A joint committee consisting of 29 members of the House of Representatives and the Senate began work yesterday to try and draft a budget for this fiscal year. In today’s political climate, where both sides have taken a partisan line, that is certainly no easy task.
When the past year’s budget expired on October 1st, the government entered into a state of shutdown that would last for over two weeks. The last minute resolution — which avoided a potential default on U.S. debt payments — provided for a joint committee to tackle the issue of the budget as well as emergency funding that will last through the middle of next January. As the committee convenes, the spotlight has shined on some of the body’s more prominent members while the American public turns to an increasingly divided government to solve the nation’s fiscal problems.
However, the tone on the opening day of the meeting was one of reconciliation and cooperation. Words such as “compromise” and “overlap” were thrown around as the members tried to focus on what little common ground they have rather than the massive ideological gulfs that separate the two parties. Support was unanimous for Angus King, an independent from Maine, when he quoted Abraham Lincoln in saying that, “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at seven of the key players in the budget debate.
1. Paul Ryan
Though he’s no vice president, Paul Ryan still carries his fair share of weight as a Republican member of the House of Representatives. As the Chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has been influential in drafting the Republican position in the budget crisis from the start, and now he is seen as one of the leading figures of the party in the joint committee as well. Ryan was among those who had conciliatory words to say in their opening statements to the committee sessions, remarking that, “Everybody was part of the problem, so everybody has to be part of the solution.”
2. Patty Murray
Representing the leadership of the Senate Budget Committee is the group’s Chair, Patty Murray, a senator whose home state is Washington. Having served for 20 years in the U.S. Senate, Murray carries a fine reputation in congress, having chaired subcommittees on Employment and Workplace Safety as well as on the appropriations of funds in the transportation sector. Murray avoided harsh remarks in her opening statements, merely noting that the budget deficit has declined from 2012 to 2013.
3. Tom Cole
The House Majority Whip from Oklahoma, Tom Cole serves as a Republican member of the House committee, earning him a spot on the joint committee as well. Cole has been one of few Republicans who has appeared open to the idea of increasing certain types of taxes to raise revenues in tandem with imposing cuts in order to reduce the deficit. He noted that there are “pro-growth policies” that can actually increase revenues for the federal government and that should be pursued, even if they have an up-front cost.
4. Chris van Hollen
Chris van Hollen is one Democrat who doesn’t lack experience in dealing with budgetary issues. The ranking member from his party on the House Budget Committee, he was also part of the special so-called Supercommittee formed in 2011 to deal with the raising of the debt ceiling two years ago. Van Hollen has been quoted as saying that Republicans need to be willing to close tax loopholes and alter other such rules in order to replace the sequester, which is set to institute a second multi-billion dollar round of cuts at the start of 2014.
5. Lindsey Graham
Another Republican who may be prone to giving up some ground when it comes to tax loopholes is Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina senator who took over Strom Thurmond’s district over ten years ago. Graham was certainly comfortable accepting the end of the shutdown while gaining little ground for the Republican position, reminding congressmen that they had a duty to their country first and foremost above all other political ideologies. In this way, Graham could just be the voice of reason that the committee needs to make real progress in tackling the nation’s budget.
6. Jeff Sessions
A Republican not so likely to be willing to give up ground is Jeff Sessions, who voiced his support for the sequester in his opening remarks at the joint committee’s first meeting. The ranking Republican member of the Senate Budget Committee, the Alabama senator has been known to support measures to reign in the country’s debt several times, like when he supported a proposal to place a moratorium on earmarking several years ago.
7. Bernie Sanders
The final name on our list is Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who usually tends to caucus with the Democrats. Sanders had noble words for the committee members yesterday, saying that the group should not lose sight of the fact that many Americans are still experiencing tough times, and that any actions taken by the committee should not harm the common people. He cited polls showing that the majority of Americans do not support cuts to social welfare programs, going on to claim that overseas tax havens and defense spending provided the two best areas to look for savings. Needless to say, his views are staunchly opposed by many Republicans on the committee.
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