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Bill Nelson on hurricane politics, taxes and Barack Obama’s “mistakes”

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the only Democrat elected statewide, held a press conference this morning outside the National Hurricane Center and scored a few political points by bashing House Republicans for cutting hurricane-forecasting and research money. But when it came to specifics about how to restore the money and what else to cut in the budget, Nelson wasn’t as voluble.

“The House of Representatives cuts to hurricane forecasting – that’s like cutting off your nose to cut your face,” Belson said. “The folks at the NHC are so good with the tools that they have…. Now these guys (House Republicans) want to cut NOAA’s budget for hurricane forecasting? That’s what they’ve passed out of the house appropriations committee. So we’re going to have to clean this up in the senate, and we will. But why do we have to keep going through these kinds of battles?

He said defense department cuts to their C-130 hurricane-hunter planes would “be like flying blind” for the hurricane center.

“Rather than me talking about cuts, we’ve got to be talking about reality. And that is saving lives and trying to lessen property damage. And that means keep this program going,” Nelson said.

But the reality in Washington is that the nation has a projected debt of $14 trillion, and Republicans have been gaining political traction with their call to cut government – not increase spending.

So what should be cut?

“Whenever the nation’s safety is at stake, I have never known someone to hold an emergency appropriation hostage and that is what’s being suggested at the moment,” Nelson said.

“I’ve never known emergency preparations and emergency response to be budgeted that way. And as far as this senator is concerned, it won’t be.”

So how about raising taxes, letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire?

Nelson said that probably wouldn’t be necessary because he is “very optimistic that we are at a moment in time (for) tax reform” by what’s known as the “Super Committee,” the group of six lawmakers who will be tasked with a debt-reduction package that Congress must approve in an up-or-down vote. Nelson said that eliminating 10-15 percent of the so-called “tax loopholes” or preference would help boost tax collections, lower and flatten income tax rates and “stir up the engine of growth.”

“If you did that and you came to our committee under our normal procedures, the finance committee would be pecked to death from all the special interests,” Nelson said.

Nelson wouldn’t comment on the recent controversy over the claim by Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) that the tea party is full of racists. “My attitude is just try to do my job and not get involved with all these other things,” Nelson said.

Part of Nelson’s job is to get re-elected, and the leader of his party’s ticket, President Obama, is doing horribly in the polls. Why and will Nelson campaign with him? Nelson didn’t quite answer.

The president and vice president are my friends. They’re my former colleagues. Clearly, the president has made some mistakes. The American people are tired of the excessive partisanship and the excessive ideological rigidity where you can’t get anything done. The people have had enough. They want their government to work like it’s supposed to work…..”

What mistakes? Alas, we couldn’t follow up. The last question of the press conference went to a television reporter who asked if Obama made the right decision in rescheduling his speech so that it didn’t conflict with next week’s Republican presidential debate. (You can invariably rely on some TV reporters to stop a good line of questioning).

Nelson said “there are so many angles to that story” about the speech because of “technical details” over how to schedule an appearance before Congress. “There are different sides to that question,” he said.