising the debt limit is essential, it has become a political wedge in an effort to extract concessions, with the ultimate threat of allowing a US default.

This brinkmanship started in 2006 when Democrats—including then-Sen. Joe Biden—threatened to refuse to raise the limit to protest the ongoing war in Iraq and tax cuts for the wealthy by the administration of President George W. Bush. The refusal was meant as a gesture of protest, not an attempt to bring down the United States.

In 2011 and 2013 Republicans threatened to allow a default to force spending cuts by President Barack Obama. This time, the threat was more serious and a faction of Republicans was ready to accept default in order to get its way.

In all these cases compromises were found, the debt ceiling was raised and the United States met its obligations, although in 2011 the US credit rating was downgraded by the Standard & Poor’s rating service from AAA (outstanding) to AA+ (excellent), the first time in history that happened.

In 2023, the extremism, fanaticism and leverage of the MAGA faction in the House of Representatives, as well as the weakness of McCarthy Republicans, makes a default a much more serious and possible prospect than in the past.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Can bill on harmful algal blooms make it all the way this time?

A sign warns of red tide at the entrance to Delnor-Wiggins State Park in Naples during the 2018 Big Bloom. (Photo: Author)

Jan. 17, 2023 by David Silverberg

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has announced that he has reintroduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act in the current Congress.

The bill ensures that federal agencies continue monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) like red tide even if there is a government shutdown. These agencies include the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

In its look at the year ahead, The Paradise Progressive strongly urged that the measure be introduced this year before any kind of government shutdown takes place.

As of this writing, the proposed bill had not yet received a number.

The bill is particularly important to Southwest Florida, which has been plagued with outbreaks of the naturally occurring red tide, which is fed by pollution.

“This bill utilizes federal resources for tackling the environmental and economic challenges brought on by HABs in Southwest Florida and throughout America,” Donalds announced in a Jan. 12 statement. “Over the last 60 years, these events have increased substantially––impacting local economies, our nation’s ecosystems, and the American people’s health.

It continued: “Safeguarding public health and our coastal ecosystems requires the collective collaboration of federal, state, and local governments. This necessary legislation bolsters the federal government’s role in combating HABs throughout the United States.”

The bill amends the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998.

The operative paragraph states: “Any services by an officer or employee under this chapter relating to web services and server processing for the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shall be deemed, for purposes of Section 1342 of Title 31, United States Code, services for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

The bill is especially important given the increased possibility of government shutdowns by the Republican House of Representatives.

The bill was first introduced in June 2019 by Rep. Francis Rooney who had organized a conclave of federal, state and local officials concerned about HABs, made more urgent by an acute and prolonged toxic bloom in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caloosahatchee River in 2018. (For a fuller account of the issue, see: “Water warning: The politics of red tide, algae and lessons from the Big Bloom.”)

That bill received bipartisan support, with 16 cosponsors, 11 Democrats and 5 Republicans. The Democrats included Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) and then-Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.). Republicans included Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.). It advanced past the subcommittee stage to consideration by the full Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, in addition to the Committee on Natural Resources. However, it made no further progress.

Donalds reintroduced it in the 117th Congress following his 2020 election. At that time it garnered 9 cosponsors, 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. However, it did not advance past the subcommittee stage.

Analysis: Looking ahead

Can Donalds actually shepherd this bill from subcommittee to full committee, to full House approval, to Senate consideration, to final approval by President Joe Biden?

Monitoring, preventing and coping with HABs is a vital issue for the health and wellbeing of Southwest Floridians, especially in the wake of Hurricane Ian. This measure is a small action that will nonetheless contribute to more advanced warnings of harmful blooms, even if there’s a government shutdown.

The handling of this legislation will demonstrate Donalds’ legislative capabilities to Southwest Floridians and the rest of Congress. It needs to be watched closely.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

House approves $1.7 trillion spending bill, including disaster aid, despite ‘no’ votes from SWFL reps

The US Capitol with the congressional Christmas tree. (Photo: AoC)

Dec. 23, 2022 by David Silverberg

In an characteristically Grinchian gesture just before the Christmas holiday, Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against a $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes $27 billion for relief of communities like those in Southwest Florida afflicted by hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The 4,155-page bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (House Resolution 2617), passed today along a largely party line vote of 225 to 201. Nine Republicans voted for the bill. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) voted “present” and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) cast the sole Democratic vote against it.

