The state legislators – Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken – are good friends, sharing an office at the State House in Columbia and collaborating occasionally on legislative measures.

As USC Aiken students found out during a forum Monday, the lawmakers are of very different sides of the national and state political aisle. The forum was sponsored by the university’s political science department.

America is the great nation in the world, Taylor said, with other nations safer and more free because of the U.S. But he’s a Republican, he said, and he believes the policies of the Obama administration have the country going in the wrong direction.

“Our view as Republicans is that we have been pitting Americans against Americans – men versus women, blacks versus whites and rich versus poor,” Taylor said. “Never in my lifetime have I seen that kind of divisiveness. President Obama has not been a uniter, but has been a divider.”

Yes, there should be a safety net for those who may need short-term assistance or have disabilities or other issues that prevent them from working, Taylor said. But people shouldn’t wait around for government to help them, he said. If businesses can get tax cuts and more freedom from regulation, they will gain confidence and create jobs, he said.

Unlike the Republicans, Clyburn said, Democrats believe in working with people, regardless or race and economic status. He deplores what he describes as the scare tactics of the opposition party.

“Let’s make sure people have a skill and affordable homes,” Clyburn said. “This is not about robbing the rich to give to the poor. Two percent of the richest people in this country have about half the wealth. This president is just saying that if we have to raise taxes, those who have billions should pay their fair share.”

While Republicans do share some of the blame for the nation’s $16 trillion debt, Taylor said, the economy is facing a fiscal cliff.

If Congress and the president don’t reach an agreement to thwart automatic budget cuts before New Year’s Day, the impact on the economy could be catastrophic.

“We have other problems,” Taylor said. “We have real unemployment of 15 percent… and Social Security is going broke. Medicare will be insolvent in eight to 10 years. We all need to do a reset. Your future depends on it.”

But Republicans are looking at the 47 percent and not beyond, Clyburn said.

“They say if you’re poor, you want a handout,” he said. “That’s not the truth. In my (legislative) district, the average household has about $17,000 in income. That’s often with two people working, maybe even three. Those are hard-working people. The government is about helping people who are trying to help themselves.”