Florida Republicans Split On Fiscal Cliff Vote

Jan 03, 2013 | Updated Mar 05, 2013

TAMPA -- Florida's congressional delegation split along political lines, but not strictly party lines, in the vote on the "fiscal cliff" budget compromise.

At least some Florida Republicans may have cast their votes with an eye to the 2014 election, hoping to avoid either a primary challenge from the right or a tough general election battle with a Democrat, political experts say.

All six Florida Democratic House members, including Kathy Castor of Tampa, voted for the deal backed by President Barack Obama and by Senate and House leaders of both parties.

They were joined by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and five House Republicans, including C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores and Vern Buchanan of Sarasota.

Among Republicans, 14 Florida House members voted against the deal, bucking their party's leadership. So did GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. The House members included Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Richard Nugent of Brooksville and Dennis Ross of Lakeland.

Democrats and the yes-voting Republicans focused on tax fairness for the middle class, while no-voters focused on a need to cut government spending.

Young, in a statement, called the measure "a less than perfect solution," but said it "avoided a pending fiscal cliff that would have raised federal income taxes on millions of American families and small businesses," and "temporarily delays the across-the-board sequestration that would harm our national defense."

Castor called it "a balanced plan" and said, "Greater tax fairness is the hallmark of the bipartisan compromise."

Ross, on the other hand, said in a release, "Our country is going bankrupt ... This proposal does nothing to address our biggest problem, which is the out-of-control spending that runs rampant in Washington."

Bilirakis said the bill "did not include the spending reforms our country desperately needs" to fix a debt that "places a heavier burden on our children and grandchildren."

Retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican, said the legislators may also have been keeping an eye on demographics and the 2014 election.

The no-voting Republicans, he said, are more likely to be from rural or suburban districts, and could fear a primary challenge from a tea party-style conservative.

Outgoing Rep. Cliff Stearns of Ocala, with a rural-suburban district stretching north from Leesburg to Interstate 10, is leaving office because he lost such a challenge to tea party-backed challenger Ted Yoho in this year's primary, Paulson noted.

The yes-voting Republicans "all represent primarily big-city districts," Paulson said. "In the 2012 election, all the big urban counties voted for Obama."

They may have more to fear from a Democrat in the general election, Paulson said.

University of Florida political scientist Stephen Craig, who's politically neutral, said primary challenges pose the greatest threat to most Florida Republican legislators.

"Some (Congress members) might have been willing to support this deal," Craig said, "but the environment of Republican primaries has become frightening if you are not on board with the conservative wing of the party."

Craig said Rubio, who ran and won in 2010 as a tea party champion, has been taking "baby steps" toward moderation with an eye to a 2016 run for president, but probably viewed the debt ceiling vote with an eye to a Republican presidential primary.

"It's a balancing act for him -- maybe what it takes to win the nomination isn't what it takes to win in November," Craig said. "He may be willing to go so far toward moderation, but no further."

Here's how the vote went among Florida's 25 House members:

* Yes-voting Republicans: Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami; Buchanan and Young.

* No-voting Republicans: Sandy Adams of Orlando; Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers; Jeff Miller of Chumuckla; John Mica of Winter Park; Bill Posey of Rockledge; David Rivera of Miami; Tom Rooney of Tequesta; Steve Southerland of Panama City; Dan Webster of Winter Garden; Allen West of Palm Beach Gardens; Bilirakis, Nugent, Ross and Stearns.

* Democrats, all voting yes: Corinne Brown of Jacksonville, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston; Frederica Wilson of Miami; Castor. ___

Also on HuffPost:

Conservatives Angered By Fiscal Cliff Deal