by David Silverberg
On Saturday, Sept. 2, President Joe Biden came to Live Oaks, Fla., to see the damage from Hurricane Idalia for himself.
During a press conference, Biden was asked: “Are you confident there will be enough money to deal with the disaster and other disasters that have happened and will continue to happen around the country?”
Biden answered: “The answer is I am confident because I cannot imagine Congress saying, ‘We are not going to help.’ There are going to be fights about things that do not relate to this. But I think we will get through it, I cannot imagine people saying ‘No,’ they are not going to help.”
And yet there is a very significant faction in Congress saying exactly that.
The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 and this year, as in past years, the far right Freedom Caucus in the US House of Representatives is threatening to shut down the government if its policy demands aren’t met.
In an Aug. 21 statement, the Caucus listed their demands before approving government appropriations for the next fiscal year. They demanded that the United States vastly restrict border access and end “woke” policies of inclusion and non-discrimination in the military. But their truly significant demand was that Congress “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI to focus them on prosecuting real criminals instead of conducting political witch hunts and targeting law-abiding citizens;” i.e., stop investigating and prosecuting former President Donald Trump and other insurrectionists like fugitive Proud Boy Christopher Worrell of Naples.
If these demands are not met and the Freedom Caucus succeeds in stopping next year’s appropriations in any form, the government will stop functioning at midnight on Sept. 30. Critical services and functions will shut down. Most importantly, federal aid and assistance to people and communities suffering from natural disasters like Hurricane Idalia will suddenly stop at a time when need will still be extremely high.
Among the members of this extreme, Trumpist, invitation-only 45-member Caucus is Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who is ready, willing and eager to bring government to a halt. (Another member is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.))
“I’m not afraid of shutdowns,” Donalds told Punchbowl News, a website that focuses on Washington news. “American life doesn’t halt because government offices are closed … We have to be serious about spending.”
As early as July 25 he told reporters “If it’s [a government shutdown] a requirement to break bad habits, so be it. And this town [Washington, DC] has a bad habits problem.”
Of course the people who would suffer to break these bad habits would not be in Washington, DC; they would be in Florida and in the places where they’re still recovering from the effects of the storm.
In a more immediate impact for his constituents, Donalds’ support for shutting down the government sabotages his own legislation, introduced early in the session, to help protect Southwest Florida from the effects of harmful algal blooms (HABs) even if there’s a government shutdown.
In fact, this contradiction brings to light Donalds’ legislative record in the current Congress, which is, to put it mildly, abysmal. He’s introduced 46 bills and then ignored them all.
Background to the blooms
The HABs bill has its origins in 2018’s massive and persistent red tide and blue-green algal blooms. Then-Rep. Francis Rooney, the Republican congressman who represented the 19th Congressional District covering the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, introduced two pieces of legislation.
One was the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act. This bill ensured that federal agencies would monitor HABs even if there was a government shutdown. The agencies included the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. Their monitoring enables local communities to prepare for bloom effects and warn residents of health and water hazards.
The other bill added HABs to the official roster of major disasters eligible for federal aid. The Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act consisted of a three-word amendment to The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Under this, Southwest Florida businesses and residents would be eligible for a variety of federal support if businesses or livelihoods were damaged by a bloom just the same as if they were hit by a hurricane.
Neither bill made any progress during Rooney’s two terms in office, which ended in 2021.
This year Donalds reintroduced Rooney’s two previous pieces of legislation.
In January he introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act as House Resolution (HR) 325. In February he introduced the Combat Harmful Algal Blooms Act as HR 1008.
(Also in February he introduced a new water-related piece of legislation, the Water Quality and Environmental Innovation Act (HR 873). This established and funded a Water Quality and Environmental Innovation Fund that for five years would provide money to the Environmental Protection Agency to use advanced technologies to protect water quality. This proposal would also be sabotaged by a government shutdown.)
These bills directly benefited Southwest Florida. But none of them have made any progress after being introduced. In fact, of 46 bills he has introduced, he has not worked to advance any of them. None have made any progress at all.
To understand why this constitutes such a legislative failure, it helps to understand the legislative process.
Protocols and procedures
When a member of the House of Representatives introduces a stand-alone bill (one not attached to any other piece of legislation), the Speaker of the House (actually, his office) refers it to a committee for consideration.
Especially when a bill is of a technical or scientific nature, the committee chair usually refers it to a subcommittee handling specialized topics.
The subcommittee holds hearings, gets input from the public and listens to experts before recommending that the bill be considered by the full committee. The committee considers it, often does a “mark-up,” in which it is edited and revised, then votes whether to send it for consideration by the full House of Representatives.
If the bill gets to the floor and passes, it’s then sent to the Senate for consideration. If it passes the Senate in the same form as received from the House it then goes to the president’s desk for signature and implementation.
Any member of Congress can introduce a bill on any topic. But the art and craft of legislating is in moving a piece of legislation from introduction, through committee, to full passage—to say nothing of getting Senate approval and presidential signature. It’s an arduous process full of compromise, contention and often controversy. It takes skill, perseverance and attention to get a piece of legislation all the way through the process.
In this session of Congress, Donalds has not advanced a single stand-alone bill he introduced.
He counts as successes three amendments to other people’s legislation, which passed. Two were related to the nuclear industry, one streamlining the permitting process (House Amendment (H.Amdt) 133) and the other (H.Amdt. 149) to require a report on the status of US uranium. A third, (H.Amdt. 265) established an aircraft pilot apprenticeship program.
