Leading Senator Calls for End of Fiscal Brinksmanship

On Sept. 17, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, spoke on the floor of the Senate and said congressional Republicans need to come to the negotiating table and end the looming fiscal standoffs that are less than two weeks away.

“We now have two weeks before the end of the fiscal year, and a potential government shutdown. It is a shame that it got to this point, but now that we are here, we owe it to the American people to come together and find a path forward that is good for the economy and fair for the middle class,” Murray said.

Many Republicans have been resisting efforts to make tax-avoiding corporations actually pay their fair share and instead have demanded even more draconian budget cuts that would slash Medicare and Social Security benefits. Without the constructive involvement of the House, the government will shut down come Oct. 1. If the House majority refuses to increase the debt ceiling – turning its back on Congress’s constitutional obligation to pay the nation’s debts – the government could default on its loans. This would likely trigger a serious international financial crisis.

At least some members of the Republican leadership know the stakes. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has said that default would be “a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.”

Even though discretionary spending has been massively cut already (more deeply on the non-defense side than on defense) and deficits are shrinking at a brisk pace, the deeper demands being made by some conservatives are leading to revolts within their own caucus and a paralysis within the branch of the government with the power of the purse.

The Center for American Progress offered some perspective on these demands in a recent assessment by Harry Stein: “The House Republican leadership is asking for spending levels that are about 8 percent lower than what they asked for in the past two years. In fact, if this year’s spending demands were in line with their previous demands, there would be no budget gridlock.”

The White House has offered a number of proposals that would reduce spending on Medicare without negatively affecting benefits, as well as curbing the excessive subsidization of crop insurance that goes to wealthy agricultural operations. These proposals could pave the way for a budget deal that covers a few years and could be used to restore funding to hard-hit public programs related to infrastructure and scientific research that could spur job growth and help low- and middle-income Americans.

But so far, these proposals are being ignored by Republicans who are fixated on defunding the Affordable Care Act, which Democrats are determined to protect.

Murray suggested that House Republicans deescalate the fight and compromise: “Since it seems clear the House won’t be able to get its act together in the next two weeks, the least they should be able to do is send us a clean, short-term extension of current budget levels, so the government doesn’t shut down while we continue to negotiate on a longer-term budget deal.”

The economy is slowing recovering, but not nearly fast enough to employ the many millions of Americans seeking work, who’ve been discouraged or who are working part time instead of full time. Fiscal policy is the main lever the government has to change course and get the nation creating better jobs at a faster speed. Unfortunately, austerity policies have been downshifted the economy into a lower gear, stalling the recovery. The manufactured fiscal crises looming ahead are counterproductive. Instead of further cuts that restrain economic growth, we need fiscal policies that strengthen the economy and create good jobs.

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