Murray said she considers a balanced budget to be about balanced priorities, including spending on people. She said Ryan’s plan is filled with “gimmicks” that includes big tax breaks for the wealthy – a drop in the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent – with no way to pay for them. She said the Republican plan would never balance but would hurt the middle class and destroy the federal safety net, despite Ryan’s assurances to the contrary.
“Look, anybody can write numbers on a piece of paper,” Murray said. “But the reality is somebody’s gonna pay more.”
Despite the gulf, Murray said that reaching a compromise with Ryan in a House-Senate conference committee “is definitely a possibility.” And she said that doing it in an orderly way would help calm the fears that Congress can do something other than respond to fiscal crises.
“Look, we’ve been debating this for months and years,” Murray said. “And one of the things I hear the most and I feel strongest about is that it’s time for our country to quit managing by crisis.”
It would mark a major change of pace for the Senate, which hasn’t passed a budget since 2009. At the same time, Congress has allowed the federal debt to explode to a record high of nearly $17 trillion.
Murray joked about the long delay when the Budget Committee voted 12-10 to approve her plan last week, on the same day that the Catholic Church announced the selection of Pope Francis.
“I understand we have a new pope and a committee hearing to mark up a budget. History twice – so that’s good,” said Murray.
Murray faces many skeptics.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said she had produced one of the “most left-wing budgets of the modern era.”
And Tim Phillips, the president of a government cost-cutting group, Americans For Prosperity, said Murray had created a budget “so outlandishly liberal it’s difficult to see where common ground can be found” with Republicans.
“She is a very traditional big-government liberal: The recipe for everything that ails us, in her view, is more government spending and programs and higher taxes to pay for some of it and then deficits to cover everything else,” he said.
Murray has backers, too, particularly in Washington state.
Among them: The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, whose executive director, Joanna Grist, cheered when Murray included $900 million in her budget for the federal government’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. That’s full funding for the program, and Grist said that would be only the second time that’s happened in 40 years. It could mean more money to protect waterfowl habitat at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, better recreational access to Mount Rainier National Park, improvements for Point Defiance Park in Tacoma and repairs for the community pool in Chehalis.
For Murray, the federal debt is no excuse to stop spending. It’s a philosophy shaped by her experience, growing up in a family of seven children that used food stamps after her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and lost his job. She said her mother got help from the government to get an accounting degree so she could get a job, and she and six siblings got federal college loans.
“We were just an average middle-class family that got struck by something we didn’t see coming, a family that all of a sudden found itself in a very bad place,” Murray said. “We had a government that was there for us.”