Washington, D.C. – Last Friday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) outlined his legislative priorities in Florida in an address to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches. He highlighted the threat of the Zika virus, the Everglades, the importance of the space program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the water war between southern states, issues found at the federally funded Eureka Garden Housing complex in Jacksonville, and the Cuban migratory crisis.
A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below. A video is available here.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Forum Club of the Palm Beaches
West Palm Beach, Florida
May 27, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “Senator Nelson and I proposed a $1.9 billion dollar funding request, which was the President’s amount. We got the $1.1 [billion], which is not as much as we needed, but at least it gets the ball rolling. The House has proposed $600 million, about half of what is requested. So now it has to go through a Conference committee. This is the way the process works. The problem with it is, this is not one of those things that time is on our side.
“This is not tax reform, where we have months we can debate. This is the summer, this is mosquito season. And let me just tell you, apart from the health implications, which are extraordinary, I saw an estimate the other day that the cost of caring for a child born with microcephaly could exceed $10 million throughout their lifetime. So extrapolate that across, and of course, the human aspect is even harder, but I’m giving you the dollar figure because we’re having a dollar debate. And then there’s also the question of what happens to our economy.
“So I want you to imagine this scenario where someone from Montana all of the sudden has Zika and there’s not a lot of mosquitos there, and they’re wondering, ‘Where did you travel? Did you go to Brazil?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you go to Puerto Rico?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well where have you been in the last year?’ ‘The only place I’ve gone is Disney World.’ And so now, they assume that they got Zika because they got bit by a mosquito in Florida. I promise you that tourism will collapse, that people will say, ‘There’s mosquitos with Zika in Florida, we’re cancelling our wedding, well not our wedding, but our wedding in Florida, we’re cancelling our vacation, we’re cancelling our convention.
“Major League Baseball already cancelled a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Florida Marlins in Puerto Rico because of this. There are people threatening not to go to the Olympics because of this. So I will hold up my record of fiscal conservatism against anyone in Congress. But it is the rightful and proper role of the federal government to keep our people safe. And in this case, we have no time to waste.”
Rubio: “Second, as issues of perpetual concern in Florida involve, of course, the environment and the Everglades, and as you all know, being so close to Lake Okeechobee, there are a number of projects that we’ve been able to get authorized, including the de-authorization of Ten Mile Creek, turning it over to the Water Management District, that will allow us to retain more water improvements made to the dyke that will allow us to maintain more water, and as a result, prevent water flows. It’s not all enough. There’s more that needs to be done, and the federal government has never stepped up to the plate over years and years of not funding these and other projects.
“The goal is to restore the water flows as close as possible in the southerly direction to get as close as possible as we can to the historic Everglades. In the absence of that, these waters, where the nutrients are being flushed east and west, and just north of here, the impact of it is devastating, and of course, there are local contributing factors as well. So we continue to work on that.
“For the first time ever, Jim Inhofe, Senator from Oklahoma, agreed to authorize the Central Everglades Planning Project, which is the first step in actually getting these programs authorized and paid for. It’s going to take time. The federal government hasn’t done enough, but at least it’s begun to make some moves on some of these projects. None of them alone is a silver bullet.”
Rubio: “The space program is important to Florida. Quietly but surely, we are slowly moving ahead on this mission to Mars. The rocket’s been developed, the capsule has been developed, it’s not moving as quickly or as fast, but it is important.
“For our space program to reach greatness, it has to have a great goal, a destiny, a destination that rallies people behind it. And so I’m excited about the role Florida is going to play in that regard.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Rubio: “You’ve read a lot about the VA System. In Florida, actually, many of our VA hospitals perform quite well in comparison to the national averages. We still have problems. I continue to be a proponent of allowing veterans to go to any hospital or doctor that they want to see. The benefits should belong to them. It’s not a government benefit. It’s their benefit. They earned it, they served our country, and we owe them the care they deserve, and they’re not getting it right now in too many cases around America. “
Rubio: “We are also involved in Northwest Florida in a water war with Alabama and Georgia, and it’s Alabama and Florida against Georgia and the Georgia governor gets really mad and says things.
“So we wrote a letter a few weeks ago asking, basically trying to force the governors to reach a decision. Basically they’re cutting water flows from Georgia into Alabama and Florida, and as a result, the oystermen in Northwest Florida are having their family businesses wiped out by it.”
Rubio: “About October of last year, my staff was notified of deplorable conditions at the Housing and Urban Development project held by a 501(c)(3) ministry of some sort in Jacksonville, Florida. My staff visited these homes. What they found was gas leaks, they found rotting walls, they found windows that didn’t open, they saw staircases that were literally about to fall, being held together by duct tape. Really deplorable conditions. And we became engaged in trying to get that fixed; the progress has been so slow.
“I finally visited that facility, after not seeing enough process, about two weeks ago, and what I saw there was deplorable. That these people are receiving Section 8 housing funds, these companies that run these buildings, and they’re not putting a penny of it into keeping these buildings up. They are, however, hiring some of the most expensive firms in Washington D.C. to do their PR and their political lobbying.
“So I find that to be outrageous. I worked with the Secretary of HUD, I’m working with Senator Nelson. We were able to pass some amendments to the HUD bill to change the way these projects work, because they’re stealing your money. They are stealing your money. These are agencies that are receiving millions of dollars in federal funds, and instead of using it to upkeep the building as required by law, they are pocketing it. And they’re doing nothing with the money, and in many cases, paying themselves exorbitant salaries, like over half a million dollars for the ‘Reverend,’ who runs this organization that is responsible for this facility. So these are important issues and they matter to us deeply.”
Rubio: “We have a migratory crisis brewing from Cuba. We already have more migrants from Cuba in the first four months of this year than we did all of last year. So we’re involved in that issue, and in particularly the abuse of public benefits.
“You now have people arriving from Cuba, they’re here, and then they basically move back to Cuba, returning for a few days every few months so they don’t lose their status. And because they are automatically considered refugees, they qualify for a package of federal benefits, sometimes in the thousands of dollars a month. And the cases are real of people complaining that they’re having a hard time accessing their benefits. And when you ask them why, it’s like, ‘Well, we’re in Cuba, we’re having trouble getting a hold of our benefits from the bank account in Miami.’ Well, that’s not only illegal, but it’s abusive. And so, the reason why that exists is because when a Cuban migrant arrives, they are automatically assumed to be a refugee, and therefore qualify for benefits that no other legal immigrant qualifies for.
“I propose a change in the law that basically says you no longer will automatically qualify. You will have to prove that in fact you are a refugee leaving Cuba because you fear persecution. It doesn’t change the Cuban Adjustment Act. They’ll still have legal status, but they will not automatically qualify for federal benefits. They will have to prove that they are in this country because they fear persecution. And one of the ways you will prove that you don’t fear persecution, is when you travel back from the country you just fled eight to twelve times a year. And so, these are some of the things that we’re going to confront.”