St. Petersburg Times: Newest senator takes low road
Published Wednesday, October 21, 2009
In just six weeks, U.S. Sen. George LeMieux has succumbed to Washington. In his initial floor speech, LeMieux opted for partisan rhetoric over honest debate about the growing federal deficit. Florida's junior senator squandered a golden opportunity to use the bully pulpit he'll command for just 16 months.
In Tallahassee, LeMieux, Gov. Charlie Crist's former chief of staff, was credited with helping the governor's populist appeal. But Wednesday, he sacrificed candor in a predictable play to a partisan constituency. He reasonably equated Congress to a family who recklessly relies on credit cards to pay the bills. But he implied the runaway spending stems from Democratic control, ignoring that it began under President George W. Bush.
LeMieux really lost the high ground when he bragged that Crist and the Florida Legislature have cut spending by nearly 10 percent, or $7 billion, to balance the budget. LeMieux's omission: This year's state budget was balanced only because of $5 billion in federal stimulus dollars and $2.2 billion in new taxes and fees. Florida didn't live within its means. In fact, it was more like the spoiled offspring of a wealthy family who called Mom or Dad for a bailout.
Congress needs to make some hard choices, which would include both reducing spending and raising taxes, to address the deficit. But LeMieux did nothing to advance that cause. He lambasted congressional spending after building a career in Florida accepting its largesse. He bemoaned both the current health care system and Democratic reform plans, but offered no solution of his own. He championed further tax cuts but criticized potential cuts to Medicare, thereby defending an entitlement that is among the main drivers of the deficit. LeMieux can't have it both ways. He can't work for solutions and join the partisan fighting that does neither America nor Florida in particular any good.