Murray is right: Congress must establish a budget conference

Tacoma News TribuneAugust 2, 2013 

John F. Kennedy once said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”

Here in Washington state, Republicans and Democrats recently passed a budget that neither side views as perfect, but which garnered overwhelm-ing support from both parties. Both sides knew that compromise and negotiation were necessary to avoid a shutdown of state government.

Now consider the vastly different situation in Washington, D.C. — one we witnessed firsthand July 17 as we met with members of Congress.

As our debt continues to mount and our economy remains sluggish, Congress has not passed a budget since 1997. And now some members of the Senate are blocking the two parties from forming a committee to consider a budget.

Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate each passed a budget. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan reduces the debt but relies on changes to Social Security and Medicare unacceptable to Democrats. Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray’s budget fails to reduce spending or reform entitlements and relies on tax increases unacceptable to Republicans.

While neither budget represented the needed bipartisan compromise, at least the process was progressing. The next step should be the formation of House-Senate conference committee to address the differences between the two bills, something that Murray has pushed for repeatedly.

For that, we commend Murray, as well as Republicans such as Sen. John McCain, for supporting her in this.

Unfortunately, some Republicans are preventing a conference committee, perpetuating gridlock and preventing compromise. And as we saw here in our state, compromise is impossible if the two sides won’t even agree to meet and negotiate.

And as this continues to persist, our nation’s most pressing problem — the debt — remains unresolved.

Washington, D.C., seems pleased that near-term deficit projections have improved; however, without major reforms, our long-term fiscal outlook remains bleak. Even with the progress made so far, the debt will rise as a share of the economy by decade’s end and not let up thereafter.

If we do nothing, economic growth will sputter and interest, inflation and unemployment rates will all rise.

When pushed to the brink recently, from the debt ceiling to the fiscal cliff, leaders on Capitol Hill implemented quick fixes knowing such fixes would not solve our long-term fiscal problems. This is why we — a Republican and a Democrat — are members of the Washington chapter of the Campaign to Fix the Debt advocating for a “grand bargain” based on the work of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission and other recent bipartisan efforts.

Rather than lurching from crisis to crisis, Washington needs to comprehensively address our fiscal challenges in a bipartisan way. Implementing a deficit-reduction plan now, instead of waiting for the deficit to grow again, will allow us to deal with these long-term challenges through smart reforms.

Supporting Murray’s efforts to form a conference committee and engage in negotiations seems like a good way to make progress now.

Chris Vance is a former state representative, King County councilman and chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. Mario Reyes is the former president of the North Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Both are members of the Washington Chapter of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a bipartisan effort to educate members of Congress and citizens about the need to address the nation’s fiscal challenges.

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