Monday, February 19, 2018
Opinion

Castor: Balanced approach to lower debt, spur growth and jobs

Jobs, education, innovation and infrastructure are at the heart of a path forward to end the government shutdown and build long-term economic opportunities for Americans. Democrats have proposed a balanced approach that charts a sustainable course for middle-class families, and we are eager for solutions and a long-term budget.

The House and Senate each passed budgets in March, and the next step should have been for both houses to negotiate a final budget. Instead, America has been stalled by congressional Republicans who have refused to move forward and appoint negotiators for a bipartisan budget conference that would lead to a compromise.

Senate Democrats have urged their colleagues 19 times to move forward with a budget conference, only to be blocked by Republicans. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other moderate Republican senators such as Sen. Susan Collins from Maine have objected to their party's intransigence. McCain appealed to his fellow Republicans to work together, to no avail:

"For four years we complained that the Senate majority leader (Democrats) would refuse to bring a budget to the floor of the Senate. … So what do we on my side of the aisle keep doing? We don't want a budget unless we put requirements on the conferees that are absolutely out of line and unprecedented. If my colleagues on this side of the aisle think that we are helping our cause as fiscal conservatives by blocking going to a conference on the budget, then we are not helping ourselves with the American people."

Americans have realized congressional Republicans intentionally pushed the time frame to the end of the fiscal year and the default deadline to gain greater leverage in budget negotiations. Add in the fervor to nullify the Affordable Care Act and shut down the government — as an end itself — and brinksmanship rules the day.

Meanwhile, our neighbors are furloughed from work. Veterans benefits are delayed. The stock market is shaky. Job loss and economic harm spread, especially in our community. I have heard from many in Tampa Bay — including Republican members of Congress — and the message is clear: End the shutdown and focus on the big-picture budget for future years.

That is the first step to get America out of today's dysfunction. If Republican members of Congress agree the shutdown should end, they should vote that way. It is irresponsible to shut down the U.S. government, especially over a duly enacted law; attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have failed more than 40 times. Ending the shutdown now through the clean continuing resolution is a compromise for Democrats because we reluctantly accept the Republican appropriations position, but we must do so to put Americans back to work.

Second, I believe both parties understand that America faces long-term challenges in reducing the debt. Serious budget negotiations with a balanced approach will create jobs, lower long-term debt and stabilize the economy.

Republicans must recognize education, infrastructure and medical research are not the drivers of the debt and deficit. They are investments that create jobs and help reduce deficits. I urge my colleagues not to double down on the sequester that has eliminated researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, squeezed Meals on Wheels, and sacrificed infrastructure that would modernize America and create jobs.

We can close special interest "loopholes" that riddle the tax code. I understand my Republicans colleagues do not want "one dime" of new revenue, but there is waste in the tax code just as there is in some government programs. Let's work on reasonable solutions in a budget conference so important initiatives such as Medicare and Medicaid are strengthened for generations. The reality is that baby boomers are retiring in higher numbers every day, but the House Republican budget proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system and gut long-term care is neither wise nor realistic.

Third, Republican moderates must convince the tea party wing that it is not in America's best interest to default. Avoiding default and being responsible requires paying for America's past obligations including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly, my Republican colleagues recognize their responsibility here.

We should then work together to chart a course for job creation and innovation by setting a timetable for a budget conference — not a "super committee" or other gimmick. The budget differences are wide and difficult, but the road to economic growth lies in greater certainty and stability and tough choices from all sides.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, represents the 14th Congressional District that covers portions of Tampa, southern Hillsborough County and southern St. Petersburg. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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