Lawmakers from Washington mirror division in Congress
The partisan gulf that separates Democrats and Republicans in Congress on virtually all major fiscal and policy issues — from whether to defund Obamacare to how to raise the debt ceiling — also divides the Washington delegation.
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — The partisan divide that pushed the federal government this past week closer to a possible shutdown also has cleaved Washington’s congressional representatives, eight Democrats and four Republicans who stand on warring sides on virtually all major fiscal and policy issues.
When House Republicans voted Thursday to trim billions of dollars from the food-stamp program, for instance, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray decried it as a “systematic assault” on social-safety nets and said it “offends me in a very personal way” as someone who once relied on food stamps.
But the cut was hailed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Spokane, the No. 4 leader among House Republicans. She said the welfare program has swelled with too many recipients and applauded that the bill would ban the Department of Agriculture from advertising the food-stamp program to those who might qualify.
That fault line surfaced again Friday when 228 House Republicans voted to keep the government funded after Sept. 30, but to strip money from the Affordable Care Act as well. The Senate said it will reject attempts to undo President Obama’s signature legislation.
Congress needs to pass the temporary spending bill before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, because in 2012 it failed to enact any of the 12 annual appropriations bills needed to pay federal workers and keep the government lights on.
Mirroring the national partisan split, all six House Democrats from Washington voted against the spending bill and cuts to food stamps; three Republicans, including Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn, voted yes on both.
The fourth Republican, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, of Camas, missed the votes because she was tending to her 2-month-old daughter, who was born without kidneys .
Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, Casey Bowman, said the second-term lawmaker would have voted for the spending bill that defunds Obamacare in the interest of keeping the government operating.
“She is not interested in a strategy where shutting down the government is the end game,” Bowman said.
Asked if Herrera Beutler believes yoking the fate of the health-care law to must-pass legislation was responsible conduct by the GOP, Bowman said, “She votes on the bills put before her. Jaime doesn’t think it will help to second-guess her own leadership in the media while negotiations are ongoing.”
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, accused the new generation of conservatives of having “no idea what a shutdown would do.”
McDermott, Murray and Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, of Pasco, are the only delegation members who were in Congress during the last government shutdown of late 1995 and early 1996.
In the showdown between then-President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Clinton quickly emerged a political winner and the Republicans viewed as too eager to close the government.
McDermott said a shutdown would be a major disruption. He recalled how the State Department stopped issuing passports, federal museums closed their doors and daily life generally upended.
“It was one thing after another,” McDermott said. He warned that once again, Americans may “have to suffer from the people they elected.”
McMorris Rodgers’ office said she was unavailable to comment. After voting for the temporary spending bill, McMorris Rodgers released a statement saying she voted to keep the government open and at the time defund Obamacare as a way to control spending to “protect the people of Eastern Washington.”
Reichert did not respond to requests for comment.
On top of the fight of averting a government shutdown, Congress is girding for a fight over the debt ceiling. The nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit must be raised in the next month or so, or it can’t repay its lenders.
Congress came close to a default in 2011. Republicans backed down in exchange for immediate budget cuts and the creation of a deficit-reduction “supercommittee,” whose failure set in motion the fiscal ax called sequestration.
The brinkmanship prompted Standard & Poor’s to lower the country’s credit rating from AAA to AA+ in August 2011, where it has remained since.
The downgrade has been costly. The United States today has to pay about 2.75 percent on 10-year Treasury bonds. The German government, which has the top AAA rating, can borrow at less than 2 percent.
House Republicans plan to make raising the debt ceiling conditional on delaying Obamacare for one year.
Murray said Senate Democrats will pass only a “clean” stopgap spending bill. She dared the GOP to defend derailing the health-care law to the “millions of Americans who are taking advantage of it,” including seniors whose Medicare prescription-drug coverage gap called the “doughnut hole” is shrinking.
On Tuesday, for the third time in three years, the Office of Management and Budget issued a contingency alert to federal agencies to brace for possible closures and furloughs.
Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KyungMSong