President Barack Obama\’s convincing re-election on Tuesday gives him an opportunity to more aggressively push policies that profoundly affect South Florida, from restoring, protecting and preserving the water resources of central and southern Florida to carrying out the new health care law, to Medicaid and Social Security.
Obama is expected to keep seeking more money for Everglades restoration, and press states like Florida to set up shopping “exchanges” for buying health insurance. He also wants to “invest” federal money in alternative energy projects while maintaining a buffer against oil drilling near Florida’s shores.
Obama’s re-election, though hard fought and far from a landslide victory, strengthens his hand. But he still faces a sharply divided Congress and Republican leaders determined to block much of his agenda.
Look for Obama to forcefully claim a mandate to govern, something he didn’t do after the 2008 election while seeking cooperation with Republicans.
“He has to seize the initiative really quickly, I mean within a week. If he doesn’t, he’s going to have problems,” said Richard Semiatin, a political scientist at American University in Washington. “He can’t wait for Congress to come back; he has to be proactive almost immediately.”
Here are a few issues of special concern to Florida that the president and Congress could confront:
Despite tight budgets, the Obama administration has consistently called for big spending on a massive re-plumbing of the Everglades to preserve South Florida’s environment, wildlife and water supplies. Congress responded with $1.5 billion of spending on related projects since 2009.
Members of both parties have cooperated, but an Obama defeat could have squeezed Everglades spending under a more tight-fisted Republican administration.
Obama’s victory also blocks Republican attempts to scale back recent federal rules and standards designed to clean pollution from Florida’s waterways.
Obama’s re-election, along with a Supreme Court decision in June, ensures that “Obamacare” will remain the law of the land.
The results put pressure on Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature to set up state-run exchanges for buying insurance and to expand Medicaid — mostly at federal expense — to cover roughly a million uninsured people.
Medicare and Social Security
Florida, a retirement haven, is especially dependent on these big entitlement programs, and Obama has acknowledged that changes must be made to keep them solvent for future generations.
“It’s going to require all of us to work together and tell the American people just how serious the current crisis is,” said U.S Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar. “Medicare in its current form is unsustainable. The same goes with Social Security.”
The issue could come up as early as this month when Obama and Congress explore ways to reduce the federal deficit to avoid falling off the “fiscal cliff,” a draconian set of tax increases and deep spending cuts that kick in at the end of the year.
Raising the eligibility age beyond 65 “is something that is going to have to happen,” Hastings said. Other resolutions require painful choices, such as raising taxes or trimming future benefits.
A likely first step: setting up a commission to recommend solutions.
Some economists think a more certain playing field will prompt consumers to spend and businesses to invest, which would lead to economic growth. If so, Florida’s job market would improve, providing more opportunities for job seekers.
Now we know the health-care law will remain and who will control the government.
“The election alone will clear away some of these uncertainties,” said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.
He predicts a gradual expansion of jobs through next year and “more Florida-like growth” in 2014 and 2015.