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    Downward deficit: How Patty Murray will negotiate the next budget crisis

    News analysis: Washington state's senior U.S. senator and Rep. Paul Ryan will have a chance to inject realism into the next budget steps. On Murray's side, the challenge is getting her party to accept cuts.
    Sen. Patty Murray during a 2012 speech

    Sen. Patty Murray during a 2012 speech Shawn Murphy/Flickr

    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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    Posted Sat, Oct 19, 5:10 a.m. Inappropriate

    Patty Murray, the third highest spender in the senate, will
    doom this committee just as she did in the 2011 super committee
    that she helped head. She has no concept of what it means
    to actually cut spending or what it involves.


    Posted Sun, Oct 20, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    I remember Patty Murray shutting down the super-committee after the Republican members left town rather than work on a deal. I predict the same thing will happen this time -- there will be some progress towards a deal, then the Republicans will abandon the committee and go home to raise money.


    Posted Sat, Oct 19, 7:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Simpson-Bowles Report has as many readers in DC as the Bible has in Seattle, for the same reason: Nobody really believes it. And asking Patty Murray to lead the Senate committee in finding places in the budget to cut? Beyond laughable. That's like asking Donald Trump to start eating his meals from the dollar menu at McDonald's.

    What's to come would be comical if it wasn't OUR money and OUR debt.

    Posted Sat, Oct 19, 1:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    I was in Washington DC for spring break last April. I took my children to a Senate committee meeting, chaired by Sen Murray, where a senior person from OMB was presenting the President's budget (which by the way was way over due).

    It was really discouraging. First, though there were 11 or 13 senators supposedly on the committee, only a few (maybe 3) were in attendance the entire time. Second, Sen Murray's questions were focused on how much spending there was in the President's budget for salmon recovery. I had sent email to Sen Murray's office earlier asking how they expected to be able to keep funding the deficits. Who is going to buy this debt that the President's budget forecasts will be issued? I did not get a solid answer from Sen Murray's office.

    The ranking Republican, Sen Johnson from Wisconsin, was very focused on entitlement issues and long-term social security finances. He also was asking the question I asked about "how are we going to fund these deficits."

    I hope someone raises this question again: "how are we going to fund these deficits?" And then a related question is "what happens if we can not?" What happens to the dollar, what happens to retirement savings, what happens to "guaranteed" pension benefits that taxpayers are on the hook to pay, and most of all, what kind of a mess are we leaving to our kids?

    More than anything, DC seems like One Big Bubble. It is quite striking to read that 7 of the 9 highest income counties in the country are in the DC suburbs. Also, if you drive around the Virginia suburbs, you see these ginormous houses that remind one of the Loire Valley chateaux.

    I hope that in follow up interviews with Sen Murray, you can ask this question: "how are you going to fund the deficit?"

    I also took the family to Sen Cantwell's coffee hour, available to any constituents who are in DC on a Weds when the Senate is in session (Sen Murry does the same thing). I asked Sen Cantwell the same question, got a sort of answer, and then we discussed how these deficits are mind boggling, the unfunded liabilities are unfathomable, and how No One from congress ever communicates this to the country. The chief of staff said "we want to do some communication." I can hope this is the case. I sent some follow up emails and did not hear back.

    I am very nervous for the future of our country. Unfortunately, lots of people benefit greatly from the status quo, which is the continuation of borrowing.


    Posted Sat, Oct 19, 10:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    Murray has a reputation for not being (how to characterize this charitably...) particularly intellectually rigorous. Readers here may remember that she asked Vice President Gore's advice as to whether she should voice her disappointment that president Clinton had committed felony perjury. Needless to say, she took Gore's advice. A real profile in courage, that. She will be a non-blinking doctrinaire toe-er of the party line in this process and, as a result, no real progress will be made. Mom in tennis shoes. Good enough for government work.


    Posted Sat, Oct 19, 10:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    I would like to see the Democrats take a page from the Republican playbook and insist that every dollar of spending cuts has to be matched by three dollars of tax increases on the wealthy.


