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Guest Commentary: Grateful to have served

By Francis Rooney - | Jan 13, 2021

As my time serving Southwest Florida in Congress comes to a close, I would like to take a moment to reflect on what we have accomplished these last four years.

One of my main reasons in running for Congress, and my most important focus, has been on developing a bipartisan commitment to Everglades restoration and water quality. When I was first elected, I began immediately to work on getting the funds appropriated to complete repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike and to expedite completion of the major projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, especially the A-2 Reservoir.

I have also led the fight to diagnose the cause of, and pioneer solutions to, the Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) that devastated our community in 2018. The Everglades and Lake Okeechobee Watershed include 16 counties and 164 cities. It has a $2 trillion economic impact on the state and supports 55% ($1.3 trillion) of the real estate value in Florida. For every dollar invested in the Everglades /Okeechobee Watershed, $4 of economic benefit are produced. In my first 30 days in office I wrote a letter to President Trump asking him to fulfill his campaign commitment to fund Everglades Restoration and CERP projects.

This letter was co-signed by all 27 members, Democrat and Republican, of our Florida delegation. This was the first time that our delegation had come together to unanimously support the Everglades and Okeechobee Watershed. Subsequently we have been successful in getting $1.5 billion (more than the previous 10 years combined) to complete repairs to the dike many years ahead of schedule and commence construction of the A-2 Reservoir, which will permit more water to be sent south of Lake Okeechobee instead of being released into the Caloosahatchee River.

I really believe that we have set a new standard for funding from Washington to complete the CERP projects and overcome our water quality challenges. I have worked diligently on the problem of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). In 2019, I convened a meeting of experts from state and federal agencies to address HABs.

This discussion has led to pilot programs to study the causes of these outbreaks on Lake Okeechobee and in the Caloosahatchee. In addition, I sponsored legislation to include HABs in the definition of a natural disaster under the Stafford Act and to ensure federal agencies continue all forecasting and monitoring for HABs, even during a government shutdown. I hope earnestly that our next representative will continue the fight for our environment.

Another area of success was ensuring that offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico continues to be banned. I introduced H.R. 205, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act, in 2019.

The bill made the moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, east of the Military Mission Line, which expires in 2022, permanent – a critical leap for Florida’s environment and economy. It passed the House on Sept. 11, 2019, by a large and bipartisan margin – 248-180. Unfortunately, the Senate has not acted on HR 205. Floridians have long supported a ban on offshore drilling – obvious when 69% of Floridians voted for Amendment 9, a Constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling, in 2018.

On Sept. 8, 2020 President Trump issued an executive order extending the existing moratorium on offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico 10 years, until June 30, 2032. This is a great, helpful decision, but the administration should use its influence to push the Senate to convert this executive order into formal legislation like H.R. 205, so that it cannot be easily reversed by a future administration.

I have also put forward legislation to ensure affordable prescription drug pricing and transparency. Together with Peter Welch (D-VT), I introduced the Drug Price Transparency Act to have the Department of Health and Human Services study linking Medicare Part B and D drug prices to the average price of these drugs in the countries which comprise the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) where the same drugs are often cheaper than in the United States.

This would establish a global price ceiling and protect American citizens from overpaying for the same drugs. President Trump agrees and has issued an executive order to accomplish this, but we still need a law to make it permanent.

I have also introduced the bipartisan FAIR Drug Pricing Act, which would require drug companies to give notice and justification for raising the price of a drug more than 10% at one time. Additionally, I have been determined in pursuing fiscal responsibility in Washington.

It is a lonely, uphill effort. I have consistently criticized the excessive, irresponsible spending promoted by both parties, which has taken our national debt to a stratospheric $23 trillion. Since elected, I have consistently voted against legislation like this.

Even worse than their excessive and irresponsible spending, many of these bills contained subsidies – billions for sugar, ethanol, cotton and other commodities that should not be artificially propped up by government. The uncomfortable reality is that debt matters and unless we get spending under control, sometime in the future it is inevitable that our standard of living in America and stature in the world will suffer.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention our work in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, Congress passed the CARES Act. This health and economic package achieved the goals of putting money directly in the hands of people who are suffering the most, shoring up unemployment benefits to deal with the longer term effects of this crisis, and providing aid to the scores of small businesses that keep our economy running. Recently, I supported an additional $600 and $2,000 for hard-working Americans that continue to struggle.

Each of the above mentioned areas are critical to Southwest Florida and to our nation. I am thankful to have been able to serve our community, state and country.

To all of you that played such a large part in making these accomplishments possible – thank you and God bless.

Francis Rooney represented Florida’s 19th congressional district from 2017 until deciding not to run for re-election in 2020 and was the ranking member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He previously served as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.