U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced legislation today to protect seniors who are struggling to pay off outstanding federal debts, such as student loans.
The legislation would repeal a decades-old law that allows the federal government to garnish someone’s Social Security benefits to pay off an outstanding federal debt, such as student loans or home loans owed to the Veterans Administration.
“Social Security is not just a program, it’s a promise we made to help care for older Americans who worked hard and paid into the program,” Nelson said. “This bill will help us keep that promise for those who need it most.”
According to a Government Accountability Office report released in December, the number of Americans who have had their benefits garnished by the federal government has dramatically increased in recent years – from 36,000 in 2002 to 173,000 in 2015. That includes some people under the age of 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance.
Social Security was established to provide a fundamental lifeline for millions of Americans who worked and paid into the system. To support the purpose of the program, the original law protected these earned benefits from attempts to recover debts. However, in 1996, Congress revised the original law to allow certain benefits to be garnished if the beneficiary had an outstanding federal debt. The legislation Nelson and others filed today would reestablish the original protections to Social Security and other benefit programs, such as Railroad Retirement and Black Lung Benefits.
In addition to Nelson, the bill is sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The bill is supported by Social Security Works, The Arc of the United States, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), AFL-CIO, The Economic Opportunity Institute, The National Organization for Women, Justice in Aging, Gray Panthers NYC, Alliance for Retired Americans, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Global Policy Solutions, AARP, The American Federation of Government Employees and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW.
Text of the bill is available here.
Senator Bill Nelson
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and others filed legislation today to block the administration from opening up any additional areas to offshore drilling until at least 2022.
The move comes amid reports that President Trump is preparing to sign an executive order Friday directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open up new areas to offshore oil drilling.
Such a move would require Zinke to alter the current five-year oil and gas leasing plan that took effect earlier this year. That plan, which expires in 2022, does not allow oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic Coast. The legislation Nelson filed today – along with Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and others – would prohibit the secretary from making any changes to the current plan.
“Drilling near Florida’s coast poses a direct threat to Florida’s environment and multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy,” Nelson said. “Ever since I was a young congressman, I’ve been fighting to keep oil rigs away from Florida’s coast and I’m not going to stop now.”
Nelson, a long-time opponent of having oil rigs too close to Florida, often cites the state’s unique environment, its multi-billion dollar, tourism-driven economy and the vital national military training areas in the Gulf as reasons why drilling should not be allowed there.
In 2006, he and then-Sen. Mel Martinez successfully brokered a deal to ban drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast through the year 2022. Nelson filed legislation earlier this year to extend the ban an additional five years, to 2027.
The legislation Nelson and others filed today now heads to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for consideration.
Full text of the bill can be found here.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter today to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price to draw his attention to the ongoing opioid crisis in Florida.
Nelson asked the secretary whether expanding Medicaid in Florida would help the state provide additional treatment to those addicted to opioids. And, on the other hand, whether cutting Medicaid through the use of block grants would affect the state’s ability to provide such treatment.
“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.”
Below is the full text of Nelson’s letter, and a PDF copy can be found here.
April 18, 2017
Thomas Price, M.D.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Price,
I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that is devastating Florida and encourage your agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.
Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014.
The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.
In addition to the devastating loss of life, heroin and opioid abuse is also straining local budgets. In February, the Vice-Mayor of Palm Beach County sent a letter to the Governor of Florida urging him to declare a public health emergency, citing the loss of life and financial impact to the County. According to the County medical examiner’s office, nearly 600 people died of opioid overdose in Palm Beach County alone last year – nearly twice as many as in 2015.
In 2016, Congress approved legislation to take a comprehensive approach to opioid abuse, and a few months ago, we approved additional funding to start implementing this crucial new law right away.
Given that opioid abuse is a growing problem across the nation, and especially in Florida, I would appreciate your response to the following:
1. As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders. Do you support these cuts to the Medicaid program through block grants, caps, or other proposals? If those cuts are made, how do you propose states like Florida provide the necessary services to help individuals with substance use disorder?
