By Congressman Joe Pitts
It’s something you used to hear from comedians and political pundits all the time, “Both parties are just the same.” I think if the American people have learned anything in the past few years, it is that Republicans and Democrats have very real differences about how the country should be run.
Our government was not designed to make legislating simple. The Founding Fathers were concerned about putting all legislative power into a single body. They designed a two-chamber system to restrain the government. That means that neither the House nor Senate can make something happen all on its own.
This year, for the first time since 2009, both chambers passed budget plans. There was little common ground between the two resolutions. Democrats called for more spending and more taxes. Republicans called for reduced spending and reforms to entitlement programs.
In order to untangle the government shutdown, the House and Senate agreed to work on a joint budget agreement. That is not an easy thing to negotiate. A divided Congress has not passed a united budget agreement since 1986.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-OR) are chairs of the two budget committees. They are the primary authors of those opposing budget plans. Many wondered whether two legislators with such different views could work out a compromise.
The budget agreement that they worked out is far from perfect, but I believe it is the best we can expect from a divided Congress.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 calls for automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. These cuts only apply to certain domestic and military spending accounts. It is a mechanism that was supposed to drive Congress to reach a long-term agreement to get our fiscal house in order. It didn’t work.
Despite a valiant effort by Pennsylvania’s own Sen. Pat Toomey, the Super Committee failed to reach an agreement and the automatic cuts started. These cuts have worked to reduce the deficit over the past two years, but at the expense of reducing our military capability and across the board reductions to virtually every domestic spending program. Good funding has been cut along with the bad.
I believe we should stop sequestration, but only with deficit neutral measures. Democrats simply want to turn it off and go back to spending without any regard to the future. Importantly, the budget agreement does not get rid of sequestration. The sequester relief in the budget is fully offset with savings elsewhere.
What are these savings? It’s a combination of long-term changes to some programs and some fee increases. There are no tax increases.
The spending cuts include making deadbeat dads pay Medicaid bills. It stops incarcerated criminals from getting unemployment checks. The agreement cuts corporate welfare like government accounts for energy companies that pay out above market rates and research programs for private energy companies.
The budget compromise asks new federal employees to pay a little more into the pension program. It also requires private companies to cover more of the costs of guaranteeing their pension benefits.
I am under no illusions. This is a very small step to fixing our very big budget problems. This agreement is small because there is simply very little Republicans and Democrats agree on when it comes to fiscal issues.
I believe another government shutdown would be pointless. I don’t believe that either party would get more of what we want by fighting harder. Americans continue to struggle in a tough economy. This agreement provide stability for individuals and businesses.
Elections have consequences. The consequence of dividing government between Republicans and Democrats is meager agreements that kick the can down the road. We cannot do that for much longer.
I believe that we need to bring our spending back in line with historical norms. We need to pass innovative solutions that preserve and protect programs like Medicare and Social Security. We need to reform our tax code and keep taxes low so that businesses can grow and provide good jobs.
If the American people agree with conservative solutions, I hope that they will elect more conservative Senators next year. I hope that will be the case, but if it is not, we need to continue finding small pieces of common ground and building trust in order to pass larger reforms.