Three candidates for the U.S. Senate from Florida entered the final week of the 2010 campaign battling over President Barack Obama’s economic agenda and how to extend the tax cuts implemented under his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.
In a debate yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Marco Rubio, the Republican nominee and front-runner in most polls, blamed the Obama administration for creating an atmosphere of uncertainty in which companies can’t commit to hiring new workers.
Businesses “are afraid of what next year is going to mean in terms of taxes, regulation and the health-care bill,” Rubio said.
He ruled out signing onto any compromise that doesn’t extend all the Bush-era tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, which lowered rates on wages and investments for all Americans, and which are due to expire on Dec. 31.
Obama, a Democrat, favors extending the tax cuts only for households earning less than $250,000, about 98 percent of all taxpayers. Rubio argued that anything short of extending them for all Americans, poor and wealthy alike, would amount to a tax increase at a particularly vulnerable time for the U.S. economy.
“There’s a difference between compromise and cutting a deal,” Rubio said. “Compromise is a good thing. Cutting deals in Washington, there’s too much of that.”
Rubio, who has received strong support from Tea Party activists, held a 15 percentage point lead over Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for Senate as an independent, and a 21-point advantage over four-term Democratic congressman Kendrick Meek in a poll released Oct. 23 by the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald and Bay News 9.
Meek defended Obama’s economic strategy, including the stimulus of 2009, as “dealing with the cards we were dealt” by the previous administration and the economic crisis that reached its peak in the fall of 2008.
He said the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were designed to be temporary and shouldn’t be extended for the most-well-off Americans.
“There were surpluses,” he said. “There are no longer surpluses. So we’re digging a deeper hole. And what Rubio and also Crist are representing, let’s continue to dig, and trickle- down economics will work for the middle class in creating jobs.”
Crist, running as an independent, straddled the positions of his rivals, supporting a compromise on the tax cuts.
‘The Real Solution’
“I want all the tax cuts extended, but sometimes you’ve got to give relief to the people and they deserve it now,” Crist said. “If there’s a way to go ahead and do that in the short term and then after January to push for the other tax cuts, that’s what I think the real solution is.”
Crist, who dropped his party affiliation in April while trailing Rubio in the Republican primary, said he became an independent because of “this kind of bickering back and forth, not being able to figure out what to do, ideological arguments without common sense.”
Meek shot back: “We know why the governor is running as an independent, because he couldn’t beat Marco Rubio.”
At least five Senate Democrats and all 41 Republicans say Bush-era tax cuts should be extended across-the-board to help the economy recover from the worst recession since World War II.
Democrats control 59 seats in the Senate; party leaders have delayed a vote on their tax plan until after November’s midterm elections, having concluding that, before the balloting, they wouldn’t find 60 votes needed to advance the measure.
Like other incumbents across the U.S., Crist has been blamed by voters for the weak economy. Florida was one of only two states, along with Maryland, to see its unemployment rate rise in August, reaching 11.7 percent, compared with the 9.6 percent national rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The state has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country, behind Nevada, more than twice the national average, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine, California-based data provider.
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