Leading up to October 1st, there was a looming suspicion that a government shutdown could happen. In the last couple years, the U.S. Congress has been able to broker 11th hour deals to avoid shutdowns, going over the debt ceiling, and other financial problems for the country. However, this time was different as for the first time in nearly two decades; the government shutdown for over two weeks with a compromise finally agreed upon hours before the debt ceiling deadline.
In the wake of the debates and conflicts in D.C., dialogue picked right back up after the shutdown-ending deal was made with Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI1) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spearheading ideas and solutions for their respective legislative bodies and party caucuses. After a few weeks of committee meetings and prodding and pulling on each legislative floor; a compromised deal was earlier this month that would provide a more long-term solution to the country's fiscal management. The deal agreed upon would reduce the federal deficit by $23 billion over a 10 year span by doing things like raise airline fees and cutting pensions for some federal and military employees. It was the first budget negotiated between a divided Congress in nearly three decades and hopefully prevents anything like what was seen in September and October from occurring again for at least two years.
On the U.S. Senate side, the budget passed by a 64 to 36 margin. While in the U.S. House it passed by a 332 to 94 margin. Among the 332 "yes" votes were largely made up of more moderate members of each party with liberal Democrats and Tea Party Republicans voicing discontent. Somewhat reflective of how the overall House vote broke down, New Jersey's twelve congressmen were similarly split as nine members voted in favor of the budget deal with three voting against it. Conservative Congressman Scott Garrett (R-NJ5) and liberal Congressmen Frank Pallone (D-NJ6) and Rush Holt (D-12) either felt it did not do enough or went too far.
As Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11) would state,
This agreement represents a step forward because it further reduces the budget deficit without raising taxes on hard-working New Jersey residents.
While Holt felt that,
The new budget keeps in place most of the onerous cuts from 2011 known as the 'sequester'. Those cuts affected research, education, infrastructure, Medicare and came after Republicans held hostage America’s credit rating by threatening to default on our debts if they didn’t get what they wanted. No true compromise was possible then because the negotiations were conducted in the midst of a hostage crisis. No compromise is possible now because we are still operating within the framework created by that hostage crisis.
For Garrett, the budget was simply restoring too many of the sequester's cuts; the completely opposite outlook that Holt had.
Pallone echoed much of what Holt saw wrong with the budget by exclaiming,
I cannot support the budget because the plan is balanced on the backs of retirees and Medicare in lieu of closing corporate tax loopholes. I was particularly disappointed that the measure did not include an extension of unemployment insurance benefits for nearly 1.3 million jobless Americans. It is unconscionable to leave those who are struggling to find work in a weakened economy out in the cold, especially when Speaker (John) Boehner consistently blocked Democratic efforts to create well-paying jobs.
Like Frelinghuysen, Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ8) voted in favor of the budget deal and sees it as a positive step forward to loosen the gridlock that has paralyzed Congress and the country.
While this agreement is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction in preventing manufactured budget crises that has plagued Congress for the last several years. I am particularly pleased that this deal not only increases funding for defense measures, but also increases funding for critical non-defense domestic programs, such as Head Start and the National Institutes of Health.
Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ7) also saw the need to find some type of compromise on a budget deal.
As Lance would utter,
Far from perfect, the Ryan-Murray budget compromise amounts to a modest agreement that averts another government shutdown, replaces the president’s sequester with smarter cuts, reduces the deficit by more than $20 billion and provides a level of certainty on spending that has not occurred in Washington for several years. All without raising taxes. I applaud Chairman Ryan and Chairwoman Murray for their efforts, which I hope will lead to future agreements that improve our economy, tackle our long-term fiscal issues and create jobs so desperately needed.
While both parties certainly agree, the budget deal is far from perfect. However, any deal that would make it's way through Congress especially a divided Congress is likely not to feature elements that everyone can agree upon. The goal is to agree on enough and move forward with a strong enough framework to prevent short-term deals and putting the country on the financial brink. This budget deal was an opportunity for members of both parties to actually come together on something.
Time will tell if that is a sign of things to come in 2014. Midterm elections might complicate such repeat occurrences.