2. Thirty-one states have already expanded their Medicaid program to cover individuals with annual incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (less than $30,000 for a family of three). Unfortunately, Florida has decided not to expand its Medicaid program, leaving more than 800,000 Floridians without access to affordable health care, including an estimated 309,000 low-income Floridians with mental health and substance use disorders. According to a study by Harvard University and New York University, Medicaid expansion provides drug treatment to nearly 1.3 million Americans. If Florida expanded its Medicaid program, would it be able to increase access to treatment for those with opioid use disorder? And would expanding Medicaid help the state avoid the rising costs associated with the opioid crisis and mental health needs?
I appreciate your prompt attention to this urgent matter.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the airline industry, is demanding that United Airlines fully explain the forcible removal of a passenger from a United Express flight on Sunday.
“It’s unconscionable that United Airlines chose this alternative to drag a passenger off the airplane,” Nelson said. “Why in the world did they not just raise the amount of money offered to get passengers to give up a seat?”
Nelson made the request in a letter he and others – including committee chairman Sen. John Thune (R-SD) – sent today to United’s Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz. The lawmakers gave the company until April 20 to respond.
Here is a link to a PDF of the lawmakers’ letter.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is calling on the Trump administration to expand sanctions against human-rights abusers in Venezuela.
In a letter today to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Nelson urged the administration “to fully enforce and, where appropriate, expand sanctions on those responsible for continued violence and human rights violations perpetrated against the Venezuelan people.”
Nelson made the request in response to a recent attempt by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and the Supreme Court to strip legislative powers from the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The attempt was one of several by Maduro to undermine Venezuela’s democracy in recent years.
In addition to calling for expanded sanctions, Nelson urged Tillerson to work with the Organization of American States and the international community to help resolve the ongoing crisis.
In 2014, following President Maduro’s crackdown on a student-led opposition protest, Nelson and others sponsored legislation directing then-President Obama to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence, human-rights violations and politically-motivated arrests.
“The United States stands clearly on the side of the Venezuelan people,” Nelson wrote in today’s letter. “The situation is dire, and I stand ready to work with you in support of the Venezuelan people’s struggle for democracy.”
A copy of Nelson’s letter to Tillerson is available here. And here’s the text:
April 5, 2017
The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
I write to express my concern about the deeply troubling situation in Venezuela, and especially for the Venezuelan people, who continue to suffer at the hands of President Nicolás Maduro’s Government.
Last week, allies of President Maduro on Venezuela’s Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of its legislative powers. Only after significant criticism did the Court reverse its decision, apparently at the direction of President Maduro himself.
These attempts to further undermine Venezuela’s democracy are only the latest in President Maduro’s creeping dictatorship. He has repeatedly and violently suppressed protestors and jailed his political opponents in violation of their human rights. He has used the Supreme Court to block members of the National Assembly from taking office and overturned the laws it approved. He also thwarted opposition efforts to recall him via national referendum, and in so doing, was able to appoint a Vice President with reported ties to the Hezbollah terrorist group and now sanctioned for drug trafficking.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people suffer the consequences of this political, humanitarian, and economic crisis. Venezuelans are dying because of severe shortages of food, medicine, and staple products. The economy is in freefall and crime and corruption are rampant. Last year, a record 18,000 Venezuelans sought asylum here in the United States, more than any other nationality.
The United States stands clearly on the side of the Venezuelan people in calling on President Maduro to cease undermining democracy, release all political prisoners, and respect the rule of law and human rights. I urge you to work with the international community, including the Organization of American States, to help resolve the crisis and alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Additionally, I urge you to fully enforce and, where appropriate, expand sanctions on those responsible for continued violence and human rights violations perpetrated against the Venezuelan people.
The situation is dire, and I stand ready to work with you in support of the Venezuelan people’s struggle for democracy and human rights.
Today marks 10 years since Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent and Florida resident, went missing while visiting an island off the coast of Iran. U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) filed a resolution today calling on the government of Iran to follow through on its repeated promises to help search for Levinson.
“Today, we renew our call on Iran to make good on those promises and return Bob,” Nelson said in remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon. “We also urge the president and our allies to keep pressing Iran – to make clear that the United States has not forgotten Bob and we won’t forget him until he’s home.”
