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Thursday, Jul 27, 2017
Editorials

Keep Nelson in U.S. Senate

The case for replacing U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson with U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV comes down to one distinction. Republican Mack is more conservative than Democrat Nelson. Mack's campaign is based on a promise to cut spending and a warning that Nelson won't. We have long supported reducing the deficit, and so has Nelson. Mack oversimplifies the challenge of spending less in a slow economy with increasing numbers of citizens entering Social Security and Medicare. Nelson is a thoughtful, experienced senator whose moderate inclinations are often hard to see amid the extreme partisanship that has gripped Washington in recent years. He is the better choice for Florida. Our view would be different if there was a strong conservative alternative, someone like Jeb Bush who approaches issues with intellectual honesty, not slogans.
Mack, 45, has been boosted by his name, but he lacks the qualities of statesmanship so apparent in his father, Connie Mack III, the well-respected former U.S. senator. And unlike Florida's articulate Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, Mack does not go deep into issues to win new support for his positions. Mack, a former marketing executive, has served in Congress since 2005 and previously was a member of the Florida House. His legislative accomplishments are modest. Nelson, 70, is one of the few Democrats left in national office who is trying to pull the party back toward the center and is the only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida. A lawyer, he was elected to the state Legislature in 1972, served three terms, then went to Congress in 1978, representing the Space Coast and advocating for NASA. In 1994 he was elected state insurance commissioner, and from that office he effectively represented consumer interests. As a Cabinet member he strongly defended the state's environment. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000. He has been accessible and listens to a broad range of constituents, including business leaders. Mack was an opponent of federal bailouts, but Nelson urges voters to remember what was happening four years ago: "There were massive job layoffs. We were going into a financial death spiral." And, he says, "Remember that 40 percent of Obama's stimulus was tax cuts." We don't always agree with Nelson. He was wrong, we think, to join other Democrats in supporting the health care act. But Nelson defends Obamacare better than President Obama himself. "What do you not like?" Nelson asks, then ticks off the features of the plan he is proud of: You can get coverage for pre-existing conditions. It keeps more people out of the emergency rooms. It prevents insurance companies from overcharging. On any issue, given the chance, Nelson will go beyond partisan platitudes and wrestle with the core issues of disagreement. Too few leaders these days are willing to do that. Nelson is a leading defender of the country's largest testing and training area for the military, the extensive tract of restricted airspace in the Gulf of Mexico, which could be threatened by the expansion of oil drilling. Access to that area will give military bases in Florida a competitive advantage should more bases be selected for closure. Nelson is in favor of tax reform to simplify the code. He has fought identity fraud, especially the filing of bogus returns that has bedeviled so many honest taxpayers in Tampa. And we like his idea to give taxpayers a receipt so they can see exactly how much of their tax money supports various government agencies. Mack's emphasis is on cutting, and last year he had an interesting idea. He proposed a "one cent solution" to cut total federal spending by 1 percent a year for six straight years. It seemed to us an understandable starting point for getting spending under control. But exactly how it would work remains mysterious. Would any programs be exempt? Both candidates agree that the uncertainty of how the country will deal with the budget is hurting the economy. Mack says he believes in a "simple litmus test" to qualify for the Senate — a refusal to raise taxes. Nelson prides himself on not being ideologically rigid and with listening to all sides. "If Congress gets on the road to a solution, the economy will take off like a rocket," Nelson tells us. We believe he's right. Nelson is well positioned in a divided Senate to help find a workable compromise. We know if he is re-elected, there will be times we will disagree with his votes. But we also know we can trust him to listen to all Floridians and work hard on their behalf. For the U.S. Senate, the Tribune endorses Bill Nelson.
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