Sen. Murray On Budget Deal: A 'Compromise' With 'Smarter Cuts'

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Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan announced a bipartisan budget proposal Tuesday. For more details on the plan, Steve Inskeep speaks with Murray, who led her party in the negotiations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's talk next with Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who led the Democrats in this bipartisan budget deal. She's on the line. Senator, welcome to the program.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: Well, good morning, nice to talk to you this morning.

INSKEEP: So are you comfortable with everything that you did not get into this deal, that you did not take a big swing at, like the deficit, entitlements, tax rates?

MURRAY: Well, look. We, Chairman Paul Ryan and I, agreed from the start that it was important for us to put together certainty for this country. We worked hard to get a two year deal, which I think is a great step forward. But neither one of us got everything we wanted and we were able to keep the other person from getting some of the big things they wanted. And that's called compromise. It's called working within a divided government in the best way you can to make sure that our country is managed in a responsible way.

INSKEEP: Okay, so it calms the waters for a little while. What does that mean that you have the room to focus on in Congess now, if anything?

MURRAY: If we can get this through in a bipartisan way, it means that the budget wars will be off the table and we can focus on the bigger issues that we didn't do in this agreement. There is everything from immigration reform to a very important farm bill that deals with nutrition, farm supports in this country. There are issues that were not within this budget that I think are important - tax reform, looking at how we can make sure that we deal with the equity issues in this country in terms of income disparity. There's a lot on our plate.

I think what we wanted to do was to bring some certainty to the budget process and to show that you can compromise and still move this country forward and that's part of the process that's so important in a democracy.

INSKEEP: Do you have reason to think that Congress is now in a position where lawmakers actually could make some agreements on some of those issues you just laid out?

MURRAY: Not only could we, we should. It's really important that this country work right. It's one of the things that I think we have a responsibility as leaders in this world to show, that this country, this democracy that we have is a divided government but we know how to sit down in a room and talk to each other, find common ground and move things forward. That is what this country was established on and I think it's important that we reinvigorate that thought.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask, though, Senator, about something that may bother some Democrats about this deal. It locks in the sequester, and I'll just remind people that a couple of years ago there was an agreement to restrain spending, to actually cut spending over a period of years. Many people have hated that effect on a lot of government agencies. You do make some adjustments. You do make some changes here - a little more on the defense side than the other side. But most of the sequester cuts are locked in place. Is that good?

MURRAY: What we do is we don't say we're not going to continue down the path of reducing our deficit through cutting government spending, but we replace a significant amount of that sequestration for the first two years in smarter spending cuts and in revenue, which was an important point that I think we need to make, that this has to be a balanced and fair approach, was that the revenue I was pushing hard for in terms of corporate - closing corporate tax loopholes that many people agree we should - no, that got taken off the table because it wasn't agreed to by the Republicans.

But what we - what we do know is that we have a deficit problem in this country. We do need to address it. But I believe strongly we have a deficit in education and in investment and research and transportation. We have to address those simultaneously. Replacing those sequester cuts that hit those areas so hard with smarter cuts in revenue was a critical component to me.

INSKEEP: And you say smarter cuts. I mean the sequestration has been described as dumb. Even its proponents called it dumb, dumb cuts. Most of it stays in place. They're a little less dumb.

MURRAY: Well, for the first two years we replace a significant portion of the sequestration, which brings us some certainty. You know, I was - I've talked to some of the top researchers at NIH whose grants were being cut. Those - that will bring some stability back to that agency, to FBI agents, to some of our Head Start programs, to a lot of our civilian employees who are being furloughed. These replacements of those kinds of cuts will mean a much more secure future for us.

INSKEEP: I'd like to know - President Obama's unpopularity at the moment, the problems with Obamacare. In about 10 seconds, how much damage has been done to your party for the 2014 elections?

MURRAY: Well, we moved forward healthcare in order to address one of the major challenges of our country. There are a lot of people who were not able to access healthcare who now are. Despite the flaws in the system, in getting access as it begins, this over time is going to show that we can address a major problem.

INSKEEP: Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who led the Democrats in this bipartisan budget deal. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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