Patty in the News

A new bipartisan budget agreement, hammered out with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., as a lead negotiator, promises to end nearly three years of fiscal crises that have paralyzed Washington, D.C., provide relief from the budget sequester and avoid another federal government shutdown.

“We have brought certainty and stability,” Murray said in an interview.  “Agencies will again be able to plan their budgets. We won’t have more furloughs of employees.  Stability will bring back confidence, and the country can get on with celebrating the Christmas holiday.”

Murray is chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  She worked with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee and the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.

They struck a deal capping spending at $1.015 trillion for the current fiscal year, going up to 1.04 trillion in FY 2015.  This is higher than the $967 billion had there been another round of sequestration cuts.  The additional money will come from higher airline passenger fees and higher contributions by federal employees to their pensions.

The agreement eliminated $65 billion in across-the-board cuts, to both domestic and defense spending, set to take effect over the next two years.  It provides for an additional $25 billion in deficit relief.

The Republicans did not get sweeping reforms (and cuts) they sought in Medicare and Social Security, two landmark Democratic social programs of the 20th century.

The Democrats had to leave one key issue on the table.  An estimated 1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits on Dec. 28.  “The House Speaker’s office, the Senate majority leader and the White House are still working on that. It is important to get an extension,” Murray said.

Ex-Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a voice of the Democratic left, criticized the agreement for not helping those about to lose benefits, saying:  “Bad for them, bad for the economy.”

But President Obama argued in a statement that the agreement avoids harmful cuts, protects core social spending and prevents a government shutdown.  The agreement, said Obama, demonstrates that cool heads in both parties were “able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision making to get this done.”

Murray said she and Ryan talked about the dysfunction and growing public disgust with Congress.  “Not only did I set out to get the best deal for my constituents, but I also felt we needed to rebuild trust and confidence that divided government can work.  Both of us wanted government to work.”

The Murray-Ryan plan, while limited, breaks through the partisan gridlock and recent dysfunction in Washington, D.C., underscored by the federal government shutdown and near default in October.

The deal must now be sold to Congress.  It was announced at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.  Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., an ambitious Tea Party Republican, was out with a statement denouncing it at 6:33 p.m. Such right-wing groups as Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action vowed to fight it.

A populist Northwest Democrat, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, tweeted:  “The Republicans forced a weenie budget deal.  This plan won’t create jobs, get the economy back on track, or meaningfully cut the deficit.”

But party leaders were moving to back the plan.  The deal is “a step in the right direction on the path toward economic security,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of the House Republican leadership, tweeted as the agreement was announced.

“In divided government you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan told a capital news conference.  “I think conservatives should vote for this.  I think we will pass it through the House.  I have every reason to expect great support from our caucus.”

Murray argued that dysfunction in Washington, D.C., was being felt on Main Street in Washington state.

“I talk to a lot of businesses,” she said.  “I’ve spoken with pizza parlors in Kitsap County. Families were not going out on Friday nights because breadwinners had been furloughed. I talked to large businesses that depend on defense contracts, which have not been hiring and have not been able to plan. The certainty is very, very important.”

House Speaker John Boehner tweeted:  “Budget agreement reduces deficit without raising taxes, makes smarter spending cuts, protects national security.”

The House wants to adjourn for Christmas break by Friday, meaning right-wing groups have little time to stop the budget agreement.  (Congress’ lower chamber is scheduled to meet only 113 days all of next year.)  A vote is likely on Thursday.  The Senate is slated to meet into next week.

Once the “mom in tennis shoes” from Shoreline, Murray is in her fourth term and a major power in the “other” Washington.  The onetime preschool teacher has repeatedly been tasked to do the heavy lifting for Senate Democrats.  She co-chaired the 2011 “super committee” that sought and failed to reach a budget accord.  She chaired the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which had a spectacularly successful 2012 election.

Murray offered kudos to Ryan, saying:  “He’s had the courage to stand up” and work out a compromise.  As for herself, “I can go home and do my Christmas shopping.”

- Seattle PI