As 'fiscal cliff' nears, Florida delegates hug party lines

Herald Washington BureauDecember 8, 2012 

WASHINGTON -- Don't expect Florida's congressional delegation to stray too far from party lines when it comes to dancing on the edge of the fiscal cliff, the end-of-the-year spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect if Congress and the president don't address them.

Democrats are firmly with President Barack Obama, whose proposal seeks to raise $600 billion over a decade by eliminating tax deductions, and $960 billion over the same period by raising tax rates for the top 2 percent of income earners. Many Democrats sound as though the highly charged presidential campaign is still under way. And Republicans are just as committed to their party.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, told a national television audience Friday morning that Obama and Congress must "get out

of the business of political posturing" to prevent pending tax increases and spending cuts.

"We're going bankrupt if we don't figure out how to do this in a big way," Buchanan said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I know how this works after being in business for over 30 years. At the end of the day, you get in the room and don't leave until it's done."

But there's been "no evidence thus far" that Republicans are truly interested in the middle class, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a South Florida Democrat who was just tapped by the president to again head the Democratic National Committee.

"We need to continue to focus on rebuilding our economy from the middle class out," she said during a television appearance. "President Obama talked eloquently and passionately during the campaign about making sure that we can get a handle on this deficit, that we can rebuild our economy from the middle class out, that we can focus on creating jobs and getting the economy turned around."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, was one of the few Republicans to suggest she'd be open to tax reform, saying there needs to be a review of the tax code "to remove special interest tax loopholes used by the wealthy."

But she warned that the country's debt exists "not because tax rates are too low, but because government spends too much."

"I believe that we must prevent the fiscal cliff through significant spending cuts and tax reform with lower tax rates," Ros-Lehtinen said. "This is consistent with the president's call for a 'balanced' approach to averting the cliff and addressing our nation's debt problem."

Some Democrats made conciliatory moves, however. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said voters told him during his campaign that they want consensus and an end to partisan gridlock.

"They want bipartisanship," he said in a video message. "They want to stop the ideological rigidity."

It's the only way to rebuild the economy and reduce the federal deficit, while preserving Social Security and Medicare, he contended.

He called on people of both political parties "to reach across the aisle and work together so America doesn't go over the cliff."

That's unlikely to come from his Republican counterpart Sen. Marco Rubio, who -- along with former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- was featured in a speech this week in Washington. Rubio blamed the "complicated and uncertain tax code" for "hindering the creation of middle class jobs."

He gave no hint he would be interested in supporting the president's tax proposal on the wealthiest Americans.

"You can't open or grow a business if your taxes are too high or too uncertain. And that's why I personally oppose the president's plan to raise taxes," Rubio said. "This isn't about a pledge. It isn't about protecting millionaires and billionaires. For me, it's about the fact that the tax increases he wants would fail to make even a small dent in the debt but it would hurt middle class businesses and the people who work for them."

Erika Bolstad, based in McClatchy's Washington bureau, can be reached at ebolstad@mcclatchydc.com

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