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  1. Florida Politics

Rep. Richard Nugent's talk at odds with his record

If you're fed up with our brick wall of a Congress — and polls say about 85 percent of you are — hearing this from a lawmaker might make you want to cheer:

"I was opposed to the whole idea of shutting down the government," U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, a Republican from Spring Hill, told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board last week. "That was, in my estimation, the dumbest idea."

Problem is, this statement is so perfectly at odds with Nugent's voting record I was amazed he had the nerve to let it come out of his mouth.

He voted with the hard-line House of Representatives minority that opposed ending the shutdown last October, and then voted with an even harder-line minority — only 94 of 233 House Republicans — against a bipartisan budget compromise in December.

That means he's just as determined as more fire-breathing House Republicans to push the party's tired agenda. You know, make sure nothing good happens in Washington in case the president gets the credit.

Actually, he may be more determined.

The transparency-in-government website, GovTrack.us, ranks Nugent as the 92nd most conservative representative based on the bills and resolutions he's co-sponsored.

For perspective, that's several positions to the right of Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Ocala, who made his name by demanding to see President Barack Obama's birth certificate and who welcomed the idea of a government default.

Nugent also has a perfect voting record, according to groups that oppose Obamacare, and a perfectly awful one, according to backers of alternative energy and sensible immigration reform.

Name a plan to address a big, long-term problem, in other words, and Nugent is probably a reliable "no." He's just good at sounding reasonable when he says it.

For example, people who don't realize that this country has more border patrol agents than ever and that the population of illegal immigrants has been mostly stable for years, might see a lot of sense in Nugent's position on immigration reform: love to take it on, just got to wait until our borders are secure.

And, really, he's all for budget compromise. He's just a very staunch defender of benefits to veterans, partly because, as the father of three soldiers, he's got "skin in the game," he said.

Yes, he does; 90,000 veterans in his district, Florida's 11th. It's also, of course, home to large numbers of retirees, which explains why he's not only against trimming veteran benefits and (generally) defense spending, but Social Security and Medicare. Even when the proposed cuts are tiny.

The part of the original budget compromise he objected to was a 1 percent reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase for vets under 62 — and this in a county where millions of working people haven't seen a raise in years.

If Nugent won't allow any cuts to these essentials, which together account for more than 60 percent of the federal budget, what would he cut?

Foreign aid. Feeding starving children, fighting epidemics, spreading good will.

Accounting for about 1 percent of the federal spending — one of the lowest rates among the world's developed countries — it's the obvious place to trim fat, Nugent said.

Yes, even this probably sounds reasonable to a lot of voters in Nugent's district, which is, after all, very conservative. In fact, it's almost impossible for Nugent to lose unless it's to someone like Yoho, an extremist who won in a Republican primary.

But even though it might not matter much, we should remember the other person in this race: Democrat Dave Koller.

He entered out of disgust with lawmakers, such as Nugent, who were willing to bring the government to a standstill for political gain.

At least there's one candidate in this race who thinks the shutdown was a dumb idea.

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