The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 23, 2013

Our View: Next step for Congress: Negotiate

Why it matters: StrokeStyle/$ID/Japanese DotsBudget committee leaders in the House and Senate must put the U.S. financial house in order to create social and economic stability.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — As Americans wait for the next shoe to drop in their dysfunctional political system in Washington, D.C., lawmakers — leaders — could do worse than showing a little humility, a willingness to work with opponents for the common good and, at minimum, avoid creating another financial panic before the holiday shopping season.

It’s depressing that our expectations have come to be so low for a country whose political leaders often refer to our greatness. Clearly, they’re referring to the people and not the leadership.

It’s also a bit underwhelming that part of the recent settlement of our budget crisis included a requirement that the leaders of both parties and both houses involved in setting the budget sit down and talk, have discussions with the ultimate goal of reaching common ground.

Apparently opposing budget committee leaders haven’t had such meetings in a couple of years. Americans should be shocked.

So between now and Dec. 13, the 29-member budget conference committee will be meeting to hammer out the budget for the year that started Oct. 1, or maybe even set longer-range spending and budget plans.

House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., emerged from their first meeting last week acknowledging neither will be voting in favor of the other’s budget but their goal was to vote on a “common ground” budget.

That will be a challenge as the Senate’s budget called for higher taxes and much less reform on entitlement spending while the House budget focuses on no tax increases and spending cuts mostly to Medicaid, a medical program for the poor.

Ryan told the media, “I want a budget that works for the country.” And Murray said: “All issues are on the table. We’ll be talking about all of them.”

Let’s hope the committee, with 22 Senate members and seven House members, keep in mind a few recent lessons.

Crisis management doesn’t work for a business with a $3 trillion budget. Republicans and Democrats should take note of that after the last four episodes of crisis management starting in 2011. An analysis by The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold notes that during the last four crisis episodes, House Republicans can count one major victory, one major defeat and a host of other lost opportunities.

The GOP victory was the spending cuts brought on by the sequestration deal, but the defeat was the latest showdown where even by Republican analysis, the GOP got virtually nothing and the Affordable Care Act remains well intact. The collateral damage shows up in polls indicating most Americans blame the GOP for the shutdown.

But Democrats also shouldn’t be too emboldened. There has been no general gnashing of teeth on cuts brought about by the sequester. While it’s impacting some programs, most Americans may not be noticing much.

Let’s hope the members of the conference committee on the budget realize that crisis management doesn’t work and the results generally hurt both parties. Congressional approval ratings, regardless of party, are at all-time lows.

The committee should also go into discussions with very few, if any, untouchable issues or items. As Murray said, everything should be on the table.

The committee will have plenty of knowledge in the room with the entire Senate Budget Committee, Republicans and Democrats, and leaders and ranking members of the House Budget Committee. But the members should also take cues from others in their membership. Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar put together a bipartisan group of 20 senators to urge the leadership to compromise for the common good in the recent debt crisis negotiations.

Leaders of the conference committee should also engage their membership and explain there are tradeoffs in divided government. That reality seems to need reinforcing with new House members engaged in destructive tea party activities.

And above all, the budget conference should take their cues from the American people. Most have everyday lives and jobs that require compromise. They know it’s the reality of life and hope their elected leaders can soon come to understand that.