Challenging the conventional wisdom that Congress will remain on cruise control through the November mid-term elections, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) on Wednesday raised the prospects for a series of important deals – including immigration reform, renewed spending on highways and infrastructure, and workforce initiatives.
Murray has more than a little credibility in forecasting congressional breakthroughs, after she and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) forged a two-year budget deal late last year. The deal averted another government shutdown and possible default on U.S. debt and temporarily blocked automatic across-the-board spending cuts.
During her appearance this morning in Washington at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s fifth annual Fiscal Summit, Murray acknowledged that Congress is a long way away from another “Grand Bargain” like the one she and Ryan negotiated or the one President Obama struck with House Republicans in 2011.
Asked by interviewer Nancy Cordes of CBS News whether Congress is done with “big deals” this year, Murray replied. “I think the answer to that is that we are not.”
She added, “There are still huge challenges out there, from fiscal responsibility to deficit responsibility and the investment this country needs to make sure we’re competitive in the global market place.”
Murray stressed the importance of both chambers of Congress somehow finding common ground on immigration reform before November. She said it would be an important long-term elixir for the economy and deficit reduction, as well as address the plight of 11 million illegal immigrants.
“One of the most important things we can do in the short-term before the election is to pass immigration reform,” she said, citing a Congressional Budget Office projection that comprehensive immigration reform could produce $1.4 trillion of debt reduction and economic growth in the next two decades.
“To me, it’s kind of stunning the deficit hawks don’t look at that and say this will get us to a better point fiscally,” she said.
Murray’s Republican colleague, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, said it would be difficult to get things done this year due to “election year politics.” “The dynamic in this town is pretty poisonous right now,” he said.
Portman said that 2015 holds the most promise for major legislative initiatives, and that members of Congress should “make a commitment” to spend the first six months of next year working on tax and entitlement reform.
The Senate last year passed major bipartisan immigration reform legislation that would provide many illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and rank-and-file Republicans have ruled out action on a comparable plan. House Republicans say they prefer to pass a number of small-bore measures to strengthen border security and increase the number of visas for high-skilled foreigners.
Boehner, who has chided his caucus in recent weeks for their reluctance to pass legislation on the issue, said that many in his party were still too upset with Obama’s performance in office to take action.
“We’re at a point where my colleagues don’t trust that the president will implement the law the way we would see it passed,” Boehner said at an event on Monday hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, Texas. “So I’ve put the ball back in the president’s court. He’s going to have to do something to demonstrate some level of trustworthiness.”
Murray said one lesson she hoped members of Congress learned from her budget deal with Ryan is that “it’s okay to compromise.”
Murray is also pressing hard for a major extension of expiring highway and infrastructure legislation to prevent the federal Highway Trust Fund from running out of money this summer. She said it was essential to pass new legislation by the fall “to keep us from going into a transportation crisis and stopping all of our federal funds.”
Top lawmakers and policymakers – including former President Bill Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – are taking part in the 2014 Fiscal Summit sponsored by The Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Pete Peterson also owns and separately supports The Fiscal Times.
The Fiscal Times’ Rob Garver contributed to this report.
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