TAMPA — Florida's interim U.S. senator, George LeMieux, came to Tampa Wednesday for a forum on the national debt, and said the country needs leaders willing to make painful choices that some voters are not going to like.
LeMieux rocketed from his post as Gov. Charlie Crist's chief of staff to a Senate seat in 2009 when Mel Martinez abruptly quit with about 16 months remaining in his term.
LeMieux's office billed the event as "Fiscal Solutions Forum," a "timely and educational discussion about possible solutions to America's long-term budget challenges."
Someone asked how the United States can begin to tackle its debt problem, and LeMieux said the "people of this country are going to have to elect people who are willing to do what's right." And that, he said, "is going to make some people unhappy."
Regarding his own ideas about reducing the debt, the Republican cited his proposal to freeze spending at 2007 levels, which he says would balance the budget by 2013 and cut the national debt in half by 2020.
A review of the proposal by the PolitiFact Florida team in March found that LeMieux's math checks out, but there is considerable question about the proposal's practicality.
He also fielded a question about whether he advocated cutting Social Security benefits for current retirees. He said he wouldn't, but that he would consider raising the retirement age on younger workers.
The forum began in Orlando at the University of Central Florida in the morning and ended in Tampa at Stetson University College of Law.
LeMieux was flanked by two Washington advocates of budget-cutting fiscal policies: David M. Walker from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and Robert L. Bixby from the Concord Coalition.
The "government's grown too big, waited too long, and promised too much," Walker said during his discussion of tax revenue.
Bixby spent a part of his presentation on the impact of the financial crisis.
Specifically, he pointed out that even once the economy recovers and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, "the budget deficit is still what most economists would say is 'unsustainable.' "