    Posted Sun, Oct 20, 5:05 a.m. Inappropriate

    And the Wealthy will be defined for taxing purposes as anyone who has a job.


    Posted Sun, Oct 20, 5:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Title of the article must have gotten changed in editing, it should have been "Can Patty Murray direct the Economy downward?
    to which we can all agree the answer is a big "yes"!


    Posted Sun, Oct 20, 9:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    At first, I thought Crosscut was putting out its April Fools edition early.


    Posted Sun, Oct 20, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

    The deficit has fallen by almost 50%, actually. Alan Simpson never seems to mention this little fact.

    I hope Patty Murray does not give away anything valuable in this senseless quest for a "grand bargain". I hate the sequester, but it would be a huge mistake for the Democrats to agree to slash Medicare or Social Security in exchange for some temporary breaks in spending cuts. Besides, the next round of the sequester mostly hits the defense budget, which is bloated anyway.


    Posted Sun, Oct 20, 4:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    The minor drop in the deficit is a temporary phenomenon, I think deficit growth is projected to seriously resume in about 2017. See the CBO projections (http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44172) out to 2023. The deficit is only diminished in 2013 because 2011 and 2012 were so terrible. The "fallen by nearly 50%" claim sounds good; where does it come from? and compared to what?


    Posted Sun, Oct 20, 11:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    Why do people keep voting for this moronic person?

    Posted Mon, Oct 21, 7:43 a.m. Inappropriate

    One aspect missing from the consideration of the U.S. GOVERNMENT'S $ 17 TRILLION DEFICIT is that the incurred debt is money taken from circulation in other countries, anyhow 15, the remaining 2 are said to be held by the Fed. Weird book keeping for sure.
    The Iraq adventure is said to have cost one trillion, ditto I expect for the Afghan war. There an international police action would have sufficed to hunt down Bin Laden. Ye olde Taliban whoever they really are is of course another matter - that requires the question of why and whence that reaction to what is called "Modernism", insufficient colonizations is perhaps one answer!
    Carter Brzezinski's destabilization + the town of Truth and Consequences! Reagan/ Casey, the mujaheddim

    Regarded from this perspective the "deficit" is part of U.S. exceptionalist domination and exploitation of the world, it takes money out of circulationn world wide that would be better spent on infra structure, health, small lending - all less secure, until recently, than investing in Uncle Sam.


    Posted Mon, Oct 21, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    We don't have a $17 Trillion DEFICIT. We have a $17 TRILLION DEBT. There is a massive, massive, huge, important difference. Just want to make sure we're accurate with each other.

    Also, I have a real problem with the base assumption that the government budget and financial system should have ANY resemblance to household, business, or even corporate finances and budgets. Yes, the bookkeeping is weird IF YOU THINK it should look anything like YOUR bookkeeping. In the context of every other sovereign national budget and bookkeeping, the basic concepts are pretty rational, actually.


    Posted Mon, Oct 21, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    I don't believe Republicans can claim the "party of finance" any longer. There is no scenario where we cut our way out of these deficits, and it doesn't end up killing economic growth.

    The simple fact is, every time Ryan says we cut, he records it as a pure savings that costs us nothing elsewhere in the system. Having more uninsured people? Free. Totally free. Zero extra costs elsewhere in the system. Cutting education funding? Free - doesn't hurt economic growth at all... all projections for economic growth stay the same. Cuts to unemployment benefits? Zero cost there.. no knock-on effect on the economy.

    And this is the supposed party of sober fiscal analysis. They believe we can extract portions of the foundation piecemeal, and the house will remain as sturdy as it always was.

    Add that to the fact of Republican ignorance about what the government they partially run actually does. If they knew what government actually DID, would they have done this: NIH shut down = kids not getting their trial cancer drugs? Whoops, my bad, let's turn that back on. E-coli outbreak you say, well the states will just handle... oh, wait, they can't? Sorry y'all, turn the Dept. of Ag. and FDA back on. Hurricane headed for the Gulf Coast? That's cool, people will just take personal responsibili... oh... er... let's have FEMA back online.

