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House Democrats: Help us, Obama!

Paging Barack Obama. Barack Obama, would you please pick up the white courtesy phone?

Franklin Sands, Florida Democratic leader here. You remember me from that fund-raiser in Weston, right? Good times. Good times. Look, Mr. President Elect, I have a favor to ask. I'll be blunt. Can you hurry up with that stimulus package? We could use some help with this budget mess in Florida.

House Democrats this morning turned to Washington for help, calling on Republican leaders to slow down the budget cuts in anticipation of "substantial gains under a federal economic stimulus package." During a 11 a.m. news conference, Sands said the GOP, working in secret, is rushing to make cuts that could hurt an already fragile state.

"The Republicans are proposing wholesale across-the-board cuts but they are not really thinking out these cuts as they make them," he said, a gaggle of Democrats at his side. "Slashing the budget at this time is actually very imprudent because of the imminence of the stimulus package coming out of Washington, which we hope will bail us out, which will bail out 12 years of Republican fiscal mismanagement."

Democrats said their counterparts should better prepare for a windfall under a national package that could top a trillion dollars. "We all know right now in the United States that leadership is coming, and it's coming from the new presidential administration," said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald of Sarasota.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando suggested that lawmakers wait a few weeks to see what the package could look like. "Florida is one of the hardest hit states in the nation and so we feel we will get a greater share of the stimulus package and therefore will not have to inflict the kind of pain we're talking about."

(Weren't Democrats recently clamoring along with CFO Alex Sink for a speedy special session?)

There are some problems with the Democrats' high hopes. The Obama administration has already acknowledged that the package could be delayed and the Washington politics that Tallahassee loves to hate will surely affect the process. Moreover, no one truly knows how big the package will be or what strings could be attached to the funds.

Fitzgerald acknowledged that the Republican bill does anticipate getting some federal money to offset the crisis, but said Democrats were doing their part to create a viable plan.

The bill calls for replacing money taken from the Lawton Chiles fund ($400-million) then replenishing some of the budget stabilization fund ($600-million) and also anticipates Medicaid funds.

Democrats counter that cuts are being made across the board and any replacement plan should take the long view as well.

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