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!

Closing argument: Banyai for Congress, democracy for America

The Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nov.4, 2022

Election Day is no longer the deciding day for elections; it’s really the day that votes are counted.

By the time the polls close on Tuesday night, large numbers of people will have already cast their ballots or mailed them in. Locally, as of this writing, 39 percent of voters have voted in Collier County, 38 percent in Lee County and 38 percent in Charlotte County.

So an argument made on the eve of Election Day is intended more for the record than the ballot box, more a monument for history than an effort to sway anyone still undecided. It may only be a warning. Nonetheless, it needs to be made.

This is even more important in the absence of any debate between congressional candidates. In Southwest Florida’s premier congressional race, that of the 19th Congressional District covering the coastal towns from Cape Coral to Marco Island, there will be no face-to-face encounter between the contenders, Democrat Cindy Banyai and incumbent Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Debates, whatever their flaws, highlight politicians’ policies and records and force them to defend their actions and put forward their positions. Voters can evaluate them side-by-side. Due in large part to Hurricane Ian, Southwest Florida voters will not have the benefit of this kind of discussion.

But more broadly than any local race, as President Joe Biden pointed out in a speech on Tuesday, Nov. 2, this year’s election is a referendum on democracy itself.

While Americans may have legitimate differences of opinion expressed in this year’s election, Biden said, “there’s something else at stake, democracy itself. I’m not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they’re deeply concerned about it.”

Banyai for Congress and the Donalds record

Cindy Banyai has been fighting for the people of Southwest Florida since she first declared her candidacy in July 2019. She fought then and continues to fight for women’s choice, a clean environment, pure water, secure Social Security, affordable housing and fact-based, sensible education for all school-aged children.

Importantly for a role in Congress, Banyai knows how to reach out to those of different opinions. She’s a coalition builder. She’s demonstrated this time and again. She knows and understands the federal government and would be an effective advocate for the people of Southwest Florida, especially now that they need an advocate in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Ordinarily, an endorsement accentuates the positive in a candidate and ignores or minimizes the opponent. But in this instance it’s critical that Southwest Floridians understand and appreciate the nature of their current congressman and what they’re likely to get in the future if he’s reelected.

Donalds is one of the most unimaginative and ineffective members of Congress that this author has observed in over 30 years of watching and covering the Congress of the United States, both up close and from a distance.

Donalds comes across as a flat, two-dimensional ideologue who has sold his soul to Donald Trump and the MAGA movement in the pursuit of his personal ambition. He voted to overturn the 2020 election and deny its legitimate outcome. He has repeated Trump’s election lies. He opposed vaccinations and public health protections. He has supported voter suppression. He has mindlessly and vehemently regurgitated whatever Republican Party and Trumpist doctrines are being pushed at the moment without reflection or thought. He has no real interest in serving his district, the people in it or solving the problems that afflict it. He has pursued and advanced his wife’s anti-public education agenda and promoted private charter schools, involving himself, as a public official, in private litigation regarding that business.

Legislatively he is a failure. Not one of the 25 pieces of legislation he introduced advanced past the introductory phase. He couldn’t even get a commendation passed for the Everblades hockey team. Two of his most substantive pieces of legislation, the Protecting Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act and the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which really dealt with the environmental needs of the district, were reintroductions of legislation crafted by his predecessor, Francis Rooney. Under Donalds they went nowhere. Nor are his interests or prospects better for the 118th Congress.

If there is one core function representatives are expected to perform for their districts, it is to bring home the bacon. Constituents have every right to expect the people they elect to Congress to get them and the district something for the tax dollars they pay. No matter what their policy positions, no matter how they pose or expound on other matters, getting legitimate federal benefits is an essential responsibility of elected members of the House.

Donalds completely failed to pursue funding for the district through earmarks (funding designated for specific purposes) even though there was a proper, established, bipartisanly-formulated procedure for doing so. His neighbors to the north (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and east (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25 [since changed to 26] Fla.) both put in requests for $38 million and $12 million respectively. This money was requested to make critical infrastructure improvements. Donalds didn’t even ask.

Based on his past history and current practice the people of the 19th Congressional District have no reason to expect that Donalds will get them any of the funding they so desperately need or to which they are entitled. Indeed, in a Republican House of Representatives Donalds can be expected to be at the forefront of the attack on Social Security and any kind of funding and support for everyday people struggling to recover from disaster. He will likely vote against any kind of appropriations needed by the nation, any kind of help for its people, and any kinds of improvements or investments in its infrastructure. He will likely vote to shut down the government when such votes come up and he will likely vote to destroy America’s financial faith and credit in the world by holding the debt ceiling hostage.