    They think cuts are free and they don't even know what they're cutting does.

    They believe the Laffer Curve is bottomless in its economic potency, Ayn Rand's sullen 8th grader "it's not FAIR..." philosophy has a place in the real world, and "freedom" is nothing more than a justification for blind, unquestioning, self-serving myopia.

    The only thing that matters about Paul Ryan's budget is the extent to which politically he can agree to altering it and accepting additional revenues.


    Posted Mon, Oct 21, 12:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    Employees of Fuse Washington should have their posts moderated here. I mean, NullBull, the front page story is really about Patty Murray's level of influence on a very difficult issue. Are you proposing that Patty Murray is thought of in the same league as Paul Ryan? You may be suffering from the same intellectual impediment that has dogged Senator Murray her entire career in politics.


    Posted Thu, Oct 24, 1:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm suggesting that Patty Murray is in a position of dealing with a person who believes in a fantastical fiscal world manufactured in his adolescent mind as an equal, rational party. And that is bad for all of us.

    I had to Google Fuse Washington - never heard of it.


    Posted Mon, Oct 21, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    Patty is generally not thought of in the Senate. For anything. Period. She is a sharp departure from Washington's history of strong leaders like Jackson, Magnuson, Evans and Gorton.

    To even put a story like this on the front page advancing such a foolish notion that Murray would have influence over anything that goes on in Washington DC is simply a fairytale. I mean, even if you are a Dem, is she your first stringer? Her verbal and intellectual firepower have never been more potent than a party popper; she will get run over in any negotiation.


    Posted Mon, Oct 21, 2:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    It appears Mr. Shaw buried his lead: the fact -- clearly stated in his final graf -- that Murray (again) intends to inflict on Social Security and Medicare recipients the silent genocide of cuts that kill.

    Not that I'm surprised by Murray's closet Republicanism. Murray the Mental Midget -- living proof of the fact education is the easiest major on campus -- will obey the Democratic Party's Wall Street masters no matter how vicious their demands.

    That's because -- like any other Republican whether overt or clandestine -- Murray answers only to the Money Men, humanitarian needs be damned. Such is Ayn Rand feminism in action.

    Nor is the attendant brand-deception anything new. Note Obama the Orator's shape-shift into Barack the Betrayer, the total-surveillance tyrant who now out-Nixons Tricky Dick.

    Indeed it's the central Big Lie of the all-time cosmic whopper peddled as "American democracy": vote for a Democrat, get a hard-Right Republican. Vote for a Republican, get a bonafide Fascist.

    Such are “free elections” in a nation ruled exclusively for the One Percent by One Party of Two Names – moral imbeciles who profit obscenely by minimizing wages and savaging social services.

    The result – and our plutocratic overlords damn well know it – is genocide.

    Yep, the despots want us dead. Especially us uppity geezers who (subversively) remember when – at least if you were white – this used to be a pretty livable country.

    Which suggests a new slogan: death – it's now the only "change we can believe in."

    Posted Tue, Oct 22, 5:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    Oh, please. We have certain demographic trends- people are having fewer children so fewer working age per retiree. Additionally, people are living alot longer. When Social Security was implemented, the age was set so that few people would receive benefits for more than a few years. It was also not meant to be one's sole source of income. So we have a system that is not sustainable. Means testing, changes in how cost of living adjustments are made, etc. must be considered. Its not a right-wing plot.


    Posted Wed, Oct 23, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    To use your own stipulation, Seasoned "when Social Security was implemented," half the U.S. population was not permanently imprisoned at or below official lower-income status.

    Nor was the USian 99 Percent officially designated, by United Nations and World Health Organization criteria, as the most oppressed people in the industrial world.

    And what about all the formerly middle-class USians whose carefully managed retirement investments were obliterated by the most recent economic contraction?

    When you're 30 or 40 or maybe even 50, you might have a chance at recovering from such a debacle. But if you're already retired, you're doomed. No recovery is possible.