Following is a transcript of Nelson’s remarks and here’s a link to watch video of his speech: https://youtu.be/hASS4wwYulY.
The text of Nelson and Rubio’s resolution is available here.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
March 9, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Madam President, I come to the floor today with a heavy heart because ten years ago today, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, was detained in Iran on the tourist island of Kish island in the Persian Gulf.
Bob, a long-time and much respected FBI agent who had been retired, had served his country for 28 years. He is the longest held civilian in our nation’s history. He’s a husband, a father of seven and now a grandfather of six and he deserves to be reunited with his family.
Since Bob’s detention, American officials have sought Iran’s cooperation in locating and returning Bob to his family. And, of course, Iranian officials have promised over and over their assistance, but after ten long years, those promises have amounted to nothing. Bob still is not home.
The bottom line, Madam President, is that Iran is responsible for returning Bob to his family. If Iranian officials don’t have Bob, then they sure know where to find him.
So today we renew our call on Iran to make good on those promises and return Bob, return him where he ought to be, with his family.
Iran’s continued delay in returning him, in addition to the very serious disagreements the United States has with the government of Iran about its missile program, its sponsorship of terrorism and its human rights abuses, it’s just another obstacle Iran must overcome if it wants to improve relations with the United States.
We also urge the president and our allies to keep pressing Iran to make clear that the United States has not forgotten Bob and won’t forget him until he’s home.
Obviously, we owe this to Bob, a servant of America, and we certainly owe it to his family. And so to Bob’s family, we recognize your tireless efforts over the years for ten long years to bring your dad home, and we offer our sympathies.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor today to voice his concerns over reports that the Administration is planning severe budget cuts to three federal agencies including: $1.3 billion from the U.S. Coast Guard, $900 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $500 million from the Transportation Security Administration.
“That plan just doesn’t make any sense,” Nelson said, “especially when it comes to securing our borders. You’d be putting a bunch of money in a wall, but you’re losing the security of the border over here on the oceans.”
Following is a rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks and here’s a link to watch video of his speech: https://youtu.be/AMermCRPs5Y.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
March 8, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I rise today to express serious concern about reports in the press that the administration is considering deep cuts in funding to crucial aspects of our nation’s national security and our homeland security to pay for the construction of a border wall and also for a crackdown on illegal immigration.
And the first target that alarmed me is America’s maritime guardian, the U.S. Coast Guard. Even as the administration says it plans to secure the borders and increase funding for our military by $54 billion, which, in fact, may be a good thing, it’s reportedly considering cuts on the non-defense side but that includes the Department of Homeland Security, a cut of $1.3 billion, or 12%, to the very military service that secures our vast maritime borders — and that’s the Coast Guard.
That plan just doesn’t make any sense especially when it comes to securing our borders. You’d be putting a bunch of money in a wall, but you’re losing the security of the border over here on the oceans.
The 42,000 member-strong Coast Guard plays a vital role in the protecting our nation from narcoterrorism, from combating human smuggling, from preventing and responding to maritime environmental disasters, as well as protecting living and property at sea, and, oh, by the way, in other foreign parts of the globe, the U.S. Coast Guard is assisting the U.S. Military in our military operations.
Back to border security, if securing our borders and supporting our military is a true priority for the administration, then it ought not be slashing the Coast Guard’s budget. Instead, we should be supporting the Coast Guard’s ongoing and much-needed fleet recapitalization program, including the design and construction of the new of the new offshore patrol cutter and the continued production of the new, fast response cutter. These are desperately needed assets for the Coast Guard.
This senator has personally visited dozens of Coast Guard units all around, not just in my state of Florida, but in Alaska, the Great Lakes. It’s just amazing the job that the Coast Guard does and what I have witnessed firsthand is what they do in the service to our country. The constant theme of my visits is the need — and what I learned from those visits is the need to modernize and increasingly become nimble given the host of threats that could be delivered from our maritime borders.
