DEAL OR NO DEAL?
It appears Congress may be on track to pass a budget this week, provided that all goes according to plan in the U.S. Senate.
The spending plan, hammered out by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is far from the long-sought grand bargain that significantly reforms the federal budget. Democrats are reluctant to support changes to social programs such as Medicare and Social Security unless Republicans agree to increase the revenue flowing to the federal government, while Republicans won't support any plan that can be called a tax increase.
So instead, Ryan and Murray have negotiated a small-ball budget that provides some relief from sequester-level spending and increases some fees—you'll be paying a little more every time you take to the friendly skies—to bring in more revenue. The legislation is moving fast; days after being unveiled last week, it passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan 332-94 vote on Thursday, Dec. 12.
There are few people who are excited about all of the details in the deal; U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) encouraged her fellow Democrats to vote for it with the inspirational call to "embrace the suck." You can dig into all those details with a little online sleuthing, but here are two major narratives: Supporters say the deal is a hopeful sign that Washington actually can work, while detractors are saying the deal is so small that it shows that Washington is incapable of tackling the big issues.
BTW: The D.C. fiscal battles are not done; while the budget deal might forestall another government shutdown until after the 2014 midterm elections, it does not stop another fight over the nation's debt limit sometime next year.
Congressman Raul Grijalva, who represents a solidly Democratic district stretching from central Tucson to Yuma, was one of 32 Democrats who opposed the legislation.
"The best way to help the American people is to create jobs and get more families back into this economy, and this deal doesn't do that," Grijalva told the press. "I don't see enough here that helps the people I represent. This package doesn't help people looking for jobs, it doesn't help people wondering what they're supposed to do when their unemployment insurance is cut off, and it doesn't create any new opportunities for working Americans."
Congressman Ron Barber, a Democrat who is likely to face a tough reelection fight next year in Southern Arizona's District 2, supported the budget deal.
"While I don't agree with everything in this bill, this is a critical step to end gridlock in Washington and create certainty for Arizona's economy, Border Patrol agents and their families, educators who teach our children and our national defense and readiness," Barber said after voting for the bill last week. "Today was a step forward, but we must continue the fight to end sequestration permanently. I also am deeply concerned by a 1 percent reduction in pension benefits for military retirees under age 62. I am appalled at this effort to find budget savings on the backs of our military men and women and their families."
The CD2 GOP primary next year features three Republicans seeking the chance to take Barber out.
Martha McSally, the former Air Force squadron leader who nearly defeated Barber in 2012, called elements of the deal that cut military spending and military retirements "unacceptable."
"While this is a symbolic step in the right direction of Congress actually governing instead of bickering, it does little to solve the looming problem of our unsustainable spending," McSally said in an email to the Weekly. "Worse, the bill tries to balance our budget on the backs of our men and women in uniform and military retirees. There are plenty of other places the negotiators could have found savings, including reducing redundant programs and unnecessary overhead, fraud, and waste across federal agencies."
Although he was likewise happy to see a budget proposal up for a vote, Ed Martin said he would have voted against the deal because it lifts the spending limits established by the sequester.
"While this agreement avoids the nonsense and finger pointing associated with government shutdowns, it surrenders spending reductions that had been agreed upon that should have and could have been maintained by giving federal agencies the discretion to manage them in ways with minimal impact on people," Martin said.
Shelley Kais said via email she would have voted in favor of the budget deal, although she said there "really is not a lot of be excited about" in the package.
"Both parties gained something; both parties gave up something," Kais said. "With the threat of another federal shutdown in the rear view mirror and the cycle of continuing resolutions stopped, there is a sense of certainty."
U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose Congressional District 1 includes Oro Valley, Marana and Saddlebrooke as well as eastern rural Arizona, Flagstaff and the northern Native American reservations, also supported the legislation.
"I've often said that bipartisanship is the key to getting results, and we are long overdue for both sides of the aisle to work together," said Kirkpatrick, who is also facing a tough reelection fight in the upcoming midterm elections. "I voted for this bipartisan bill because, although it's not perfect, it's good for District 1's national parks, schools, rural highways, tribal communities and defense workers. And it provides more stability for our small-business owners and local economies that were hit so hard by the reckless government shutdown."
There are three Republicans competing in next year's CD1 GOP primary: State Rep. Adam Kwasman, House Speaker Andy Tobin and rancher/oilman Gary Keihne.
Kwasman used the budget vote as an opportunity to send out a fundraising letter dismissing the deal as tantamount to "kicking the can down the road!"
"The D.C. insiders released a budget agreement that is a bad deal for the American people," Kwasman said in his letter to potential donors. "The politicians in Washington are breaking the 'permanent' caps on spending, adding nearly $70 billion to the budget, and increasing fees on consumers. They 'pay' for these immediate spending increases by cutting future spending throughout the next decade. This is not fiscal stewardship."
Tobin and Kiehne did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment of their position.
NOTE OF RESIGNATION
Sen. Linda Lopez is planning on resigning her seat in the Arizona Legislature next month.
Lopez, a Democrat who represents District 2, is stepping down because she needed to devote more time to her new "dream job" with Easter Seals Blake Foundation.
Lopez, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2000, said that the Legislature had "changed dramatically" in the 13 years she spent up there.
"I had the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by people who had been there a long time," Lopez said. "Jack Brown and Jake Flake and folks who understood the institution and had great respect for the institution and for each other, no matter what party. There were true statesmen at that time and I will tell you, with the impact of term limits, there's been a really dramatic change in the institution. I don't see the respect for the institution. There is more division, not just between the parties, but within the parties."
The Pima County Board of Supervisors will pick Lopez's replacement after the finalists are selected by LD2 precinct leaders. Among the names now floating about: Current LD2 Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, former state lawmakers Tom Prezelski and Victor Soltero, and historic preservation champion Demion Clinco.