    Such is capitalism in action: infinite greed exalted as ultimate virtue, and devil take the hindmost.

    In this context, to argue that demographics mandate slashing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other safety-net programs -- imposing cuts that anybody with a lick of sense damn well knows will kill people -- is hardly different from the Nazi Germans arguing that slave labor and death-camp genocide was mandated by economic necessity and realpolitik.

    As the slogan says, "budgets are moral documents" -- and what USian budgets increasingly do is reflect the Ayn Rand greed, malevolence and outright murderousness by which the One Percent define the conditions of USian life for all the rest of us.

    Posted Thu, Oct 24, 8:09 a.m. Inappropriate

    lorenbilss, I hope for all of our sakes that your response was tongue-in-cheek. Social Security was established in 1935. What was happening in 1935? (think about it).

    For pepole whose investments went down, if they did not liqudate at the bottom, they have seen significant recovery in their principal. All thinking adults should know that investments can go down in value as well as up so diversification and understanding of risk is essential if one is to invest.

    As to all of the fixes to Social Security, these are targeted toward those who have not yet retired, and those who are not close to retirement.

    According to the Social Security Administration the ratio of contributors to recipients was 16.5 to 1. In 2010, the ratio was 2.9 to 1. This is because we are living longer, much longer than we did in the past and are having fewer children.

    Additionally, cuts are not "slashes". Equating trying to fix the current budget mess we ar in with Ayn Rand and Nazis goes beyong the pale of ideology toward irrational rantings.


    Posted Thu, Oct 24, 10:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    In 1950 the ratio was 16.5 to 1


    Posted Fri, Oct 25, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    Simple solution. Eliminate the ceiling on earnings that are taxed for SS. Crisis averted.


    Posted Fri, Oct 25, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    Seasoned, there's nothing "tongue in cheek" about the differences between the United States in 1935 versus the USian Empire of today. The two realms are as different from one another as -- if you'll pardon the cliché -- day is from night.

    But first let's deal with your repetition of one of the more common Big Lies by which stealth austerity is being imposed by the Republicans and their Democrat enablers, including the president who campaigned as a Democrat but has since revealed himself to be – in nearly every way possible – an ideological Republican.

    You say, “...the fixes to Social Security are targeted to those who have not yet retired, and those who are not close to retirement.”

    This is simply not true. The proposed “fix” – and it is indeed a slashing – is immediate imposition of the so-called “chained CPI.” This would impact all Social Security recipients, present and future, hacking an average of $1,000 per year off each of our individual stipends. (See, for example, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/13/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20110713) Imposed before 1 January 2014 – not likely but surely possible – it would abolish this year's tiny 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase.

    (To show the extent to which that miserly 1.5 percent increase is already inadequate, note that Group Health, rated as having one of the best Medicare programs in the country, is gentrifying its membership by imposing an $80-dollar-per-month premium increase effective the first of the year. Compare this – reportedly the biggest and must deliberately exclusionary premium hike in Group Health history – to a Social Security increase that averages only $17 per month.)

    Now, with Social Security as a contextual microcosm, let's return to the differences between 1935 and 2013.

    Politically, the United States -- the nation in which I was born in 1940 -- was in 1935 a functional constitutional democracy with an electorate powerful enough to force governmental amelioration of the horrors of the Great Depression.

    Today, the USian Empire is an absolute oligarchy in which both political parties have been captured by the forces of unrestricted capitalism, which defines infinite greed as ultimate virtue and governs from a paradigm of absolute power and unlimited profit for the One Percent, total subjugation for all the rest of us.

    Thus our so-called “free elections” have been, save in a few local matters, reduced to meaninglessness. The USian electorate has been so mercilessly robbed of its former power, it has no more say-so over national governance than the peasants and proletarians of the Russian Empire had over the decrees of the Tsar on the eve of the revolutions of 1917.

    The extent to which We the People have been disempowered is exemplified not just by Obama the Orator's sneering shape-shift into Barack the Betrayer, but by the ever-intensifying despotism of hard-right, often definitively fascist policies embraced with equal enthusiasm by the two major parties.