Now let me give you just one example: the Caribbean. It is a Coast Guard admiral that heads up the task force that has all agencies of government participating as we look to protect the southern borders in the Caribbean as well as the southern Pacific from anything that’s coming to our borders — drugs, migrants, terrorists, whatever. Often this is — since it’s all agencies involved, but if, for example, there are U.S. Navy ships in the area or Air Force assets in the air that might pick up one of these threats coming toward America, they were hand in glove with the Coast Guard because it is the Coast Guard that has the legal authority as a law enforcement agency to stop, apprehend, and board that vessel.
And, yet, we are doing all of this border protection with cutters that have an average age of 45 years old. The average age of a Coast Guard’s 210-foot medium-endurance cutter is 48 years old. The Coast Guard high endurance cutter average age: 45 years. These are just two classes of ships that the Coast Guard uses for interdiction and rescue missions and they do it worldwide.
And, as you may expect, with assets this old, the Coast Guard struggles with major mission debilitating casualties which result in severe losses of operational days at sea and drastically increased maintenance costs.
To correct that, the new offshore patrol cutters and the fast response cutters will give the Coast Guard an effective coastal and offshore interdiction capability in order to meet the objectives. What are they? Combating transnational organized crime networks, securing our national maritime borders, safeguarding water-borne commerce and safeguarding life and property at sea.
Now, look at the administration’s second target to pay for the wall, what’s the second target? Believe it or not, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Well, if you’re singling out that agency that comes to the aid of millions of Americans during any kind of natural disaster, single that out for cuts? That doesn’t make common sense and it’s certainly not going to be a popular thing to do in the eyes of those who have to turn to FEMA after a natural disaster to try to get their lives back on track.
Last year — just take one year — two major hurricanes hit Florida in addition to many other devastating natural disasters that struck nationwide and resulted in many deaths and billions in damage. FEMA was critical to people’s survival and recovery in each of these events. Just think of what we hear on the news all the time, storms, tornadoes, earthquakes. You remember the mountain that erupted out in the state of Washington decades ago, not to speak of hurricanes.
For the sake of people’s safety and that of our country, we simply cannot use FEMA as a piggy bank to pay for the administration’s trillion dollar spending programs.
The administration’s third target — this has just been reported. What’s the third target? You’re not going to believe this. It’s TSA, the Transportation Security Administration.
Now, if you target TSA for budget cuts, is that really what you want to do with a threat environment every time we’re going through the airport. TSA is on the front lines of protecting our country from terrorist attacks and that’s its security mission at airports across the country. And, oh, by the way, air marshals that fly on our flights.
Need I remind the administration why TSA was created? It was after the September the 11th attacks in 2001, a funding is vital to ensure the success of TSA’s mission.
In fact, just last year Congress responded to concerns over insider threats and security at airports like the bombings in Brussels and Istanbul with the most extensive security measures in years. And specifically what we did particularly in the Commerce Committee when we formulated the FAA bill, we included bipartisan provisions enhancing the background and vetting requirements for airport employees and expanding the random and physical inspection of airport employees in secure areas.
Remember the case of the Atlanta airport? For several months people had a gun-running scheme coming from Atlanta to New York. They didn’t drive up Interstate 95 to take the guns. They had an airport employee in Atlanta who could get into the airport without being checked carrying a sack of guns, that airport employee would go up into the sterile area where passengers are, go into the men’s room, would exchange knapsacks with a passenger and TSA clean and that passenger took the sack of guns on the airplane flight from Atlanta to new York and the New York city police department couldn’t figure out how they were getting all those guns on the street in New York. That was a gun-running scheme over several months. Thank goodness they were criminals, not terrorists. You want to cut that kind of security?
If you want to cut the strongest security that we have at an airport screening passengers going through, it’s the nose of a dog, the VIPR teams, the dog teams, the most efficient way to screen passengers is a dog team that has been trained with his handler. It’s amazing what those dogs can sense. And so when we did the FAA bill last year, we doubled the number of VIPR teams, the dog teams. And we want to cut this? That was all done in a bipartisan manner.
We doubled the number for the protection of the American public, and we also, in that bill, granted expanded the grant funding to assist law enforcement in responding to mass casualty and active shooter instance which is very important in, for example, again, another tragic example of the recent shooting in Fort Lauderdale at the airport. To counter the issue of long lines, which I know we had to all go through last spring, the legislation included provisions require TSA pre-check and to require TSA to evaluate staffing and checkpoint configurations to expedite passenger security screening.