He is also beholden to the very insurance industry with which hundreds of thousands of Southwest Floridians are contending, so they can expect no aid or comfort from him there.

Ideologically, Donalds thinks he’s going to ride the tiger of MAGA fanaticism and prejudice to higher positions within the Republican congressional caucus. But he’s fooling himself. History shows that extremist movements turn on their boosters—and fanatics always eat their own. For all his doctrinal slavishness, the day will come when Donalds is on the menu and he’ll wonder how he wound up on the plate.

That goes triple for Donalds’ patron, Donald Trump, who has never met an ally, supporter or friend he failed to betray.

Donalds will have to soon make a choice between Trump’s ambition and that of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), so he in his turn will likely have to decide which patron to forsake. Whichever way he goes, it won’t be pretty.

A man whose rise was made possible by such civil rights giants as the Rev. Martin Luther King and John R. Lewis and Supreme Court decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education and Loving vs. Virginia has sold his soul to those forces intent on rolling back women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights. They have other constitutional freedoms in their sights and will be pursuing them in the years to come. Donalds aided and abetted them in the past and likely will in the future but despite his complicity, these are the people who will crush him, sooner rather than later. And he doesn’t seem to know or care.

Donalds is bad for Southwest Florida, bad for its towns, cities and counties, bad for its people, bad for its seniors and bad for his district.

Voters have a vastly better alternative in Cindy Banyai.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Democracy on the line

One of the most profound democratic elections in American history occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

It didn’t occur in a polling place or on a national stage. Rather, it occurred in the body of United Airlines Flight 93, scheduled to go from Newark, NJ to San Francisco, Calif.

The plane was taken over by Al Qaeda hijackers. The pilots were killed or incapacitated. Two terrorists took over the controls and locked themselves in the cockpit. Another stood outside the cabin door, wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest that he threatened to explode.

The 33 passengers and crew had seen the mayhem. They were in touch with friends and family on the ground. They knew that other planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York (another would crash into the Pentagon). They knew they were likely headed for death.

They caucused in the back of the plane to weigh the alternatives. Should they attack the hijackers or sit tight? They knew they were facing a life or death decision.

So they took a vote. They took a vote because that’s how Americans make decisions.

They voted to fight back and so they attacked the terrorist in the cabin and then used a serving cart to batter their way into the cockpit. There they struggled with the hijackers at the controls.

The plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Everyone died.

But by their action, those passengers and crew probably saved the United States Capitol building, which was one of the hijackers’ likely targets, along with the White House.

In that regard, the vote on Flight 93 was probably one of the most consequential in American history.

But it also illustrates the depth and pervasiveness of American democracy. When Americans need to chart a course, or make a decision, when their very lives are at stake, they vote and abide by the majority results.

As Biden said in his speech, “Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy. Because we’ve enjoyed our freedoms for so long, it’s easy to think they’ll always be with us no matter what. But that isn’t true today. In our bones, we know democracy is at risk. But we also know this. It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”

When those passengers voted, no one called the vote a sham. No one said it was rigged. No one refused to accept the outcome. No one lied that it had gone otherwise. They acted on their own behalf but also on behalf of the country and they did so by voting.

In America, democracy undergirds absolutely everything, every activity, not just in government. It’s what governs Americans’ daily behavior. It’s what gives Americans their rights. It pervades American commerce (think of shareholder votes in corporations). Even families put choices to a vote. It confers legitimacy on decisions great and small. It’s a way of life.

This is what’s at stake in this year’s elections. It is a shame and a horror that 20 years after 9/11, the fanatical followers of a twisted president attempted to end American democracy by attacking the sacred building that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 gave their lives to protect.

To vote against democracy in this year’s election is to kill those Americans all over again and complete the work of the terrorists on that day. Voting for anti-democratic candidates is bringing down a curtain of darkness on light, imposing tyranny on freedom, and eclipsing good with evil.

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

Preserving democracy is the paramount issue this year—and every year to come. This year, when you vote, if you haven’t already, cast your ballot in memory of the passengers of Flight 93.

Do your part to preserve, protect and defend democracy, the Constitution and these United States. You’ll be preserving, protecting and defending yourself, your family and all that you hold sacred.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Southwest Florida reps vote to shut down government helping Southwest Florida–Updated

Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Ian. (Image: News10)

Oct. 1, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated 9:00 am with Senate votes.

As Southwest Florida digs out from Hurricane Ian, its representatives in Congress voted to shut down the federal government that is aiding the devastated region.

Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all voted against the Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution (HR) 6833), to keep the government operating.

Despite their opposition, the bill passed the US House by a vote of 230 to 201, with 10 Republicans voting in favor of it. It had earlier passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote of 72 to 25. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted against the bill, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was absent.

