Very few topics were off the table for US Senator Bill Nelson’s stop on the First Coast, but the definitive tone underneath it all is that partisanship has to end.
“You can’t run a government in a country this big and as diverse unless you’re willing to respect the other fella’s point of view and come together,” he says.
Nelson tells me this has never been more evident than in the current political climate, where primaries are focused on more radicalized beliefs, major action on bills like immigration reform continues to stall, and sequestration has sunk in because of a failure to craft a bipartisan budget solution.
While he’s encouraged to see the furlough reduction to end out this fiscal year, Nelson says without a budget deal, even deeper cuts tied to the sequester will take hold in October. And those cuts have already had a deep effect on national security.
“Any time that you lessen our capability of training, maintenance, preparing for the future in any kind of across the board cut, it is hurting our national security,” he says.
Despite the national uncertainty, Nelson says locally there is something to look forward to, with the Navy’s continued investment in Naval Station Mayport. He says the patrol craft ships and first of three ships in an Amphibious Ready Group all coming inside of this year will bring a lot of money as well, with repair work to do locally and new sailors and marines to invest in the local economy.
One local project still tied up in Washington, however, is Mile Point. Nelson says the House continues to fail to act on the ‘Water Bill’ which gives the Army Corps of Engineers authorization to begin work, so now they’re trying to figure out another way to allow action to fix the dangerous cross currents which keep the biggest cargo ships out of local ports for all but a few hours in the day now.
“That’s a huge limitation on the port of Jacksonville,” Nelson says.
While he tells me he’s “optimistic” that there will be progress, he says the responsibility to call for change truly falls on you.
Nelson says because partisanship has become so entrenched, you need to make it clear to your Congressman that you won’t put up with the inaction any longer.
“The way you make progress is the American people say I’ve had enough,” he says.
One recent national topic Nelson has heard people rise up on is the NSA, FISA and Snowden controversies. He told the room he considered Snowden a traitor that he has no patience for. Additionally, he says the information leaked doesn’t truly paint the entire picture of what was happening at the national level.
Answering a direct question about whether FISA courts should be more open to the public, Nelson says it’s all about focusing on the objective of the court, and that when it comes to American safety there has got to be a balance struck between what’s private and what’s disclosed. He says that balance has been abused in the past, but that many of the perceptions about the court, like the domestic surveillance, are not true.
Overall, Nelson says he is hopeful that some kind of “grand bargain” will be struck on the budget, and that it will act on things like tax reform and ending the sequester. But he says it will take a truly bipartisan effort that he hopes Congress finally has the appetite to make.