    Indeed -- given Wall Street's total control of both parties -- it is more accurate to describe them as One Party of Two Names.

    Which brings us to the economic differences between the United States in 1935 versus the USian Empire of today.

    In 1935, just as you say, the Social Security Act was passed. What you omit is it was part of a much larger package of long-overdue democratic and humanitarian reforms that included the Wagner Act, which empowered organized labor, and the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which created the Works Progress Administration to rescue the millions hurled into joblessness by capitalist greed. (The Civilian Conservation Corps, another federal employment program, had been in business since 1933.)

    We the People were increasingly optimistic and, particularly as personified by the greatness of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we had undeniably rational reasons for so being.

    Bottom line, life in 1935 might not have been pleasant, but those who were alive then knew the future would be better.

    In the USian Empire of today, government at every level behaves as if the prime precepts of governance were either the Antoinette dismissal of starvation, "let them eat cake." or Ayn Rand's dismissal of every humanitarian moral precept ever uttered. The politicians bend over backwards to help the Imperial One Percent, but savage the 99 Percent at every opportunity -- repeatedly slashing or eliminating social services just as constant unemployment combines with nosediving wages to make those services more vital than ever.

    We the People of the 99 Percent are thus in 2013 increasingly pessimistic. We have discovered the "audacity of hope" is in fact the imbecility of hope. We sought "change we can believe in" and instead got betrayal we cannot deny. We know the good times will not return no matter how hard we work. We know the Imperial One Percent is too malevolently greedy to ever again share its unimaginably vast wealth unless it is forced to do so by revolution.

    But we also know revolution is impossible; technology has given the total-surveillance state and its thoroughly militarized secret-police apparatus the zero-tolerance omnipotence of the biblical god. Now we are learning what people of color have always known – that we are like a conquered people in a conquered land – and our formerly local police are increasingly forced to soldier in a de facto army of occupation that serves only the One Percent.

    Bottom line, unless one is very wealthy or has thus far been very lucky, life in 2013 is a deadly triumvirate of wretchedness, anxiety and exhaustion, made all the more so by our certain knowledge our poverty and enslavement is forever – that our future will be unimaginably worse.

    In this context to denounce the influence of “Ayn Rand and Nazis” is merely to speak truth to power.

    Posted Mon, Oct 28, 7:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Your degree of hyperbole is amazing. First of all, no one in 1935 "knew" what was going to happen. If you actually spoke to people who were adults at that time, you would not say this. What got us out of the depression was the WWII buildup.

    Scondly, the chained CPI is just one of the possibilities being floated.

    But basically, your mindset is that everyone else is selfish for not putting your personal concerns above theirs. This last recession was caused by people enabled by loose lending standards to gut the equities of their homes to buy cars, big screen tvs, vacations, etc. If it were not for ignorant, greedy and gullible people who refuse to act like adults and exercise impulse control, a downturn in the econmoy, if any, would hsve been softer and shallower.

    We took our industrial supremacy borne from the fact we were the only large industrial country in the world not devestated by WWII and instaed of truly building upon it, became fat, dumb and lazy. We went out and bought foreign cars and cheap third world products, and did not maintain good workmanship. We tossed incredible amounts of money at education, but refused to value education as in pushing our kids to do their best at math and science, or at least read books, instead of sports. We shove junk food in large quantities, watch endless amounts of mindless TV and wonder why we are all so overweight and why the rate of diabetes is so high.

    We have done all of these things, refused to take personal responsibility, and bleat for mommy or daddy to bail us out.


    Posted Thu, Oct 24, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    What's the difference between "news analysis" and "op ed"? Just wondering.


    Posted Fri, Oct 25, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    Treker, why do people assume that there is the great untapped number of "rich" out there? The SS max is now $113,700. Maybe 4-10% of people working exceed that salary threshhold. Most nominal corporate salaries are maxed out at $1,000,000 due to IRS rules that limit deductability over that amount (the rest of compensation is typicaly stock options).


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