WASHINGTON — Florida's U.S. senators parted ways on the debt ceiling Tuesday, a split that serves as an indicator of just how hard fought the 2012 election cycle is likely to be in a crucial battleground state.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces re-election next year, voted in favor of the debt package, and he made it clear that he'll be championing a tax overhaul as a way to help close the budget gap.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who was elected in 2010 with a push from the tea party, voted no, and he pledged to fight any effort to increase taxes.
"Some believe that there are some in America that make too much money and should pay more in their taxes," Rubio said. "Another group believes that, in fact, our revenues should come not from taxes but from more taxpayers. ... Ultimately, we look for more revenue for government from economic growth, not from growth in taxes."
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Which position wins more support from Florida voters will dictate not only Nelson's re-election fate but also that of President Barack Obama, who made it clear Tuesday that he wants to see changes in the tax code to help balance the federal budget.
"Everyone's going to have to chip in. That's only fair," Obama said Tuesday just before signing the debt deal into law. "That's the principle I'll be fighting for during the next phase of this process."
Already, Nelson's vote on the debt deal has become a campaign issue, and the upcoming debate over taxes is likely to exacerbate it. The National Republican Senatorial Committee lashed out at Nelson and other Democratic Senate candidates who've moved from talking about the debt limit to jobs.
"The fact that Florida's unemployment rate stands at 10.6 percent should cause every voter to wonder what exactly he's been focused on in Washington for the last 11 years," said Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the committee.
GOP former Florida U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, one of Nelson's main 2012 rivals, said he'd voted against raising the debt ceiling twice as a senator and would have voted no again Tuesday. "This is no way to run the greatest nation on earth," he said.
Rubio, who campaigned on the need to address spending and budget deficits, was one of 26 Republican senators to oppose the debt deal. That cast him as one of the holdouts in the compromise plan, which kept the federal government from defaulting on its debt and averted a potential financial meltdown.
Tuesday, Rubio said the next debate wasn't over whether which party was "more or less patriotic than the other." It's merely a difference of opinion about how big government should be, he said.
But he signaled that he might be amenable to a discussion about eliminating tax loopholes, as are many Americans. A CNN/ORC International Poll conducted Monday during the House of Representatives vote on the debt deal found that 60 percent of people disliked that the measure lacked tax increases on businesses and higher-income Americans.
In an interview after the debt vote, Rubio said he'd long supported comprehensive tax restructuring.
"There are things in the tax code that are there because of good lobbying," Rubio said. "If you are the beneficiary of some special classification that you got because you hired a good lobbyist, then yeah, your taxes might go up. Our tax code is way too complicated."
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