BROOKSVILLE — As negotiations regarding the fiscal cliff continue and Republican lawmakers' stances evolve, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent remains firmly behind his party leadership.
Nugent, of Spring Hill, said this week that in his mind, increased tax rates for any bracket "is not an option." He does, however, support the House leaders' proposal that calls for eliminating tax loopholes and deductions.
"It does the exact same thing, raises the revenue like (President Obama) would like, it's just in a different form," Nugent said. "If it's about raising revenues and impacting the wealthy, this does exactly that."
The goal, he said, is to avoid raising rates for small businesses.
"The president's quick to talk about millionaires and billionaires, but the tax increase he talks about is going to be on people who make a lot less than a million dollars," Nugent said.
The idea is not popular with some of Nugent's more fiscally conservative colleagues, many of whom were elected two years ago amid a wave of tea party discontent. On the other side of the spectrum, some Republicans have said they don't favor rate increases, but won't rule them out as an option.
Both the president and GOP House leaders have submitted plans that would cut the federal deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, but their approaches differ.
Republicans say their proposal would raise $800 billion in revenue over a decade by ending deductions and loopholes. It would cut $1.2 trillion in spending — about half of that from Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs — and include an increase in the Medicare eligibility age to 67.
Another $600 billion would come from unspecified spending cuts.
Critics, including Obama, complain that the plan lacks specifics. Experts say cutting deductions for only the wealthy, as the president wants to do, is possible, but would be complicated.
Under the president's plan, 98 percent of the country would have current rates extended, with higher rates affecting 2 percent of top earners. Obama has said he would back spending cuts, including savings in Medicare, as part of a deal that includes his tax proposal.
Upon his election in 2010, Nugent signed activist Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes. Every current Republican member of the Florida delegation has signed it, with the exception of Ted Yoho, the tea partier who defeated longtime Ocala lawmaker Cliff Stearns. Yoho says revenue is not the problem, spending is, but also seems to be open to higher taxes as part of a broad debt-cutting deal.
Norquist has said that cutting deductions and loopholes is a violation of his pact. Nugent disagrees. He didn't sign the pledge at the start of his second term. He said he doesn't need to.
"When I signed the pledge two years, I didn't have a track record on what I stood for regarding taxes and spending," he said. "Today I do."
On Friday, not long after House Speaker John Boehner told reporters the president had wasted a week of negotiating time, Nugent released a scathing version of his weekly situation report. He lambasted signals from the White House that the administration is willing to allow the nation to go over the cliff — prompting deep, across-the-board spending cuts and steep tax increases — without increases for the wealthiest Americans.
"It has reached a point where the blatant political actions being taken by the White House are putting millions of jobs at risk," he wrote. "That cannot continue."
The GOP, in turn, should not threaten to send the nation into default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, said Steve Zeledon, chairman of the Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee.
Republicans like Nugent are overstating the impact that letting the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire would have on the economy, Zeledon said Friday.
"There has to be acceptance on their part that the rate has to go back to near where they were during the Clinton era," Zeledon said. "We did well during Clinton's time. Going up a few percentage points, that's not going to hurt anybody."
Congress should do the right thing by immediately passing a measure to ensure that tax rates do not go up for families who earn less than $250,000 a year, Zeledon said.
"Why not go in the direction," he said, "where the rest of the country feels we need to go?"
Staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.