Carol-Shea Porter: It will take compromise and courage to solve sequester impasse
On Tuesday, I went to the floor of the House of Representatives to say we should do more than just one simple vote a day (Tuesday's only real vote was to develop an academic competition, Monday's was to rename a flight facility), and that we really needed to work on the biggest issue - a sequester compromise.
Suddenly, Republican Speaker John Boehner walked in, repeated his comments about how the House had already passed two bills last Congress to avert the sequester, blamed the Democrats for holding out for a compromise bill, and departed.
While I was there to talk about a compromise to avoid the sequester, the Speaker, the only one who actually can make that happen in the House, basically told anyone watching CSPAN that he had already done his part, that he was finished.
So goes a typical day in Washington. A few insults are hurled at the Senate and around the House, and everyone goes home, a day's work left undone. No debate on jobs. No debate on fair and careful deficit reduction. No legislative solutions offered, none voted upon. And when the sequester hits if Congress does not compromise, we will see the consequences - jobs lost in New Hampshire and across America, many Americans finding it even harder to get by.
Remember the "jobs, jobs, jobs" campaign chant? I can't even hear a whisper of the word now in the House, because everyone is yelling so loudly about the sequester. Is there a path to a solution here? I do believe there is, but it will call for compromise and courage.
Both parties agree the debt is too large. We may not agree on what spending was necessary, but we all agree that going forward, we need to reduce the debt. Since Congress already passed a first round of cuts, amounting to $1.5 trillion in discretionary cuts (which caused the economy to contract last quarter), we should now compromise and limit and slow down a second round, so we can absorb it. We should scrutinize and reduce spending where appropriate, but do it gradually, so we do not shock the economy, increase joblessness, and slow down our recovery. The sequester will cut $85 billion this year, and $1.2 trillion over 10 years. That is too severe for a fragile economy.
The sequester will hurt both defense and domestic programs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the sequester will reduce economic growth in 2013 by one-third. These cuts will make us lose about a million jobs, force federal workers to take furloughs and lose 20 percent of their pay, and hack services that range from Meals on Wheels to school aid, from work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to work in the National Guard. Hospitals will suffer, nonprofits will struggle, and small and large businesses will feel the pain also, when people are laid off and cannot spend. Everyone will feel the pain eventually because the sequester calls for the axe to fall evenly across the federal government, half the cuts coming from defense and half coming from domestic programs. The only group that is happy about this is the group that largely caused this, the tea party. As the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, "Although Democratic and Republican leaders are pointing fingers, the tea party and its allies are happily accepting credit for the cuts."
While I believe that many members from both parties would like to work this out, Speaker Boehner and his leadership team control the House. They alone decide what bills will be put on the floor for a vote. To date, they have refused to allow votes on any plans to avert the sequester. They wouldn't even change the schedule so Congress can at least be in session today, the day the sequester hits. We cannot compromise if we aren't there, and we can't vote on a compromise if no compromise bills are brought to the floor for a debate and a vote.
Most Americans want Congress to work together. They want us to reduce costs and find revenue by stopping unnecessary subsidies. They want us to get the job done, but most members of Congress can only do what they are doing - sit, wait, and wonder why we can't have those debates and those votes. Debates and votes require courage and compromise. Maybe that's why we aren't having any, but Americans have a right to demand it.
Carol Shea-Porter represents the 1st District of New Hampshire in the U. S. House.