The national debt: Rep. Nugent, how about meeting in the middle?

I have an idea that could dramatically raise U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent's national profile, bring him love from his home district and allow him to shed his reputation as a Republican drone:

Agree with the Democrats.

Let me explain, in case you haven't been following the so-called super-committee, which is proving, not surprisingly, to be anything but.

This committee, remember, is the bipartisan group of lawmakers assigned to do what the president and Congress couldn't do last summer — agree to a reasonable reduction of the national debt. Specifically, it was supposed to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion. Its deadline, though officially Nov. 23, is really just days away if it hopes to give the Congressional Budget Office time to check whether the plan will slice as much as claimed. The clock is tick, tick, ticking away.

So far, according to a Monday editorial in the New York Times, Democratic members have followed a familiar script by falling all over themselves to compromise, offering a $3.2 trillion package with deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Only $1.2 trillion of the debt reduction would come from increased revenues.

Republicans, also playing to type, have simply said "no."

In seeking middle ground, Democrats find themselves in a place formerly known as the "far right." So it wouldn't be a stretch for Nugent, who in his old job as sheriff was considered a moderate, to say publicly that maybe the Democrats on the committee have something worth considering.

It's worked on the state level — not agreeing with Democrats, necessarily, but bucking party leadership — for senators such as Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Sure, it has doomed their chances for statewide office anytime soon. Dockery said as much last month when she came to our office for an interview. But I get the feeling voters in their districts, which include parts of Hernando, would walk through walls for the chance to vote for them.

Which can be said of almost nobody in Washington. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed that only 6 percent of voters believe most representatives should be returned to office.

Maybe the energy of the Occupy Wall Street movement is a measure of broader public disgust with the Republicans' goal of protecting the wealthy. People are definitely fed up with Washington's failure to make progress on big issues.

Which gives Nugent his chance to shine. He has shown glimmers of moderation in his new job, after all. At least he voted to end the budget crisis this summer, which caused him to take some heat from tea partiers, even if he was just agreeing to kick the can down the road.

Now is the time to take a much bolder step.

Tear up that no-new-taxes pledge to Grover Norquist. Stand up as a true moderate Republican ready to consider a sensible, balanced, long-term strategy to cut the national debt.

Nugent could be the darling of the national media, the little freshman legislator who could. He could have his Mr. Smith-Goes-to-Washington moment — taking on the complacent pooh-bahs, proving himself a true independent in a town of foot soldiers.

Mr. Smith was Hollywood, of course. Old, corny Hollywood at that. So this won't happen. But that won't stop us from pointing out that it should.

The national debt: Rep. Nugent, how about meeting in the middle? 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 8:32pm]

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