The bill funded all the agencies of government and avoided a shutdown, which would have occurred had it been defeated.

Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) all voted against the bill.

On Thursday, Dec. 22, the Senate approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 68 to 29, with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) opposing it.

 “As communities across the country work to rebuild after unprecedented natural disasters, this bill provides the urgently needed support to help families, small businesses, and entire towns and cities get back on their feet and repair damaged infrastructure,” stated Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3-conn.) chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

In what she said was probably her last speech in the role she has played since 2018, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), urged passage of the bill, noting that “We have a big bill here, because we have big needs for our country.”

She pointed out: “We have the largest defense appropriation ever and, again, to help us honor our oath of office to protect and defend and what the Constitution says: ‘provide for the common defense.’” Beyond its $858 billion for US defense, the bill also provided $45 billion for Ukraine.

Pelosi noted, “…This bill is about our heroes, honoring our heroes, our heroic veterans with a major increase in veterans’ health care,” and benefits for firefighters and first responders. It also helps working families with “critical investments for their health, housing, education, [and] economic well-being… .”

Republican resistance

Republicans fought the bill through its drafting, first passage through the House and passage through the Senate.

Echoing the Republican line against the bill, Donalds long inveighed against it in media appearances and on social media.

“Every Republican should be a NO on the omnibus spending bill,” he tweeted on Dec. 19. He criticized it for not focusing more narrowly on border security issues.

“I voted NO on the nearly 2 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill because I’m a CONSERVATIVE that doesn’t make bad deals with a party hellbent on bankrupting our nation while refusing to secure the border,” he tweeted after the bill passed. “I work for WE THE PEOPLE, not political gamesmanship.”

Steube also criticized what he said was insufficient border attention: “This steaming pile of omnibus prohibits DHS [Department of Homeland Security] from using funding to secure our border” he tweeted. “Meanwhile, Democrats (enabled by several Senate Republicans) are sending millions to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Oman for their own ‘enhanced border security.’”

“Despite having months to work on the [Fiscal Year] 23 funding bill in good faith with House Republicans, this 4,000+ page spending package was drafted behind closed doors and released less than a week before government funding expires,” complained Diaz-Balart. “As the American people continue to suffer the consequences of this Administration’s reckless spending and wasteful economic policies, increasing non-defense discretionary spending on these radical left-wing policies will only further fuel and lengthen inflation.”

President Joe Biden is expected to swiftly sign the bill into law.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Opinion: Zelensky speech rallies Americans to their own democracy

Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unfurl a Ukrainian flag given them by President Volodomyr Zelensky following his address to the US Congress. (Photo: CNN)

Dec. 22, 2022 by David Silverberg

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s speech to the United States Congress last night did more than just build support for Ukraine’s struggle against Russia and inspire admiration for its fight to preserve democracy—it just may have saved American democracy as well.

Great speeches don’t become great just by the content of their words. They also become great by the content of their moment and the power of their impact.

Last night Zelensky gave a great speech, one that is truly historic because it may have determined the course of history and nations.

Appearing in his trademark military fatigues, Zelensky reminded Americans not just that freedom isn’t free but that in a land far away people are giving their blood, sweat and tears to defend it—and that it’s worth the sacrifice.

The Zelensky speech put things into perspective. Ukrainians are threatened by a tyrant who is bringing the full force of a population of 143 million people and a superpower arsenal against them. Nonetheless, Zelensky himself and the 44 million Ukrainians standing with him are fighting back and looking forward to a just victory.

In America, democracy is threatened by a failed and narcissistic would-be autocrat and his cosplay MAGA fanatics who are fueled by grievance, greed and frustration. They offer Americans nothing but corruption, hatred, prejudice, rage—and tyranny.

The danger facing Ukrainians is death; the danger facing Americans is a failure to defend their best values, to protect what the blood, sweat and tears of 245 years of American effort has secured and which they effortlessly inherited.

