Obama's new fans

Published: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 5:50 p.m.

Maybe it's true.

Maybe partisanship is dead.

Maybe the Ds and the Rs are finally ready to make nice.

Oh sure, Rush Limbaugh is still out there on the public airways expressing his adamant hope that Barack Obama fail.

But, listen, Rush is in show business. He pretty much has to say stuff like that.

(Come to think of it, a lot of our politicians think they are in show business, too. But never mind that now.)

The point is that there's nothing like a recession of historic proportions to coax the lion into laying down with the lamb.

Or rather to persuade the elephant to get into bed with the mule.

These days it seems like some of Obama's biggest fans, at least in Florida, have Rs after their names.

Starting with Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist may be the most popular Republican in the Post-W. Era. He's got a 67 percent approval rating, nearly as high as Obama's.

And never mind that Charlie couldn't deliver his state to John McCain. Truth is, he didn't try very hard. Suffice it to say that Crist is not one to waste political capital on lost causes.

Anyway, Crist flew to D.C. last week to witness the inauguration. And since returning to Tallahassee he's been Florida's chief cheerleader for Obama's economic stimulus plan.

"It is critical, it's important to do it," Crist told a gathering of reporters and editors this week. "I'm not a big government fan, but there are times when government needs to help. My sense is this is one of those times."

Crist's hope that a huge influx of federal funding will jump-start Florida's economy were echoed by House Speaker Ray Sansom and Senate President Jeff Atwater.

Both of them anti-big government Republicans.

Both of them getting ready to squeeze still more from a state budget that has already been bled by billions.

"It is easy to govern when money is flowing in," Crist lamented. "It is hard when it is not."

In that regard, it was probably just as well that McCain didn't carry Florida. This state is going to need all the political muscle it has, both Rs and Ds, to make sure Florida gets its fair share of the stimulus money.

We may be the third largest state in the nation in terms of population, but Florida's political clout in the D.C. Swamp has never reflected that.

"We've been a donor state forever," Crist said, referring to the fact that Floridians traditionally pay far more to the federal treasury than they receive back in federal benefits. "We want to make sure that in the stimulus plan we do get our fair share."

There is irony, of course, in tax-cutting, budget-slashing Republicans hoping against hope that the tax-and-spend Democrats in D.C. will save their bacon.

But these are desperate times.

The truth is that for the first decade they were in power in Tallahassee, the Republicans were able to have it both ways.

They could slash taxes by the billions, while spending money like drunken sailors.

That's because Florida's treasury was overflowing with growth-induced revenues.

But those days are gone.

"For the first time ever, sales taxes, corporate taxes and doc stamp taxes (on property sales transactions) have been less, year after year, than they were the year before," Atwater said.

So far lawmakers have been patching up the holes in the budget mostly by snipping services here and there and dipping heavily into trust funds ["taking the trust out of the trust funds," disgruntled Democrats like say].

But now, facing still more cuts in the upcoming regular session, even Republicans are openly toying with the idea of (gasp!) new taxes.

Higher cigarette taxes are mentioned most often, But both Sansom and Atwater said lawmakers will review of all the state's sales tax exemptions as well.

"I think everything is on the table," Sansom said, adding that, like everybody else, he's waiting to see "what the federal economic stimulus package will do for the state of Florida."

"We have to keep the state budget balanced (by constitutional mandate), thank goodness," Sansom said. "I support that. You can't spend money we don't have."

No, of course not. That's what the federal government is for.

In fact, nearly every state in America has a prohibition against deficit spending.

And it's a good bet that nearly every state politician in America is rooting for President Obama and Congress to do what they cannot; amass deficits of historic proportions.

Atwater worries that if the Legislature can't come to grips with its budget problems the state's bond rankings will take a hit on Wall Street, costing Floridians billions more in additional debt service.

He doesn't speculate on what will happen if the dollar tanks because of an astronomical federal deficit.

That's for Obama and the Dems in Congress to worry about. Just send the cash, and quick.

Of course, they aren't getting too carried away in Tallahassee with this new found spirit of bipartisanship.

With Republicans still comfortably in the Legislative majority (the Democrats only picked up one seat in the House this past election), they aren't exactly going out of their way to include members of the minority party in the decision making.

"At no time during the special session was I ever consulted about a major budget reduction issue," complains Franklin Sands, the House minority leader.

Sour grapes, Republicans shrug.

Anyway, rooting for Barack and Congress to pour on the federal spending is a no-lose proposition for Republicans.

If Obama's stimulus plan works, Republicans can still beat Democrats over the head with the deficit issue come the next election.

And if it doesn't work, Republicans can say to voters, "See, we told you big government isn't the answer."

But all that's for later. For now it's hold the partisanship and, please, get that check in the mail.

Ron Cunningham is editorial page editor for The Sun. He can be reached at voice@gvillsun.com or at 352-374-5075. Read his blog, Under The Sun, at www.gainesville.com/opinion.

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