Rick Mendham, of Ocean City, walks to his car with coffee at the Starbucks in Somers Point.

Photo by David Simpson

Many of the customers at Starbucks on Wednesday morning in Somers Point were more concerned with making it to work — on time and with coffee — than they were with where politicians in Washington stand on the fiscal cliff debate.

But that doesn’t mean South Jersey residents aren’t taking seriously the potential for an automatic $500 billion in spending cuts and tax increases next year.

Frustrated, several said they still expect a deal to be reached by the end of the year.

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“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Jim Robertson, of Northfield. “I think that if either side, the Democrats or the Republicans, had the greater good of the nation at heart, that it would be solved in 2 seconds.”

Robertson sat at a table in the back of the cafe, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.

“The emphasis right now on raising taxes, I think, is the wrong discussion,” he said. “I think that they’ll slightly raise taxes. Obama will give at least half of his increase or more, and they’ll come up with something that will be more imaginary than real, instead of doing something really dramatic on spending.”

“When do I think it’ll end? As soon as it’s the right time for their personal schedule,” he said, laughing.

On Monday, President Barack Obama offered to reduce his initial demand for higher tax revenue by $200 billion. He remained firm on his insistence that much of the revenue come from raising rates on the wealthy.

On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner and Obama spoke on the phone, according to The Associated Press, and Boehner proposed a counteroffer later in the day, which aides to the Ohio Republican said was similar to the a proposal delivered to the White House a week ago.

If a deal is not reached by the end of the year, Bush-era tax cuts will expire and separate across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect.

Rick Mendham, of Ocean City, who was leaving the Starbucks with a cup of coffee, said he has low expectations for the outcome. He considers himself a very conservative Republican. He has little faith in Obama, and expects Republicans will compromise more than he would like. The outcome is important to him, but he finds the debates tedious.

“I care badly,” Mendham said. “But I think a lot of it is smoke in mirrors.”

Outside the Shore Diner in Egg Harbor Township, where the smell of pancakes drifted over the parking lot as diners rushed through the cold to get back to their cars, the mood was less optimistic.

Ron and Lorna Copeland, of Egg Harbor City, who were heading into the diner for coffee, said they don’t anticipate much change.

“We expect that politics are politics,” Ron Copeland said. “And I think they are so far from the little people, and what we want, that it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about what they want.”

“We’re hoping that there will be (a deal),” he said. “We’re kind of in the positive mode, but we know there is still going to be a fight.”

Later at Wawa in Northfield, city resident Monica Keenan was picking up coffee before heading to Atlantic Cape Community College where she teaches English. She is looking for an outcome that will protect the middle class. Her expectations are low, but she believes that average citizens can make a difference.

“Based on past experience, I think that they’ll keep fighting just to show that the other guy is the bad guy,” she said. “But I think that if citizens put pressure on senators, and show them that we know what’s going on, that we might actually see change.”

Up to this point, however, she has seen little compromise.

“In my whole adult life I have never seen such childish behavior from both sides of the fence.”

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