President Joe Biden signed it into law last night, Sept. 30, just before government funding ran out.

Under the bill, the government will continue operating at current spending levels until Dec. 16.

The bill includes $18.8 billion in spending for disaster recovery efforts. In addition to Florida’s needs, it funds efforts for Western wildfires and flooding in Kentucky.

The bill also funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is assisting hard-hit Southwest Florida. The region sustained what is likely to be many billions of dollars in damages from the direct strike from the Category 4 hurricane.

Charlotte and Sarasota counties in Steube’s 17th District were especially devastated.

If Donalds, Steube and Diaz-Balart had succeeded in stopping the bill with their negative votes, the government would have shut down and there would be no money for search and rescue, emergency response and the beginning of recovery.

In addition to keeping the government functioning, the bill provides $12.4 billion to assist Ukraine in its fight for survival against Russia.

However, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) emphasized the aid to Florida in a speech supporting passage of the bill.

“Alongside this critical package for Ukraine, this legislation directs significant funding to help American families devastated by disaster,” she said.  “We continue to hold all the families affected by Hurricane Ian in our hearts and prayers during this difficult time, but we need money to help them.  The $2 billion or more in the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding in this bill will go toward supporting Florida as well as Puerto Rico, Alaska and other communities hit by disaster.  But again, we need more. 

“And we’re also allowing FEMA to spend up to its entire year of funding, giving the agency access to an additional $18.9 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to quickly respond to disasters, especially appropriate now with Ian. And we will need more,” she said.

Despite many public statements and social media postings related to Hurricane Ian, Southwest Florida’s congressmen did not explain their votes against funding the federal government and disaster recovery money.

In his many tweets related to Hurricane Ian and his support for other measures to aid Southwest Florida, Donalds did not address his vote to shut down the government.

His Democratic opponent, Cindy Banyai had to evacuate her home and was without communications. “I rode out the Hurricane and have surveyed the damage. My job is to speak truth to power and that means we need some answers,” she tweeted, issuing a statement saying that “I know many people want to see unity at this time. But if you’re mad, like me, after all is said and done with Hurricane Ian, we need something better.”

For his part, Steube noted in a tweet that FEMA had approved assistance for affected individuals in Polk County but did not address his vote against further government funding.

Diaz-Balart also made no statement regarding his vote against federal funding and operations.

In contrast, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-23-Fla.) noted: “We cannot leave communities behind that are still picking up the pieces from disastrous floods, wildfires and hurricanes and even basic water system failures. This funding bill comes to their rescue.”

Even Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a determined and relentless critic of Biden, had to acknowledge the importance of the federal role in coping with the storm and its aftermath. “My view on all this is like, you’ve got people’s lives at stake, you’ve got their property at stake and we don’t have time for pettiness,” he said before Ian made landfall. “We gotta work together to make sure we’re doing the best job for them, so my phone line is open.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL reps vote against clean energy, drug price reductions, tax equality but can’t stop House passage of Inflation Reduction Act

Final vote is huge win for Joe Biden, Southwest Florida, seniors.

Members of the House of Representatives and others applaud last night as House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi displays her final, signed copy of the Inflation Reduction Act. (Photo: Reuters, Leah Millis)

Aug. 13, 2022 by David Silverberg

The United States House of Representatives last night, Aug. 12, passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (House Resolution 5376) by a straight party-line vote of 220 to 207.

All Southwest Florida representatives, Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), along with 204 other Republicans voted against the bill.

The House vote finalizes legislative consideration of the measure, which had already passed the US Senate. President Joe Biden may sign it into law at any time.

The bill invests $370 billion in clean energy and reducing harmful, climate-changing emissions. It moves to cap and lower drug costs for seniors and all Medicare recipients. It also protects lower and middle income Americans from crippling insurance increases, as well as many other measures.

Among elements relevant to Florida, the bill makes major new investments in solar energy and provides tax credits for people and businesses that go solar. It provides funding for prevention and mitigation of wildfires and other climatic impacts.

For coastal communities like those in Southwest Florida, the bill appropriates money for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to take resilience actions against climate change and funds improved weather forecasting. NOAA will also be able to buy new hurricane-hunting aircraft.

“When you hear about what this means to America’s working families, how can you vote against lowering health care costs and prescription drug costs for seniors and underserved communities as we continue to fight inflation?” asked House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech.

“How can you vote with Pharma at the cost of America’s seniors and America’s working families?

“How can you vote against protecting future generations from rising sea levels, raging wildfires and crippling droughts? 

