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December 10, 2013 at 5:14 PM

Sen. Patty Murray: Budget deal will restore public trust in Congress

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray says the budget deal she and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan announced Tuesday will “restore trust that had been lost by people across the country that we could function as a Congress and as a democracy.”

In an interview with The Seattle Times shortly after a news conference announcing the deal, Murray, the Senate’s Democratic budget chair, said while the deal is far from perfect, it will ease some of the effects of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration and avert the threat of a government shutdown for the next two years.

The budget framework sketched by Murray and Ryan would relieve $63 billion in sequester cuts, avoiding a new round of reductions that were scheduled to hit defense and non-defense programs alike in January.

The agreement amounts to small measure of progress toward compromise in an ideologically divided Congress that has earned record-low public approval ratings. Murray had been involved in previous efforts, including co-chairing the 2011 “super committee” that failed to reach agreement on long term deficit reduction, and last year’s failure to halt automatic spending under sequestration.

While the Murray-Ryan deal would avoid a government shutdown, it did not address long-term deficit reduction or tax reforms. Murray said she’d insisted that closing corporate tax loopholes be part of the deal, but had to drop that to win agreement from Ryan. Democrats also dropped a late push to make extended unemployment benefits part of the deal. For his part, Ryan backed off of cuts he wanted to make to entitlement programs.

Murray said if Congress can take the baby step of passing this short-term agreement, it could lead to progress on those larger issues in the future — despite partisan differences.

“I think one of our goals is to reestablish the trust of the American people that a Congress that is governed by two parties can find a way to find compromise and put a bill forward,” Murray said. “If we can get this done… we’ll show a pathway.”

President Obama called Murray from Air Force One on his way home from the Nelson Mandela memorial service to congratulate her on the agreement, the senator’s spokesman said.

The sight of the political odd couple of Murray and Ryan jointly announcing the deal Tuesday seemed unlikely given the rancor of the past few years.

In Seattle last month, Murray said she believed Republicans would be motivated to avoid another government shutdown. But she questioned whether Ryan would be willing to compromise. “There is in my mind a curiosity about whether Paul Ryan can come to the table and be a negotiator or whether Paul Ryan is going to be the guy who wants to go to his caucus and say, ‘I can be as conservative as everybody else here,’ ” she said at the time.

But on Tuesday, Murray was singing Ryan’s praises. “The Paul Ryan that showed up was the adult in the room who knew that our country needed certainty,” she said.

Ryan already is facing blow back from conservative Republicans angry that the budget deal would increase overall discretionary spending for the next year to $1.012 trillion — higher than the proposed House budget level of $967 billion (but lower than the Senate budget proposal of $1.058 trillion).

In Washington state, some conservative groups were already mobilizing against the budget pact.

Nansen Malin, director of the state chapter of Americans For Prosperity released a statement urging the state congressional delegation to vote down the plan. “Washington State cannot afford another trillion-dollar backroom deal, and Americans for Properity activists will be letting our delegation know that a deal with yet more spending and more revenue is unacceptable,” she said.

But some Republican leaders have indicated a willingness to stiff-arm the GOP’s most-conservative wing and back the deal.

Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Spokane, called the proposal “a step in the right direction on the path toward economic security for hardworking Americans” in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “While this deal includes modest budgetary reforms, it is another positive sign that deficit reduction can be achieved by making real spending cuts and reforms without raising taxes.”

Comments | More in Congress, Federal government, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate | Topics: budget deal, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Patty Murray

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