Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mel Martinez joins "Fix the Debt" campaign

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 11:01 AM

Mel Martinez
  • Mel Martinez
As John Boehner and President Obama continue to slowly move their way through fiscal cliff negotiations, the rest of the country waits and watches. Along with partisan activists on both sides of the aisle who are pressing their side not to cave in, there are a growing number of centrists who say both sides need to compromise on a solution so that sequestration doesn't kick in in January. That would necessitate the beginnings of major cuts in both domestic and defense programs.

A leading centrist group that is being attacked by progressives is called "Fix the Debt," which now counts among its members former Florida U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

Martinez hosted reporters on a conference call Thursday morning, when he said that as many as 80,000 jobs would be lost in Florida if sequestration takes place. That number of lost defense jobs has been floating around since the summer, after a report prepared by Stephen Fuller from the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University was released.

Fuller's report said that more than half of Florida's job losses — 41,905 — would come directly or indirectly as a result of cuts to the Pentagon budget, as the economic impact ripples through local communities. Another 37,554 would come from cuts to other parts of the budget.

However, Randall G. Holcombe, an economics professor at Florida State University, told the Tampa Tribune on Thursday that the detrimental effects if Congress and the president fail to come to terms by Dec. 31 is greatly exaggerated. Specifically, he said MacDill Air Force Base won't take a major hit.

"Nobody's going to be fired, nobody will get a pay cut," he said. "Money will be flowing into MacDill, which will pretty much be unaffected. The one thing you might notice is fewer flights going in and out because they want to conserve in jet fuel. But the impact at MacDill ought to be minimal."

Fix The Debt consists of high profile lawmakers like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former elected officials like Sen. Martinez, as well as academics, business people, and individual citizens who have come together to urge that a bipartisan compromise be found to avert the so-called cliff.

Martinez said that "compromise is not a dirty word. By the virtue of compromise, you didn't get all that you wanted. To get to a better place, we have to put aside our partisan feelings."

Some liberal critics are calling Fix the Debt disingenuous, and don't trust Martinez when he says that "our entitlement system is unsustainable."

R.J. Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America's Future, wrote in the Huffington Post on Wednesday that major corporations are behind "Fix the Debt," and labeled it as "PR campaign designed to cut Social Security and Medicare while lowering taxes for its patrons."

Martinez disagreed with that assessment, saying the group is composed of former elected officials, as well as citizens.

"I would say that's not correct because the fiscal cliff will affect mainstream businesses," he said.

Martinez also dismissed the notion that he was a profligate spender in his short time in office — Martinez left his Senate seat a full year before completing his only term in office — and thus is incapable of offering his opinions on how the country should be focused on lowering the debt.

He did admit that it was not an item when he ran and defeated Democrat Betty Castor for Senate back in 2004.

The senator also said a two-step approach is needed: an immediate agreement on the tax issue is needed now, and a longer discussion about reducing tax rates needs to happen in 2013.

Martinez is the co-chair of the Florida Steering Committee for the Fix the Debate campaign, along with University of Miami President (and Democrat) Donna Shalala. Other members include Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, and former Tampa area Congressman Jim Davis.

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