“How can you vote against reducing the deficit or asking billionaires and companies and wealthy avoiders of taxes to pay their fair share?  And I’m not talking about people who work the system.  I’m talking about people who illegally do not pay their taxes,” she said.

However, Donalds, among other Republicans during the 3-hour debate spoke against the bill in his own 1-minute floor speech, in which he argued that “this terrible bill” will increase energy costs.

“This bill will only make the economic pain & suffering worse,” he also argued on Twitter. “Why would I vote for a bill that increases taxes & royalties on American energy when prices are skyrocketing?”

In another tweet he denounced increased enforcement of tax laws. “The American people are tired of having the government breathing down their necks. Yet, that’s exactly what the Democrats want more of. The addition of 87,000 NEW IRS agents is more government intrusion on your life and mine. We The People just want to be left alone.”

Steube was similarly scornful, tweeting: “This bill wastes over $350 billion on Green New Deal priorities like tax breaks for people who buy ‘green appliances’ and solar panels. The American people want relief from inflation – not more spending.” In another tweet he stated: “We cannot spend ourselves out of this recession. The Democrats’ Inflation Expansion Act cuts jobs and raises taxes on millions of Americans across all incomes during 40-year high inflation.”

In his own tweet Diaz-Balart called the bill “the Manchin-Biden deal” after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.), whose support was critical in getting it through the Senate. He stated it “does not reduce inflation. Americans are paying $2 more per gallon on gas since Biden took office. Food, housing prices & rents are UP, hurting American families. It raises taxes on Americans. More reckless spending is not the solution.”

On the other hand, Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate in the 19th Congressional District, was jubilant at the bill’s passage, tweeting, “Thank you Democrats for passing the Inflation Reduction Act! Time to invest in America!”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

US House passes abortion rights and access bills; all SWFL reps oppose; Banyai blasts Donalds

The House side of the US Capitol. (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

June 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives this afternoon passed a pair of bills ensuring a woman’s right to choose and access to abortion services.

Southwest Florida’s members of Congress opposed both bills along with most other Republicans in Congress.

The first bill was the Women’s Health Protection Act (House Resolution (HR) 8296), which passed by a party-line vote of 219 to 210. It prohibits any restrictions on women’s access to abortion services, essentially codifying the rights and protections contained in Roe vs, Wade.

The second bill was the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act (HR 8297), which passed by a vote of 223 to 205. The bill prohibits interference with a person’s ability to travel to another state to access abortion services. Three Republicans voted with the majority: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) and Fred Upton (R-6-Mich.).

“By passing this legislation, we will preempt and prevent state-level bans and restrictions put forth by extremist, anti-women state legislators,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech prior to the votes.  “We’ll ensure that all Americans enjoy the same fundamental rights to reproductive care – regardless of background or ZIP code.  And we offer hope to the American people who treasure our freedoms and who are overwhelmingly with us in our mission to defend them.”

Southwest Florida’s representatives, already on the record opposing women’s choice, were outspoken in their rejection of the bills.

Rep. Byron Donalds and response

“The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 is an affront to our system of Checks and Balances and blatantly ignores the Court’s ruling which allows states––not Congress––to enact abortion-related policy,” stated Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in a tweet just prior to the vote. “I will vote NO on any effort to expand abortion access in America.”

In a more extended statement he called the Democratic Party “the party of abortion on demand and without limits, including the unconscionable practice of infanticide. This ideology is sick, perverse and erodes our nation’s moral compass.”

Cindy Banyai, the Democrat challenging Donalds in the 19th District tweeted: “Thank you Democrats for standing up for women’s rights and access to abortion care. It’s beyond time to codify Roe.”

She also blasted Donalds: “Rep Byron Donalds has made it clear – his religion trumps your health and your right to body autonomy. Donalds is pro-forced birth. And his insinuation that Democrats support infanticide is disgusting and dangerous misinformation.”

Jim Huff, a Republican challenging Donalds in the 19th Congressional District primary, stated in a message to The Paradise Progressive: “Had it been me in office I would have surveyed my district the instant Dobbs was finalized for a better justification to back up these votes. The state forms the local guidance, but the federal government protects the freedom to seek alternatives in other states. For example, certain types of weapons are legal in some states and not in others, yet people have the right to choose where they may live. I have to represent the majority of my district for these hard decisions, not my personal beliefs.”

Steube and Diaz-Balart

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a long-time opponent of women’s choice, tweeted: “Over 63 million children have been murdered since Roe was decided. That’s not freedom – that’s genocide.” He also made a one-minute speech against the bill in which he denied there had ever been a right to abortion under the US Constitution.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) did not issue a statement on any platform in the immediate wake of the vote.

The bills now go to the Senate where they are not expected to gain the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and be passed into law.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!