Another call for compromise
Friday, March 15, 2013
The sequester went into place March 1, the day after the House of Representatives adjourned and members of Congress went back to their districts. Constituents, regardless of how they felt about the sequester, were upset that Congress was leaving Washington, D.C. in the middle of still another crisis, and I agree. I voted to stay in Washington until we could work something out, but the majority controls the voting schedule, as well as which bills go to the floor, and all committee hearings. When Democrats were in charge, they made those decisions. Now, Republicans are in charge of the House of Representatives, and they call the shots. There is always tension over this, but it is far more intense recently.
Even the schedule has become a fight. This week, there was one vote Monday. There were two simple votes Tuesday: one to require that annual budget submissions of the president to Congress provide an estimate of the cost per taxpayer of the deficit, and one to stop tobacco smuggling in the Territories. It took a total of twenty minutes. Wednesday, there is supposed to be a vote on a spending bill. We were going to vote Thursday, but votes have been cancelled. So, Congress will go home again Wednesday afternoon, not returning until next Tuesday night. Is this any way to run a government?
People are clearly not happy with the way government is being run. I received a high volume of calls and letters about the sequester. Most people who contacted me wanted the sequester stopped, because they don’t want drastic cuts to domestic programs and defense, and they really don’t want to see workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard furloughed.
Some Granite Staters wanted to keep the sequester, because they said it is the only way to force spending cuts, and some were even happy that half of the across-the-board cuts were to the defense budget and half were to domestic programs.
Many wondered why the two parties can’t compromise. I explained that Democrats, who wanted a mixture of cuts and revenue (by closing loopholes such as oil, sugar, and agricultural subsidies, and by placing a minimum tax on millionaires) couldn’t get an amendment, and Republican leadership wants only cuts.
That is the basic problem in both the House and the Senate. Republican leadership wants only cuts to reduce the debt and Democrats want a mixture of cuts and revenue to reduce the debt. That is a fundamental difference that is hard to get around. I know that there are Republicans who mostly disagree with the Democrats’ formula but are willing to see some revenue increases. However, they are the rank and file. What we see here now is a battle of wills between conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans, and then between Republican leaders and Democrats.
I believe the sequester is damaging to defense and domestic programs because cuts are too deep and untargeted. I do believe our nation’s economists, two-thirds of whom state that the forced austerity from the sequester will slow down our economy. I have listened as the Department of Defense has pleaded to end the sequester and target cutbacks that make sense, and as others have talked about furloughs and cuts to Head Start and Meals on Wheels. What will happen to families who need help for child care expenses or rely on student work-study programs to help pay for college? What about medical research and nutrition programs, etc., etc.?
There are savings to be found, of course. There is waste to cut. There is duplication to eliminate. There is sacrifice required because there is a debt to reduce.
But there is still good work to be done. There is still a bridge to replace, a child to educate, a senior to visit with a hot meal. There is still a cure to be discovered, a train or airport to run, a food shipment to inspect. There is still a government to run. And compromise is the only way to get there.
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire’s First District. She previously served the District from 2007-11, and she was re-elected in the November 2012 election. The congresswoman is again serving on the House Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.