Washington state legislators got a friendly visit Wednesday from two top members of their congressional delegation – U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Murray met with Democrats in the House and Senate, while McMorris Rodgers met with her kindred Republicans in the two chambers. Neither sounded alarms that the spending-cuts situation – dubbed “sequestration” – is dire. At least not yet.
“I’m telling them that next week I have legislation that will be on the Senate floor to replace sequestration in a smart way – that moves us toward our budget deficit reduction goals but does it in a smart way. Sequestration does not do it in a smart way,” Murray said.
Sequestration makes $85 billion in across the board cuts that could remove $3.4 billion out of the state’s economy and cost 41,700 jobs, according to news reports.
As budget chair in the Senate, Murray is in a position to tilt the conversation. But as she walked across th
e state Capitol Rotunda from the House to Senate, she did not specify what her plan will do.
House Speaker Frank Chopp said Murray’s visit with his caucus members did not reduce his worry about the potential for cuts. But Chopp said Murray spoke of seeking alternative spending cuts and new revenues and that she mentioned concern about cuts to early childhood education, namely Head Start, which he described as one of the most cost-effective programs.
“She talked about it and said it is obviously a very serious situation,” Chopp said. “A lot of people are assuming it (the across-the-board cut to discretionary spending) is going to happen – at least on a temporary basis until people see the effects of the sequestration. But at this point, for us, it’s total speculation, because we’re not in the know back there in Washington, D.C. She is though. She is a tremendous asset to the state of Washington in her budget role.”
Chopp also said that his budget team’s biggest worries are how to pay for K-12 schools and to expand Medicaid, which appears exempt from sequestration. So the cuts to other programs are a down-the-list kind of concern.
In the state Senate, Majority Coalition leader Rodney Tom said there could be $100 million in cuts to federal funding for state programs. But House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt said Medicaid and other entitlement programs would be spared the cuts. And neither seemed to think the state budget writers need to be altering their plans – just yet.
In one small way, Murray and McMorris Rodgers reenacted the drama that has divided the U.S. Capitol. Each suggested the other chamber’s leadership was failing to step up.
“Right now the House Republican leadership is saying they are going to let sequestration take place. I can’t imagine how they are going to feel a month from now when almost 1 million people are going to be furloughed or lose their jobs, and the impact on our fragile economy is incredible,” Murray said.
On the other side, McMorris Rodgers, who is part of the House Republican leadership, suggested in an interview that it was the Senate that hadn’t stepped up.
“I would prefer a different approach to reducing spending and Republicans in t
he House have twice passed now proposals – one six weeks ago and one six months ago – to replace these cuts. But I do believe that we need to start taking some steps to get our fiscal house in order,” McMorris Rodgers said as she took her turn through the Rotunda.
McMorris Rodgers said state lawmakers should give Congress a little more time before acting on the expectation of the cuts. “I’m still hopeful. Congress you know consistently waits to the last minute,” she said. “I read this morning that [U.S. Senate leader] Harry Reid is now saying the Senate is going to pass something next week.”
DeBolt said McMorris Rodgers assured them that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is going to the Capitol every day working “multi-hour days” and meeting with the president to work out a better deficit reduction plan.