Does that sound like a lot of administrative mumbo jumbo? Perhaps, but let me tell you it works, and all is designed to protect Americans going to airports and getting on airplanes.
Now, none of this is possible without continued funding, and, in fact, even more funding. Any cuts are certainly going to impair TSA’s ability to keep our country safe.
So the bottom line here is that we must do whatever’s necessary to keep our country safe and our citizens secure. Slashing the budgets of the U.S. Coast Guard or FEMA or TSA is only going to make us less secure. Need I say any more about these proposals to pay for some of these other things like a wall by slashing these kind of budgets?
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor today to announce that he will be voting against the Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nelson, a long-time opponent of allowing oil rigs too close to Florida’s coast, says that the nominee’s close to ties to the oil industry are a real threat to Florida’s environment and tourism-driven economy.
“Ever since I was a young congressman, I have been fighting to keep oil rigs off the coast of Florida,” he said. “And an EPA administrator with such close ties to the oil industry is deeply concerning for the people of Florida.”
Pruitt’s past campaigns and the PACs that support him have received over $200,000 from energy industry companies and employees since 2010.
Last week, more than 400 former EPA employees sent a joint letter to Congress urging senators to reject Pruitt’s nomination to run the agency.
“Floridians can’t afford such a risk and they shouldn’t be forced to take this risk, and therefore, I will vote no on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination to be EPA administrator,” Nelson concluded.
Below is a transcript and here’s a link to watch video of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor today: https://youtu.be/rmjy_PuS-TA.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
February 16, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I want to speak about this nomination from the standpoint of our state, our state of Florida, because we’re famous for sugary white beaches, fertile fishing grounds and unique environmental treasures, such as the Florida Everglades.
This precious natural resource and resources, it needs our protection and our stewardship. In fact, Florida’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry is driven by the fact that people come to our state to enjoy these kinds of environmental treasures.
I’ve just come from a meeting of our American Hotel, Motel and Lodging Association with multibillions of dollars of investment all over Florida. Well, what happens if the guests don’t come? That’s a major investment that is lost.
And, oh by the way, a few years ago during the BP oil spill where the oil only got on as far east from Louisiana as Pensacola Beach and some oil in Choctawhatchee Bay and Destin and some tar balls as far east as Panama City Beach, but not any farther. And, yet, the visitors didn’t come because they thought the beaches were covered with oil.
Well, right now Florida’s unique environment is threatened by several environmental challenges from the threat of fracking in this honeycomb of limestone filled with fresh water that supports the peninsula of Florida, to algae blooms that have plagued much of Florida’s Treasure Coast this last year, to the red tide in the Tampa Bay area, and to Burmese pythons in the Everglades. And that’s just a little bitty partial list of the plagues.
So to deal with these challenges, states such as ours depend on the EPA as a back stop.
Mr. President, I’m here to express my concerns for the president’s pick to lead this agency.
It’s been well documented that the president’s pick is a friend of the oil industry. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this is an industry that has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to Mr. Pruitt and the PACs supporting him over the years.
Mr. President, ever since I was a young congressman, I have been fighting to keep oil rigs off the coast of Florida. In the first place, there’s not a lot of oil out there. But Florida’s unique environment, from what I just told you about, the BP oil spill, its tourism driven economy and, oh by the way, the largest testing and training area for the United States Military in the world, the gulf of Mexico off of Florida, as well as all of the testing ranges on the east coast and how about rockets coming out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force station and rockets coming out of the Kennedy Space Center.
All of those — you can’t have oil rigs down there. It makes Florida incompatible for all of those reasons with offshore oil drilling. And an EPA administrator with such close ties to the oil industry is deeply concerning for the people of Florida.
But, Mr. Pruitt’s ties to big oil aren’t the only concern that we have in Florida. During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Pruitt said he believes that his views on climate change are immaterial to the job of the EPA administrator. Whoa! EPA administrator is directly involved in things that involve climate change. I can’t think of a more relevant issue for our EPA administrator to be concerned because Florida is ground zero when it comes to the effects of sea-level rise. And this is not projections. This is not forecasts. This is measurements over the last 40 years in south Florida — the sea has risen five to eight inches.