When it comes to politicians, the danger facing Ukrainian leaders is assassination or battlefield obliteration. Elected American leaders face a loss of office, derailment of a career, the insults and obloquy of petty and vindictive would-be autocrats and their followers.

Zelensky, speaking to the House of Representatives, which was nearly destroyed by a would-be dictator on Jan. 6, 2021, put the stakes, the odds and the goals of two democracies into perspective and did so in a powerful and inspiring way.

Zelensky came to America to save Ukraine and its democracy—but he just may have saved America’s democracy as well.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL reps oppose Respect for Marriage Act, which passes US House

Byron Donalds and his wife Erika on their wedding day in 2006. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Dec. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

The Southwest Florida congressional delegation today voted against the Respect for Marriage Act (House Resolution 8404), which received final approval from the US House of Representatives at 11:11 am by a vote of 258 to 169, with one member, Rep. Burgess Owens (R-4-Utah), voting “present.”

The House vote approves an amended Senate version of the bill and sends the legislation to President Joe Biden for signature.

Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) all voted against the bill. Diaz-Balart switched his vote to “nay” from a “yea” vote when it first came up before the House in July.

Thirty-nine Republican representatives voted for the bill.

The bill codifies same-sex and interracial marriages into law. Specifically, it repeals and replaces state laws that don’t recognize marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The bill was considered necessary by advocates following the Supreme Court decision, Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department Of Health, et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al, in June, striking down women’s rights to abortions. In the wake of that decision, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed an opinion that other rights, for example, allowing same-sex marriage and contraception, should similarly be revisited.

“…Since the Supreme Court’s monstrous decision overturning Roe v. Wade, right-wing forces have set their sights on this basic, personal freedom,” stated House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech.  “In his concurring opinion, Clarence Thomas explicitly called on the Court to reconsider its ruling in Obergefell.  While his legal reasoning is twisted and not sound, we must take Justice Thomas at his word, and the hateful movement behind him at their word.”

She continued: “We must act now – on a bipartisan, bicameral basis – to combat bigoted extremism and uphold the inviolability of same-sex and interracial marriages.  Once signed into law, the Respect for Marriage Act will help prevent right-wing extremists from upending the lives of loving couples, traumatizing kids across the country and turning back the clock on hard-work progress.”

The bill is expected to swiftly be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

The Southwest Florida representatives’ positions echoed those taken when the bill first passed the House in July. It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate Tuesday, Nov. 29 by a vote of 61 to 36. Both Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), opposed the bill.

Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it had to be approved again in the House.

As of this writing none of the Southwest Florida representatives had issued statements explaining their votes.

However, in a Dec. 5 statement Diaz-Balart stated: “The concept of all states respecting other states’ decisions on marriage laws is deeply rooted in American jurisprudence and tradition. Similarly, our Founders understood that religious liberties are sacred and vulnerable, and must always be vigorously protected.

“My record shows that I am a long-standing advocate against discrimination of all types. I, however, cannot support any effort that undermines religious liberties by failing to provide legitimate safeguards for Faith-Based organizations that object based on their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Stefanik stomps Donalds in contest for third slot in Republican congressional leadership

Rep. Elise Stefanik. (Illustration: Donkey Hotey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

Today Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), the sitting chair of the House Republican Conference, crushed a challenge by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) to take her seat by a vote of 144 to 44.

The House Republican Conference is the primary caucus and forum for communicating the Party’s message among Republican representatives. It also hosts the caucus’ meetings and is the third highest position in the House Republican hierarchy.

Donalds was the candidate of the House Freedom Caucus, an extreme, conservative, invitation-only group of Republican members.

Today’s vote was taken by the Republican members of the House who are organizing their caucus for the 118th Congress that takes office in January. While some members recommended that the vote be postponed until all House races were decided, sitting members chose to proceed anyway.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) was endorsed for the position of Speaker of the House by a vote of 188 to 31 against challenger Rep. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.). However, since the Speaker is considered leader of the entire House, the Speaker’s election takes a vote of the entire 435-member chamber when the new Congress takes office in January. The winner will need 218 votes.

By a voice vote, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.) won election as House Majority Leader, the highest position in the Republican caucus.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-6-Minn.), chief of the Republican campaign team was elected House majority whip, the second highest position in the leadership.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!