Murray criticizes focus on defense cuts as 'taxmageddon' looms
Sen. Patty Murray spoke out against potential cuts to social services on Friday, criticizing Congress for worrying only about how the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would harm the Pentagon. The cuts will occur in January unless Congress takes action.
Seattle Times staff reporter
With a series of automatic federal budget cuts less than six months away, Sen. Patty Murray on Friday decried what she called the blinkered focus on how the reductions would affect military spending rather than social services.
Speaking downtown at the YWCA Opportunity Place, Murray, a Democrat, warned that Congress seems to care more about how the cuts — scheduled to kick in Jan. 2 — might harm the Pentagon than about their potential impact on such programs as food stamps, health care and education.
"I am deeply concerned that almost the entirety of the debate is focused on the defense cuts," she said.
The nation is facing the spending reductions because a bipartisan congressional "super committee" charged with finding a way to reduce the federal deficit failed to agree on a plan in November. Murray was co-chair of the committee.
Under the agreement that created the super committee, its failure triggers $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years, half of which must come from defense and half from domestic programs. It's unclear exactly which programs would be cut. Congress can avoid the automatic cuts by forging an alternate plan by January to reduce the deficit.
Though congressional Democrats widely oppose the potential cuts to social services, Murray has personal reasons to fight them. In a story she's told before, Murray talked about how her father, the main breadwinner for her family in Bothell, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 15.
"Without warning," she said, "our family had fallen on very hard times."
Her family relied on food stamps for a time, and she and her six siblings used federal grants and loans to attend college.
Several of those in the audience Friday raised concerns about the impending cuts. Mellody Matthes, the Tukwila School District's acting superintendent, said her district has set aside about 9 percent of the federal money it gets in case the funding is cut in January. Among other things, the money helps fund special education and English-language learning programs, she said.
The $1.2 trillion worth of cuts are part of a larger budget crisis that will come to a head in January, when the Bush tax cuts as well as a temporary payroll-tax cut championed by President Obama also are set to expire. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has predicted the combination of spending cuts and tax increases would tip the nation back into recession.
To prevent such a crisis — often referred to in Washington as "taxmageddon" — Democrats and Republicans in Congress would need to agree on an alternate plan.
To get there, Murray said that she favors ending the Bush tax cuts for those who earn at least $250,000 a year and closing a variety of tax loopholes and deductions. Ending the tax cuts for high earners alone would reduce the deficit by $829 billion over 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank.
Republicans favor extending the Bush tax cuts in their entirety.
Asked if she thought Congress could forge a deal to halt the cuts before the November elections, Murray said, it would be "extremely hard."
Theodoric Meyer: 206-464-2168 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @theodoricmeyer.
Information in this article, originally published July 6, 2012, was corrected July 9, 2012. A previous version of this story misstated the location of the event where U.S. Sen. Patty Murray spoke. It was the YWCA Opportunity Place.