And, oh, by the way, where is three-quarters of the population of Florida? It’s along the coast. We’re already seeing regular flooding at the mean high tide in the streets of Miami Beach and they are spending millions on infrastructure in order to get those pumps working to get the water off the street, raising the level of the streets. And we’re seeing the saltwater, which is heavier than fresh water seep into what I described supports the peninsula of Florida, a honeycomb of limestone filled with freshwater and the seawater is seeping into the fresh water. Cities are having to move their city well field further to the west because of saltwater intrusion and it only gets worse.
The threat Floridians face every day is a result of this sea-level rise is very real. And it’s critical that we have an EPA administrator that understands there are things that are happening because of climate change. It’s not immaterial to the job of the EPA administrator. It’s very relevant.
Mr. President, Mr. Pruitt’s history of questioning science, especially when the facts conflict with his friends that he surrounds himself with about the effects of science. So whether it’s protecting Florida’s livestock from deadly parasites or protecting the air we breathe, science informs policy decisions that affects all of us. Clean water. Clean air. It affects public health to national security to the environment.
Yet we continue to see troubling reports about scientists being muzzled from the state level all the way up to the federal level and the EPA so it just seems that this is unacceptable. Our scientists should be freed to publish scientific data and not be muzzled. They should be able to publish their reports without fear of losing their jobs or to be censored for using phrases like climate change.
And that’s why I recently sponsored legislation to protect our scientists from political interference. The Scientific Integrity Act would ensure that federal scientists can communicate their findings with the public. It requires federal agencies to implement and enforce scientific integrity policies and ensure that procedures are in place so that if those policies are violated, it is known and there’s a procedure to deal with that.
So I just conclude, Mr. President, by saying Floridians and our state of Florida can’t risk the health of our environment or our economy on an EPA administrator who pals around with folks that do all of what I talked about, that questions our scientists or denies the true threat that we face from sea-level rise and climate change. Floridians can’t afford such a risk and they shouldn’t be forced to take this risk, and therefore, I will vote no on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination to be EPA administrator.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
Sen. Bill Nelson announced today that he will be voting against the nomination of Rep. Mick Mulvaney to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
“Congressman Mulvaney has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to face domestic and global realities, and for this senator, that raises serious concerns as to whether he can be trusted to responsibly oversee our nation’s budget process,” Nelson said on the Senate floor today.
Nelson cited Mulvaney’s support for raising the retirement age for Social Security to 70 and turning Medicare into a voucher system, and his past advocacy for shutting down the government and defaulting on the nation’s debt as just some of the reasons why he will vote against his nomination.
Below is a full transcript of Nelson’s speech, and here’s a link to watch video of his remarks: https://youtu.be/_6Qphm1zSzw.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
February 15, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, we’re moving forward now on consideration of Mick Mulvaney to be the president’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, which is an enormous responsibility and which often directs the traffic of what’s going to happen in all of the agencies and directing traffic as to what legislation that the White House is going to be working on and working with the Congress on, so this is an enormous responsibility and a very powerful position. When looking for someone to lead this agency, we have to carefully consider the person’s record.
The presiding officer is someone who is practical, who is a military officer, and who understands a lot about human nature as I hope this senator from Florida is and what I suspect that both of us have found is that you can often tell where a fellow’s going by where he’s been.
So, let’s look at Congressman Mulvaney’s record on everything from things like social security and Medicare. Let’s look at what his record is on climate change and sea level rise.
And, oh, by the way, of particular note to the gentleman presiding in the chair, what is his record on defense spending? Now, Office of Management and Budget is going to have a great deal to say about what’s in the budget with regard to any kind of spending, but let’s see what he has said with regard to defense spending.
Okay. Congressman Murphy – Congressman Mulvaney has advocated for raising the retirement age for social security to 70. He’s also said that he wants to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, both of which would require senior citizen to work longer and even though they’ve worked a long time and paid into these programs in good faith, take, for example, Medicare. People have tried to provide for health insurance if they have enough money or otherwise through the ACA getting subsidies to afford health insurance, or if they don’t have enough money, having Medicaid and they are waiting for the day that they turn 65 to be eligible for Medicare.
