Florida's congressional delegation faces tough task in working together

Clockwise from top left, David Rivera, Marco Rubio, Frederica Wilson and Allen West. (Wire photos)

Can the Florida members of Congress find a way to get along?

After a bruising campaign marked by attack ads and charges of extremism, Sen.-elect Marco Rubio and seven new House members will be sworn into office Wednesday to join a Florida delegation headed for a sharp right turn.

The new delegation chairman, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R- Ocala, wants to rally Florida members behind Republican proposals to expand offshore oil drilling, scale back the new health-care law, cut taxes and whack spending.

"Democrats may not agree. You might see a little bit of difference between us with regard to things like health care and offshore drilling," Stearns said in an interview while preparing for the new session. "But these are the ideas I'm going to bring up and ask the others what they feel."

Stearns plans to invite House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor to meet with the delegation to see how their plans might mesh.

Though members from both parties may agree on many matters, they appear to be on a collision course on some issues, notably offshore drilling, which in recent years has turned from a common cause against drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to a divisive partisan debate.

The few remaining Florida Democrats — down to just six in the House and Sen. Bill Nelson, a moderate who's gearing up for a tough re-election campaign in 2012 — are wary of the Republican agenda, especially when it comes to offshore drilling. The Democrats want to keep oil rigs far from the state's shores to shelter beaches, wildlife and tourism from future spills.

"How anyone, after the BP oil spill, could say we should bring more oil drilling closer to shore is really beyond me," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. "That's irresponsible. No, I don't think that's likely to draw much support on my side.

"That does not bode well for the delegation working together."


After wresting four seats from Democrats, Republicans will dominate the delegation in the House 19 to 6. Republican Rubio, a darling of conservatives who replaces George LeMieux, will join Nelson in the Senate.

In general, members from both parties support Everglades restoration, funding for the nation's space program, development of solar power and other energy alternatives, help for growers, science grants for Florida's universities and improved forecasting to track storms and ocean currents.

They want BP to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf and to fully pay the claims of Floridians who suffered. And they want to bolster mass-transit systems and expand highways to keep residents, tourists and commerce flowing.

Members from both parties are looking to Rep. John Mica, R- Winter Park, the incoming chairman of the House transportation committee, to help them fund the state's transit needs.

At the same time, however, they face the conflicting task of paring back spending to restrain the national debt. Leaders of the GOP's new House majority have pledged to roll back spending to 2008 levels.

"It's going to be harder because of this irresponsible spending spree that Congress and the administration have been on for the last two years," grumbled Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who was named to the Appropriations Committee.

Thanks to the election, most members now come from either the liberal or conservative end of the spectrum.

Three moderate Democrats — Allen Boyd of Monticello, Suzanne Kosmas of New Smyrna Beach and Ron Klein of Boca Raton — lost to very conservative Republicans. Center-right Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart retired, opening the door to conservative state legislator (and Rubio ally) David Rivera. The Democrats who survived are liberals from urban South Florida, Tampa and Jacksonville.

What's more, three of the winning Republicans — Steve Southerland of Panama City, Sandy Adams of Orlando and Allen West of Plantation — campaigned on vows to shake up Capitol Hill, not just hammer out compromises.