Don’t expect South 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 sounded as though the highly charged presidential campaign was still underway. And Republicans are just as committed to their party.
There’s been "no evidence thus far" that Republicans are truly interested in the middle class, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who was just tapped by the president again to head the Democratic National Committee.
"We need to continue to focus on rebuilding our economy from the middle class out," she said during an appearance on MSNBC. "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."
Equally firm: South Florida Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Frederica Wilson of Miami. Both are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which released a statement of principles this week calling for the Bush-era tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans. Social Security should be completely off the table, the caucus warned, and it said it would oppose any plans that change the eligibility for Medicare or cut Medicaid.
Some Democrats made conciliatory moves, however. Sen. Bill Nelson said that during his campaign, voters told him 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 said. 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."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was one of the few Republicans from South Florida 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."
Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami said he was less optimistic about a resolution now than he was right after the election. He said he feels as though Republicans have moved closer to the president without getting credit for it.
"I’m very disappointed with the president’s response," he said in an interview. "The speaker put forward a proposal, and whether you agree with it or not, there are a couple of things beyond debate: He’s gotten closer to the president’s position."
Rep. David Rivera, a Republican who lost his re-election bid and who will be replaced by Democrat Joe Garcia, did not respond to a request for comment.
Even those on their way out of Congress made no move to cross party lines. Republican Rep. Allen West of Plantation, who was ousted by Democrat Patrick Murphy, warned constituents in a letter that he didn’t think there was a true plan to reduce spending.
"I wonder how many Americans have heard the simple maxim: ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?’ he wrote in a letter this week to constituents. “I also wonder how many Americans truly believe President Obama has any intention of rectifying our fiscal issues? There is no plan to reduce our debt or deficit, just more spending. America is truly moving away from an opportunity society to a dependency society."