It’s the same thing with social security. Social security, over time, has been raised from 65 to 67, but Congressman Mulvaney has talked about raising the eligibility for social security to age 70. I don’t think this is going to go over too well with a population of senior citizens who have paid into social security, who have paid in to finance Medicare and now are being told they are going to have to wait until later.
Now, I know how you can dress it up. You can say, “Oh, it’s not going to affect anybody that’s currently eligible,” but what about all the young people that are paying in? Well, time flies, and suddenly they find that they are approaching that age in their mid-60s. I don’t think people are going to take very well to Congressman Mulvaney’s position.
But let’s see else what he has said. He calls social security a Ponzi scheme. He further has said that he supports turning Medicare into a voucher system. That, under any independent economist examination, would lead to big cuts for seniors, many of whom, of our senior citizens, have no other options for health coverage.
When the president was running for — remember, he said exactly the opposite. Then candidate Trump said, he promised that there would be no cuts to Medicare and social security and yet the White House has nominated somebody that has taken positions contrary to that because it’s clear from Congressman Mulvaney’s past positions that we can’t rely on him to keep this promise that the president said.
And, again, I remind our listeners that the head of the OMB is like a chief aircraft traffic controller. He’s directing a lot of the traffic of what the white house will bless and it is a position, need I remind you, that is also considered a member of the president’s cabinet. Well, the positions Mulvaney has taken is opposite those stated by candidate Trump.
Now, let’s look at something else. You know the nation has debt and the face the United States bonds are the strongest investments in the world because it’s backed up by the full faith and credit of the United States government, the strongest government in the world. So any kind of US debt backed by the full faith and credit is the strongest investment in the world.
But Congressman Mulvaney has taken an alarming position on our nation’s debt, advocating for shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt, all a part of a political game to gain leverage in budget battles.
Anybody who takes a position that you want our government to go into default on its financial obligations — that is a pretty extreme position.
So this senator would merely say we can’t have somebody in charge of our budget as the director of Office of Management and the Budget who is willing to risk a default on our government to meet a personal ideological agenda.
All right, let’s look at something else. Now, the presiding officer is in one area of the United States, outside of the continental U.S. Yours truly is in another part of the U.S. One near the arctic, the other near southern climes.
Our state and specifically south Florida is ground zero for sea level rise. I think most people are familiar with the photographs that the television showing seawater washing through the streets on the seasonal high tides of Miami Beach. Most people have heard that some of the coastal cities, their well fields they have had to relocate them further west because of sea level rise and the intrusion of saltwater which is heavier than freshwater into the interior, and Florida sits on top of a honeycomb of limestone that is filled with water. Well, that’s what’s happening in the southern part of the United States.
A NASA scientist testified to the commerce committee that these are measurements, not forecasts, not projections, measurements. Over the last 40 years, the seas have risen in south Florida five to eight inches. And of course you’ve heard the projections. This is something that we are getting ready for, the city of Miami Beach is spending millions of dollars in very expensive pumps. The other local governments in south Florida are planning to do the same. It is not a forecast. It is happening.
And so three quarters of our state’s population of Florida lives on the coast. Look at the population in the United States. A lot of it lives on the coast, and those populations are going to bear the brunt of sea level rise from the flooded streets to the tainted drinking water, but during his confirmation meeting, the fellow who’s being considered as head of the OMB, Congressman Mulvaney, he questioned the scientific fact of climate change.
We can’t muzzle scientists. We can’t muzzle science. It’s not going to go away. You can attempt to muzzle the scientist as some governors in the south have done. And alarmingly, as I have found in the last few weeks, some agencies of government are having implied threats that they stop using the words climate change. You can’t muzzle this when the effects of scientifically proven climate change are posing a real threat to a lot of our people.
