With Election Fight Nearing, Southerland Defends Record
Around the State
Facing what could be another heated battle for re-election, U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland used a Tallahassee appearance Wednesday to blast a series of automatic spending cuts and defend his controversial amendment to a farm bill.
Southerland, a two-term Republican congressman, has been making the rounds in his North Florida district during the August recess as Democrats ramp up a new effort to try to dislodge him from a seat he won as part of a Republican tsunami in 2010. Southerland defeated incumbent Rep. Allen Boyd that year, then beat former state Sen. Al Lawson by 5.5 points in 2012.
"We feel that we'll be ready," he said. "We know it's going to be a battle regardless of who we might face, and that's still an unknown."
State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahasee, who attended the lunch event, said most elected officials are vulnerable in the current climate, though Southerland's efforts to stay engaged in the district could help him in 2014.
"But at the same time, serving in a Congress that gets little to nothing done, I think, hurts anyone's chances for re-election," he said.
Southerland used parts of his remarks to the club to launch a spirited defense of his record. He blasted the automatic spending cuts, known as the "sequester," that Democrats and Republicans have been sparring over since they kicked in earlier this year.
The sequester was approved as part of a bargain to raise the debt ceiling. Southerland opposed the measure because, he said at the time, it didn't include a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and "spending cuts large enough to eliminate the threat of a crippling downgrade in America's credit rating."
On Wednesday, he cast the vote in slightly different terms.
"Why would I only want to defund a bad program by 2 percent? I wouldn't," Southerland said, adding he would support deeper cuts to some programs. "I want to take those resources and move those over to another program or another department who in every way are blowing and going and delivering great value to the American people."
Southerland also defended his amendment to the farm bill, which Democrats have blamed for the collapse of the usually bipartisan measure earlier in the summer.
"The farm bill's defeat wasn't bad for Democrats or Republicans -- Congress's failure to pass the bill is bad for the farmers and families in North Florida," Graham said in a statement in June.
Southerland's amendment would have given states the ability to require able-bodied adults to work 20 hours a week, or look for work or volunteer for the same amount of time, to receive food stamps, which were included in the measure.
Instead, the House split off the agricultural elements of the bill and passed them as a stand-alone measure, causing an impasse with the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama. Southerland said the amendment had been mischaracterized, largely because exceptions for children, senior citizens and people with disabilities weren't always included in reports about the measure.
"We've got to secure these programs, but we have to reform them to make sure that they are in place to help the vulnerable," he said.