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Originally published Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Op-ed: Avoiding sequestration requires balance, cooperation, certainty

Avoiding sequestration and solving our debt crisis requires a balanced approach, writes Sen. Patty Murray. Spending cuts alone aren’t enough and will mostly hurt the middle class. Revenue from the very wealthiest must be part of the solution.

Special to The Times

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AS I toured communities throughout our state last week and discussed the sequestration cuts looming over our military and economy, the frustration was palpable and the questions were the same.

Whether it was teachers, veterans or local leaders from either political party, Washingtonians wanted to know why, when we’re just clawing our way out of a recession, we continually face crises that threaten the progress we’ve made. They asked why compromise is seemingly impossible. And why, when their families need certainty most, Washington, D.C., continues to let them down.

The plain, unavoidable truth — and the answer to many of these questions — is that there are two fundamentally different visions for how to deal with our deficit and grow our economy.

The vision that has been put forth by tea-party Republicans in the House of Representatives is an uncompromising one that has been forged by trickle-down economics. It holds that growth happens when those at the very top are given special treatment and that tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations must be protected at all costs.

The other vision, which I share as the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, is one rooted in the idea that prosperity comes from the middle out, not the top down. It’s a belief that investing in our middle class, and the schools, roads and health care they rely on, will improve their financial security and create the demand that fuels our economy. It’s a governing vision that says solving our debt crisis requires a balanced approach that absolutely includes smart cuts to runaway spending, but also includes revenue from the very wealthiest.

Of course, these are more than simply diverging governing philosophies; they also drive concrete policy proposals — like those being offered to avoid sequestration.

In order to avoid sequestration, Republicans have decided to appeal to their ideological base by offering a “cuts only” proposal. Their plan asks the burden of deficit reduction to be borne by seniors and middle-class families, while asking nothing of millionaires or oil and gas companies that are reaping record profits.

A plan that I helped author, on the other hand, which will be voted on by the Senate this week, would replace the indiscriminate sequestration cuts with an equal mix of spending cuts and new revenue from those who can afford it most.

Revenue in my bill would come from making sure the wealthiest Americans can’t use loopholes to bring their tax rates below those of middle-class families as well as by eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and corporations that ship jobs overseas.

The other half of the bill would responsibly cut spending by reducing direct government payments to farmers who are seeing record profits, and by responsibly cutting military spending as the Pentagon brings our military into the 21st century and our troops return home from Afghanistan.

This is a plan Republicans should be able to support — not because it has everything they want, but because it represents credible compromise between the opposing visions of government. And, more important, because it reflects what the American people want: balance, cooperation and certainty.

If Republicans balk at the 50/50 split we’ll offer this week it will be nearly inevitable that sequestration will hit. And while the pain of cuts may not be felt the following day, our state will soon see layoffs and furloughs.

We’ll also see hardworking taxpayers lose access to government services they pay for. We’ll see our state’s children get left out of Head Start programs, college students lose Pell Grants and layoffs at our military installations. We’ll see investments in research and development that are the backbone of our state’s rebounding economy reduced. And we’ll see services for our most vulnerable, including funding that helps hungry families put food on the table, be slashed.

This can and should be avoided. But it only will be if Republicans accept that compromise and balance are in their interest as well as the American people’s interest. Until they do, we will continue to face a self-inflicted cycle of cliffs and crises that imperil our state’s families and businesses.

Patty Murray is chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee and Washington state’s senior senator.


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