Mr. President, I specifically made this a point to question the fellow that we will vote on next week, not the instant one, a really good person, Wilbur Ross, who is going to be the — he’s going to be the Secretary of Commerce. He came out of our commerce committee with an overwhelming vote, and I specifically said — and it’s on the record, “what do you think about climate change science?” I said Mr. Ross, Wilbur Ross, do you know you have three Nobel laureates as scientists that are employed in the Department of Commerce? Do you know you have not only NOAA and all of the intricate measurements that are so important for us to protect ourselves, read inbound hurricanes, tornadoes, all the rest, the amount of rain that’s going to fall for our agricultural industry, but also we have got scientists over there in the Department of Commerce, I reminded him, that are doing the delicate measurements of science of standards and technology that are needing science to sniff the atmosphere for nuclear explosions by potential enemies. You don’t want to muzzle these scientists. You want them to bring forth the best that they can come up with modern-day techniques.
And so that’s why I – and I would ask the presiding officer to look at the bill that we have filed with a number of our fellow members of the commerce committee, the Scientific Integrity Act, which would ensure that federal scientists can freely communicate their findings with the public and with, believe it or not, Congress. It requires federal agencies to implement and enforce scientific integrity, scientific integrity policies and to ensure that adequate procedures are in place to report when those integrity policies are violated.
That ought to be common sense. That ought to be the normal course of business around here. Let people speak their minds, speak their expertise. That’s what we want. And that bill requires federal agencies to implement and enforce those policies.
All right. Now, let’s get to defense spending. The nominee for Office of Management and Budget, Congressman Mulvaney’s record on military spending is concerning.
In 2011, on an interview of ABC’s “Top Line,” Congressman Mulvaney said, quote, “defense has to be cut, it has to be on the table, no question.” He says, “There’s a group of republicans, myself included,” meaning him, “Who think that we should be cutting defense. There’s large portions of folks in our own party” — talking about the Republican Party – “who know that you can cut defense and not impact the ability of our troops in the field to be defending us.” End of quote.
I would suggest why don’t we ask the people in Ukraine that are fighting for their life against the projected arm of Vladimir Putin, trying to take over their territory just like he already did in taking over Crimea. Why don’t we ask our NATO allies — why don’t we ask our troops in the hot, sandy regions of Iraq and Syria right now? Yes, our U.S. troops in Syria, as special operations forces advising the combined forces over there fighting ISIS. Why don’t we ask them if they want defense cut? Why don’t as we see the continuous projection of the ability of Russia to move on the three Baltic states, which are our NATO partners, why don’t we ask them if they would like our defense budget cut? Why don’t we ask our allies in the pacific region that are so concerned about the testing of these increasingly longer range intermediate range ballistic missiles by North Korea, why don’t we ask them if they want us to cut back on the assets that we have in the region to be able to protect them from the North Koreans if that child dictator suddenly goes off on some crazy tangent and pushes the button.
And so, Mr. President, I will just summarize here and say that Congressman Mulvaney has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to face domestic and global realities, and for this senator, that raises serious concerns as to whether he can be trusted to responsibly oversee our nation’s budget process, and for these reasons and others, I will be voting no on Congressman Mulvaney’s nomination.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter today to President Trump to express his concern that the president’s executive order on immigration could undermine our national security.
Below is the full text of Nelson’s letter:
January 30, 2017
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I write to express my concern with your recent Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Regardless of the constitutionality or legality of this Executive Order, I am deeply concerned that it may do more harm than good in our fight to keep America safe.
Defeating the diabolical threat of terrorism is imperative to our national security. Our military and intelligence professionals are engaged around the world in the fight against terrorist groups like ISIS. Our success in this fight, both at home and abroad, depends on the cooperation and assistance of Muslims who reject radicalism and violence. Whether intended or not, this Executive Order risks alienating the very people we rely upon in the fight against terror.
Over the weekend, numerous people were detained at U.S. ports of entry, including an Iraqi interpreter who served alongside our troops. When we promise sanctuary to individuals who risk their lives assisting U.S. forces in the fight against terrorism, it is both unfair and counterproductive to turn them away at our shores.
While we must do everything in our power to protect the United States, I am concerned this Executive Order will only undermine our counterterrorism efforts. I urge you to develop policy that keeps America safe, builds trust with our partners, and demonstrates compassion to those who need our help.
cc: Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly
Secretary of Defense James Mattis
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Pompeo
Acting Director of National Intelligence Michael Dempsey