Fayetteville Observer - Nation doesn't need more GOP Band-Aids
By Rep. David E. Price
Beware the bearer of Band-Aids. This is one of the most important lessons of the just-concluded government shutdown.
When Oct. 1 hit, the Republican leaders who forced the shutdown knew they had a problem: The government services they were disrupting were important to the country, and a vast majority of the public disapproved of their tactics. To provide political cover, they turned to Band-Aids, proposing one bill after the other to fund single agencies or popular programs. These bills didn't stand a chance in the Senate, where majority Democrats were determined to reopen the entire government as soon as possible.
One of the first proposed Band-Aids was for the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, I've been an active participant in the bipartisan effort to address the claims backlog. The VA was working overtime to get on top of the problem. Then came the shutdown. The VA was forced to cut overtime pay and slow claims processing, threatening a reversal of hard-won progress.
Within days, the same House Republican leaders who provoked the crisis brought up a VA funding bill and hoped to label anyone who wouldn't support it as weak on veterans. Fortunately, groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars rejected this approach, calling instead for Congress to reopen the entire government. Of course we needed to restore funding for the VA - but what about the hundreds of thousands of veterans who now serve their country as federal workers and were facing furloughs and reduced pay? A quarter of all federal workers are veterans, and reopening the whole government was always the best way to support them.
It didn't stop there. Soon after, my Republican colleagues offered a bill to reopen national parks and monuments such as the World War II Memorial - although many of them have spent years trying to cut funding for our national parks. Then we had Band-Aids for Head Start, medical research, emergency management, women's and children's nutrition, and border security in rapid succession.
For many families in the Fayetteville area, this kind of hypocrisy has become all too familiar. After all, these same Republicans embraced the automatic spending cuts known as "sequestration" before they took effect, and then scrambled to replace the cuts when they began to hit popular programs such as cancer treatment or air-traffic control. Moving forward, Republicans seem set on preserving the spending cuts they ominously dubbed "the Obamaquester" during presidential campaign visits here last year. Expect a new set of Band-Aids to follow.
I know my Republican colleagues support veterans, just as they profess to support cancer research or national parks or Head Start. But I have a hard time squaring their convictions with their attempts to advance a political agenda by threatening the very programs they claim to support. They can't have it both ways - setting the house on fire and then claiming to be the firefighters.
Americans deserve access to all of the services their taxes pay for, and they deserve a Congress that does its constitutional duty: passing a budget and paying our bills. They certainly don't deserve a Congress that holds the economy hostage to repeated manufactured crises and then passes piecemeal "solutions" that only deflect responsibility.
With the latest crisis behind us, we can have the House-Senate conference on the budget that House leaders have avoided for six months. We must resolve that partisan differences on some issues, such as health care reform, will not swamp any chance of bipartisan cooperation where we can agree. The stakes are especially high: another round of sequestration spending cuts is scheduled to hit Jan. 15 if Congress does not act - cuts that will hit the military especially hard.
A serious budget will require compromise. All categories of spending, and revenue as well, must be on the table. President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton signed broad budget agreements along these lines that laid the foundation for the economic boom of the 1990s, balanced the budget for four years, and paid off $400 billion of the national debt. Those deals weren't just Band-Aids: They were just what the doctor ordered, and they offer a promising model for the future.
David Price represents North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of Fayetteville. He is a Democrat.