Senator Patty MurrayImagine driving down a road and seeing a fallen tree up ahead, right in your path. You could turn immediately to avoid even the possibility of a crisis. Or, you could wait until the tree is right in front of you and hope that a last-minute swerve will work. Any sensible person would choose the first option. But if you had to ask today’s Republican Party for permission before turning the wheel, you and your passengers would be in for a dangerous ride.
Unfortunately, we’ve been swerving around trees for the past two years when it comes to the federal budget, with serious consequences for families and our economic recovery.
We have had a few months of economic growth, and there was optimism that we could go back to an orderly, responsible budget process. But now, if we can’t get a budget deal in the next three weeks, we are almost certain to hurtle toward the next completely avoidable crisis.
On March 23, 2013, the Senate passed a budget that replaced sequestration and cut the deficit by $1.85 trillion over 10 years, one day after the House passed its own plan. We had 192 days to make a deal before the start of the next fiscal year, Oct. 1. I was optimistic that our budget process was finally getting back on track.
Now, more than 100 days later, Republican leaders refuse to allow us to even start a budget conference for which we could work to bridge the divide between the House and Senate budgets. And remember, this comes after Republicans spent the past two years endlessly criticizing the Senate for not passing a budget.
Democrats, along with many Republicans who agree it’s absurd to block a conference committee, have pushed to begin formal negotiations. But each time we’ve asked for this on the Senate floor, a member of the tea party or Senate Republican leadership has objected.
To be absolutely clear: These Republicans aren’t objecting to any particular policy. They are objecting to the sensible idea of allowing the House and Senate to begin negotiations far in advance of the deadline — even though they would be able to weigh in and vote against any bipartisan agreement reached in conference.
But now that more than half of the time we had when we passed our budgets has been wasted fighting simply to get in a room and negotiate, we have only a few weeks left before we run out of pavement, the tree is right in front of us and we are right back in crisis mode.
Members of the House and Senate are scheduled to go back to work in their states on Aug. 2 and aren’t scheduled to return to D.C. until Sept. 9. So if we don’t get something done before August, we will have just three weeks to scramble to put together a deal, pass it into law before the fiscal year ends on Oct. 1 and avoid a government shutdown.
We still have time to steer clear of that crisis long before it’s right in front of us. We still have a chance to govern the way the American people expect us to. As of now, Republican leaders seem to be sticking to their refusal to negotiate until the last minute — but I hope that changes.
It seems so absurd. What reason could Republicans have for purposely pushing us closer and closer to the brink and refusing to even start formal negotiations? They can’t possibly think it’s responsible to stall negotiations until right before a crisis.
There are some serious differences between the two budgets’ values and priorities when it comes to protecting and preserving Medicare, whether we should call on the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share, and whether we should make the kinds of investments in education, research and infrastructure that grow our economy and create jobs.
The Senate budget takes the balanced approach to tackling our challenges that the vast majority of Americans support. A formal conference — where the public can see what is going on and weigh in — is the appropriate place to debate these issues.
The American people are sick of the constant lurching from crisis to crisis. I am too. But unless Republicans join us at the table right now, before they leave town, we are headed toward another completely unnecessary, absolutely avoidable crisis in September. Our economic recovery will once again be threatened by a manufactured political disaster.
I will spend the next three weeks trying to persuade Republican leaders to let us negotiate. If we can at least agree to put our hands on the wheel together, maybe we can agree that the car is worth turning long before we hit the tree.