The American outcry from last week’s budget debacle was intense: Dysfunctional D.C. We need to vote them all out. How did it come to this? Onto the next crisis.
How does Dec. 13 sound for the next showdown? Sure, we don’t hit the next debt ceiling until Feb. 7, but Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Senate budget committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., this week launched a new budget conference charged with working out a budget deal by mid-December.
They will have their work cut out for them: The Washington Post published five things to know about the conference, including the fact that nine of its Republicans voted against the compromise that ended the government shutdown. More on the conference committee and Murray's role in a bit. First a quick review.
Despite disparate views about the budget impasse, a collective sigh of relief greeted morning newspaper readers on Thursday after an 11th hour deal in the U.S. Senate to avert what many expected to be a financial meltdown. The relief was as palpable and just as dense as Puget Sound fog.
The New York Times front page focused on the political gamesmanship: “Republicans back down in fiscal standoff.” The other NYT headline lamented the splintered Republican gambit: “Losing a lot to get little.” The Seattle Times published those New York Times stories under their own front page headline: “Out of jeopardy, but for how long?”
The Wall Street Journal took a different approach. Editors at the Journal shrugged: “Congress passes a debt bill.” The Journal also noted that businesses were voicing frustration with the GOP.
The Journal editors didn't snap at the bait of congressional antics. Instead, above the fold on the front page, they presented a large, data-rich and ominous graphic about the actual substance of the debate: the debt itself. The reader’s eye was drawn from the left side of the graph with its seemingly modest debt ceiling of $4.9 trillion in Clinton’s 1993 to the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in Obama’s 2013. The graphic looks like one side of Mount Rainier. It’s steep and dangerous. The following day, The New York Times ran a graphic showing the proximity of Republican and Democrat approaches on deficit reduction, except for health care.
Seeing the Journal's debt chart reminded me of the words this summer of former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, who came to town to preach the gospel of fiscal responsibility and federal debt reduction. Dripping with sarcasm and cynicism at what was still to come, Simpson said Americans were fixated on drama and hatred for politicians, not solutions and ideas.
As if making his point months later, a pundit this week equated the deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling with saving a patient who was very near death. But where’s the analysis of why the patient is dying? To use another morbid metaphor from public health, who’s looking upstream to see where all these dead bodies floating downstream are coming from? It's growing governent borrowing, stupid.
Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles would say it just that bluntly. They were the bipartisan co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. I’d suggest Northwest Republicans and Democrats dust off the Simpson-Bowles recommendations pronto. They outlined a thoughtful approach that balances the needs and concerns of both parties — discretionary and mandatory spending cuts, tax reform, social security reform and improving the process we all witnessed fall apart over the past two weeks. Former Republican Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici and former White House Budget Director and Federal Reserve Vice Chair Alice Rivlin have also published a bipartisan blueprint for deficit reduction that is worth studying.
These ideas are getting some attention from Washington's Sen. Murray. During a phone call Friday, her communications director Matt McAlvanah said Murray will use Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin as something of a litmus test for deficit reduction proposals. He acknowledged that Murray “looks for smart entitlement cuts.” It’s an open question (and a tough conversation) whether Democrats will agree with her, he said.
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