None directly affected Southwest Florida.
Legislation introduced this year by Rep. Byron Donalds and its status
Below is a list of all the stand-alone bills introduced this year by Rep. Byron Donalds with their status and a brief description. They are in chronological order. Categories are assigned by the author. No bill has advanced further than its initial introduction. More details on each individual bill can be obtained by going to Congress.gov and entering the bill number in the search box or by accessing and downloading the Excel Workbook available at the end of this article. (Source: Congress.gov)
Analysis: Going nuclear
Instead of attending to the legislation he introduced that directly affected Southwest Floridians, Donalds chose to become a champion of the nuclear power industry and is putting all his effort into promoting and expanding it through legislation. No doubt most—if not all—of the legislation he has introduced on this topic, some of it very technical and specific, was drafted by nuclear industry lobbyists and simply introduced under Donalds’ name.
None of this is directly related to the 19th Congressional District, which is drenched in 266 days of sunshine a year and perfectly situated to take advantage of solar power. As of this writing, no known nuclear power plants are planned for the district.
Opponents of nuclear power will be comforted, however, by the fact that Donalds hasn’t advanced any of his nuclear bills, nor is there any prospect of him doing so. Like his every other piece of original stand-alone legislation, they sit at their committees’ doors, ignored by their sponsor. They are more likely to be promoted by far more active and attentive nuclear industry lobbyists than anyone working on behalf of Southwest Florida.
More than any legislative efforts, Donalds has put his real energy into ideological crusades, either promoting extreme Make America Great Again positions, defending former president Donald Trump, raising money, impeaching President Joe Biden, or trying to rise in the Republican Party. Political speculation is that he’s either angling for a slot as Trump’s vice president or positioning himself to run for Florida governor in 2026.
Whatever Donalds’ aims, protecting Southwest Florida from harmful algal blooms and helping hurricane-devastated Floridians are not among them.
Commentary: Moving the legislation
When it was introduced, HR 325, the bill keeping forecasting going in the event of a shutdown, was referred to the Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee. It was also referred to the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
HR 1008, treating blooms as a natural disaster, went to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials. It was also referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
In normal times, it’s unlikely that either of these would be passed by the whole Congress this late in the legislative session. But with a government shutdown looming, it may make sense for Southwest Floridians to take matters into their own hands and try to lobby for the legislation that their congressman seems to have forgotten.
As a start, concerned, active Floridians can contact the subcommittee chairs and ranking members (the most senior member from the other party) and tell them that in light of their congressman’s inaction, they themselves are urging that these pieces of legislation be advanced as soon as possible to beat a possible shutdown.
It’s a Hail Mary play but when the quarterback is missing in action, there’s not much else anyone can do. (Contact information is at the end of this article.)
Commentary: No time to shut down
Donalds’ embrace of a government shutdown at this time is incredibly irresponsible. A government shutdown will be a new form of devastation for Floridians already suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Idalia. It would certainly hinder, if not bring to a screeching stop, operations by FEMA. Assistance to individuals, communities and the state could be cut off just when people need it the most.
Donalds’ willingness to shut down the government is especially illogical in light of the fact that legislation he introduced is intended to ensure that essential forecasting services helpful to his district continue despite a possible government shutdown—a shutdown which he himself is now accepting and promoting as a position of the Freedom Caucus—which might better be termed the Crazy Caucus.
Donalds’ action (or inaction) on these matters has brought to light his gaping failure to responsibly advance the legislation he has introduced during this session. Clearly, to Donalds, introducing bills is nothing more than throwing mud at a wall, hoping some of it sticks and not even waiting around to see if it does. He’s not serious about what he proposes; it’s merely an ancillary activity while he concentrates on ingratiating himself with the nuclear industry and Donald Trump.
And his efforts are in the service of the Crazy Caucus’ efforts to disrupt, derail and destroy the government. These people want to shut down the government chiefly to protect Donald Trump, who is finally facing justice in a court of law.
President Joe Biden has other priorities more critical to Florida: “As I told your governor, if there’s anything your state needs, I’m ready to mobilize that support,” Biden said at his news conference. “Your nation has your back, and we’ll be with you until the job is done.”
The Crazy Caucus threat to the nation’s appropriations comes as FEMA’s disaster fund is running low because of all the climate change-related natural disasters it’s had to handle. The administration is asking Congress for $16 billion to cover not just the Idalia cleanup but everything else as well and looming future challenges.
Providing that funding in the next fiscal year or sooner is really what Congress needs to be doing—not wrestling with a government shutdown caused by a handful of fanatics that will hurt all Americans and especially those suffering in Florida and its Southwestern region.
Donalds should be giving his loyalty to the people he represents, not an indicted former president and a suicidal cultic caucus.
To contact members of Congress and urge them to advance legislation to full committee consideration, contact the following key chair people and ranking members. E-mail addresses are only for constituents so this requires a paper letter or phone call. In any messages, it should be made clear that you are contacting them in their capacity as leaders of their subcommittees. Be sure to mention the bill number and your concern for the 19th Congressional District of Florida.
For HR 325 in the Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries Subcommittee:
Chairman, Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-2-Ore.)
409 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6730
Ranking Member Rep. Jared Huffman (D-2-Calif.)
2445 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-5161
For HR 1008 in the Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials Subcommittee:
Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-5-Ore.)
2188 Rayburn House Office Building
45 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20515
Ranking Member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6-NJ)
2107 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4671
Special to Big Mouth Media from the Paradise Progressive. Originally published on September 4, 2023.