The Times West Virginian

December 15, 2013

Could budget deal be key step toward a better federal government?

Times West Virginian

— Back in October, after the partial government shutdown ended, we pointed out that “Congress has to do better. This all-out war is self-serving at best. At worst, it is party before constituents. It is party before the responsibility to serve the nation.”

As we head toward Christmas and the new year, there is a glimmer of hope coming from Washington, D.C., as a bipartisan budget agreement makes its way though Congress.

The deal, forged by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., marks the reality of a divided government — Republicans in control of the House and Democrats holding the White House and Senate.

“I see this agreement as a step in the right direction,” Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, said. “In divided government, you don’t always get what we want. That said, we can still make progress to our goals.”

The legislation to ease across-the-board federal spending cuts and head off future government shutdowns, backed by the White House, cleared the House on a vote of 332-94 Thursday evening, winning large percentages of both Democrats and Republicans. It’s now headed to the Senate, where it has been strongly criticized by some Republicans.

It would raise military and domestic spending over the next two years, while avoiding the continuation of deep, across-the-board spending cuts know as the sequester. Taxes would not go up.

West Virginia’s two Republican representatives were spilt on the bill.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who will run in 2014 for the Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller, supported it.

“While this bill does not contain everything I would want in a budget agreement, I am pleased that it will give certainty to the economy and small businesses, eliminating the threat of a government shutdown,” Capito said. “This legislation reduces our deficit by making smarter, targeted cuts. This agreement is a responsible step forward, one that I hope will lay the groundwork for future timely and balanced budgets.”

Rep. David McKinley said he came to Congress with the pledge to reduce spending and not burden future generations with unsustainable debt.

“Unfortunately, this deal reverses some of the progress we’ve made,” McKinley said. “It increases spending for the next two years but promises to save money in the future. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, most of the savings would come seven years from now.”

He’s also concerned about abolishing a program run at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown.

“This particular energy research program supports about 80 jobs,” he added. “Limiting it diminishes one of the vital roles NETL plays to our local and national economy.”

“While I applaud the fact that bipartisan discussions on the budget took place for the first time in five years, unfortunately the final product falls short,” McKinley added. “America’s debt continues to grow, reaching $17.2 trillion. Just like American families, Washington must be serious about living within its means.”

West Virginia Democratic Sens. Rockefeller and Joe Manchin have said they will support the bill.

“I will be reviewing the details of this budget agreement to make sure we strike the proper balance between funding our government, creating certainty for businesses to hire hardworking Americans and reducing our deficit,” Manchin said. “Let’s return our focus to rebuilding America.”

While Manchin said he was pleased Democrats and Republicans were able to negotiate a deal, he does not believe the deal is ideal.

“While this deal is not perfect, and not the one I would have written myself, it is a first step toward getting Congress back on track,” he said.

That’s our wish as well.

Congress does need to have serious discussion on some hard issues such as the tax code and the rising costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Getting a budget agreement into law and avoiding down-to-the-wire tactics, winner-take-all philosophy and crisis generation are important steps toward a better federal government.

Is it too much to ask? We’d like to think the answer is no. After all, it is the season of hope.