Senator Patty Murray of Washington added another feather to her political cap by negotiating a budget deal with House Republicans that should prevent more fiscal cliffs in the next two years.
Murray and her House counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan, unveiled the agreement this week. The House is scheduled to vote on it as early as today.
“We cheer for a different football team, clearly. We catch different fish. We have some differences on policy, but we agree our country needs some certainty," said Murray.
While the deal doesn't live up to expectations of a grand bargain, it has a bipartisan stamp and replaces some of the worst effects of budget sequestration with what Murray termed "smart cuts." The package also contains added revenue.
Tea Party conservatives are upset the deal increases spending by $63 billion, while Democrats are mad because the package doesn't extend unemployment benefits for people suffering long-term joblessness.
But both sides could take solace that the plan didn't touch sensitive political nerves – entitlement reform for Democrats, corporate tax loopholes for Republicans. And that, according to Murray and Ryan, was by design.
Murray, viewed as one of the most pragmatic, can-do members of Congress, said she and Ryan agreed on the first day of negotiations to avoid deep political trenches while looking instead for political common ground.
The compromise is particularly a win for Murray in light of her failed, but diligent efforts to reach a grand bargain in 2011 as the co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or the “super committee.” While this task was smaller in comparison, the conference committee only occurred because Murray was able to push a budget through the Senate for the first time since 2009.
From the beginning, as leaders of the House-Senate Budget Conference Committee, Murray and Ryan exhibited a working relationship built on mutual trust and respect. As Ryan said of his fellow negotiator, “I want to thank Senator Murray. She’s a tough and honest negotiator. She has fought for her principles every step of the way.”
Murray and Ryan both acknowledged that the agreement is not something they would have crafted on their own. Rather, a deal was reached because of their ability to focus on common ground. Over the next several days, the negotiators will be busy “selling” the plan to their colleagues and working to gather support.
The $1.012 trillion number set by the Ryan-Murray compromise is roughly halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion. Adjusting military retirement benefits, increasing airline security fees and Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation premiums, along with other small measures, account for the savings in the agreement.