Patty in the News

Any chance a congressional super panel will succee

d in its mission to cut federal spending depends largely on a freckled grandmother from Whidbey Island and an Eagle Scout from a small town in Texas.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, are sharing the reins of leadership of the 12-person committee, which by Thanksgiving must sketch a plan to shear spending by $1.5 trillion in the next decade.

These two are political opposites -- she's on the left and he's on the right.

They really don't know each other at all -- although their paths apparently crossed in 1992 with him trying to keep her out of the Senate. Then he was the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which aided Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Chandler's unsuccessful battle against Murray.

Murray and Hensarling are now leaders in their respective chambers and soon, under the spotlight of national attention, will become very well-acquainted with one another.

If their personalities and styles mesh, they may find a way to guide this Deficit Dicing Dozen to a result other than the fatalist prognostications of many in the Beltway and blogosphere.

But with no playbook, no tie breaker vote on the panel of six Democrats and six Republicans, and memories of the bloodletting in the debate on debt reduction, it's easy to see why there's heavy betting on the side of failure.

"The size of this challenge is enormous," Murray said. "I'm going into this with an optimistic point view that the glass is half full."

Murray, 60, a grandmother of two who tries to get home every weekend, is a seasoned but not hardened lawmaker. She's won four elections, a clear sign of how much Democrats adore her.

Though Republicans generally disagree with her politics, most of those serving in Congress don't find her disagreeable to be around.

Hensarling, 54, is married with two children and since 2003 has represented a swath of Texas stretching east of Dallas along I-20 with part of the district on the north side of the interstate and more of it to the south.

He is an unapologetic conservative and chairman of the House Republican Conference. In that role, he's viewed as firm and fair in his conduct of business, a serious, detail-oriented guy.

Murray and Hensarling first spoke a week ago. Neither one joked about the other drawing the short straw to be leading this high-stakes pursuit.

"We were both talking about the seriousness" of the task, she said. They spoke again Friday to start figuring out mechanics like choosing staff, drawing up agendas and deciding where to meet, Murray said.

The initial meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16 though Murray didn't rule out getting started sooner.

This week, she veered away from talking about anything specific related to the panel -- except her frustration with those in Congress and special interest groups hammering away at committee members every day in hopes of molding their positions beforehand.

Congress and the country want us to find "shared values of what we believe our country needs and what do we have to give up to get there," she said. "I hope the public and America allows us the space to do that."

- Everett Herald