It would not be fun standing in Congressman Vern Buchanan’s shoes. At least not for us.
He represents Florida’s 16th congressional district, a compilation of five mostly Republican counties whose constituents make up the largest concentration of Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits recipients of any mid-size metro area in America.
In other words, a lot of his constituents are on the taxpayer dole for portions of their incomes. And more than 33% of these constituents, as retirees, are living on their savings and dividends.
On top of that, even though Buchanan’s district is primarily a Republican stronghold, a sizable portion of those Republicans, as we have learned, are “center Republicans,” moderates who readily accept an activist government in everyone’s lives.
With such a constituency, Buchanan, after six years in office, has figured out that his longevity in Congress is tied to moderation. He can’t be associated with, say, a Ron Paul or a Louie Gohmert of Texas. They’re too far right (although for our taste they’ve been among the few who really have had the courage to do what is right in Congress).
So it really was no surprise when Buchanan voted to accept House Resolution 8, the fiscal cliff bill, that raised tax rates on 1% of Americans and didn’t cut one cent from federal spending. In fact, it codified increasing federal spending.
It was a politically safe vote: Raise taxes only on 1% of Americans; make permanent the Bush income-tax cuts for everyone earning less than $400,000 to $450,000 a year. Only a few get hurt; nothing happens to entitlements. The only constituents Buchanan irked with his vote are the die-hards who wanted Congress actually to reduce its spending.
Nonetheless, we had to ask the congressman: Why that vote? Why not take a stand against Congress and Obama as usual?
“Either way, you couldn’t win,” Buchanan told us. “I didn’t like it. It was either that bill or go over the cliff. Let us all drown or save 98% or 99%. I voted to save the 98%.
“It was the least of two evils,” he said. “I thought going over the cliff was a worse option. I called a lot of people, and about 80% of the people said this was the way to go.”
As Buchanan sees the situation, the fiscal cliff vote wasn’t the Rubicon. He called it “the small battle in the war.”
“The debt ceiling is the war,” he said.
And when that is confronted in another 60 days, Buchanan’s true beliefs and courage will be tested as these have never been tested before.
So far, in our records, with all due respect, Buchanan has capitulated on two important fiscal tests. He voted in 2008 in favor of “TARP,” the first economic stimulus bill that bailed out badly managed banks at taxpayer expense; and he took the politically safe path on the recent fiscal cliff vote.
Asked what he thinks Republican House members will do on the next debt-ceiling vote, he told us: “My sense is we’re going to have to find a way to deal with the deficits. If there is not a substantial move in the right direction, it’s going to be nuclear.”
Asked whether he would side with shutting down the federal government, or hold firm on not raising the debt ceiling if Obama and the Democrats don’t agree to substantive cuts in federal spending, Buchanan was smart and crafty enough not to make any commitments just yet.
“I don’t think it’s going to be business as usual,” he said.
That would be a shock to the world.
In our lifetimes, none of us has ever seen Washington actually reduce its spending below what it spent in a previous year. But everyone in Congress knows that is what must occur.
Congressman Buchanan, since his first election in 2006, has filed legislation calling for a federal balanced-budget amendment. He introduced another bill recently saying Congress will not receive a pay raise until it balances the budget.
Let’s hope, for our grandchildren’s sake, he has the courage to call President Obama and the Senate’s bluff on the debt ceiling. Either Obama and the Senate cut federal spending in a serious, meaningful way, or the Republican House will not raise the nation’s borrowing limit, sending the federal government into default on its debt and shutting down the government.
Those who are grandparents and great-grandparents know the pain for the nation must come now or on the backs of our children and grandchildren.
We created this mess. We should pay the price.
To our readers: Give Buchanan the courage to win the war. Urge him to stand firm on the debt ceiling.
+ Historical treasure
Longboat Key and the local arts scene lost a treasure last week — Jim Herrington.
Herrington lived in Emerald Harbor for the past 20 years with another Longboat Key treasure, Carol Camiener. He died last Thursday at age 84.
In Detroit, probably everyone born before 1980 knew Herrington. He was a TV-news icon as the longtime political reporter and talk-show anchor for WXYZ-TV.
Ted Simon, another Detroiter and Longboater, recalled after Herrington’s memorial service Sunday at Temple Beth Israel that when he went to a restaurant with Herrington in Detroit, it was almost useless to think he’d get to talk to Herrington. Fans practically mobbed the popular TV newsman.
On Longboat, Herrington didn’t live as a celebrity. Unlike a lot of bombastic broadcasters, Herrington was modest. He liked to garden at his home. You would have no idea who he was or what he did unless you asked.
But once you triggered him on the word “politics,” oh my, you could sit for hours listening to Herrington tell rich, colorful stories about American politics, American history and the politicians. He interviewed all of the presidents from Truman through Clinton, and when he spoke about them, he talked about them, not himself, and did it from his “he-was-there” vantage point.
To ride in a car one-on-one with Herrington was to take a graduate course in American history and political science — far, far more interesting than any book could ever be.
Herrington left TV journalism in the early 1990s when he saw TV news devolve into fluffy, mindless entertainment. He couldn’t take it.
In his adopted home on Longboat Key, he still made a difference, but in a quieter way. Herrington was a devoted supporter of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts and the arts in general.
One of the best stories Herrington ever told was what he said to his colleagues at his send-off party: “Don’t worry about what the competition is doing. If you lead, they’ll follow!”
They just don’t make newsman like Jim Herrington anymore. Indeed, they don’t.
OBAMA, TAKE NOTE
“I have never understood why it is greed to keep the money you have earned but not greed to take someone else’s money.”
— Thomas Sowell