For the second installment of PubliCola's Friday Q&A, we interviewed US Sen. Patty Murray. (Last week, we sat down with state Sen. Steve Hobbs, the centrist candidate in the 1st Congressional District who we thought, unfortunately for Democrats, wasn't getting enough ink in the run-up to next month's primary.)
Murray, who co-chaired last year's supercommittee, which tried, and failed, to forge a bipartisan budget agreement, is taking center stage again this year as the ramifications of the failed negotiations known as "sequestration"—drastic automatic cuts to social services and defense and the end of the Bush tax cuts—are framing the Presidential election.
Murray, taking up President Obama's mantra that Congress should rescind the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy while extending the cuts for the middle class, helped pass Democratic legislation in the Senate this week that did exactly that. The bill is expected to stall in the House, and Murray made headlines by indicating Senate Democrats were willing to send the nation off a "fiscal cliff" by letting the automatic cuts go through and letting all of the Bush tax cuts expire.
Indeed, Murray has been on a tax-the-wealthy jag all year.
We caught up with Murray a day after the big bill passed.
PubliCola: All through the debt-ceiling negotiations, you've stated your commitment to reaching a deal with the Republicans. Last week, you shifted course, saying you and other Democrats would allow tax cuts for all Americans to expire if the Republicans won't raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. What changed your position?
Patty Murray: My position hasn’t changed. I am absolutely committed to getting a bipartisan deal to extend middle class tax cuts, replace sequestration in a balanced way, and avoid the fiscal cliff. But I want to be very clear that Democrats are not going to agree to a deal that throws middle class families under the bus and doesn’t call on the wealthiest Americans to pay a penny more. So the ball is really in the Republicans’ court. I am willing to compromise and I’ve shown that, but it’s a two-way street and we are going to need a partner on the other side willing to do the same.
It is also very important to note that the Senate just passed a bill to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of workers and 97 percent of small business owners, and all that needs to happen to take a big step toward avoiding the fiscal cliff is for the House to pass these tax cuts too. We all agree the middle class should have their tax cuts extended, so the House shouldn’t keep playing politics with these tax cuts or hold them hostage to get more tax cuts for the rich.[pullquote]"I think we can all agree that where a person lives, their immigration status, or who they love should not determine whether or not perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice. It’s shameful that members of the House of Representatives are fighting us on this."[/pullquote]
PubliCola: How do you predict the budget endgame will play out? The Republicans didn’t blink on the budget last year; why do you think they'll blink now? And what happens when Congress has to start slashing the kind of safety-net programs you talked about so passionately at the YWCA earlier this month?
Murray: I am hopeful that we can get a balanced and bipartisan deal before the end of the year, but again, that will only be possible if Republicans are willing to compromise too. I don’t want sequestration to happen. I know how tough it would be for so many of the programs families depend on in our state. But the only way we can avoid it is with a balanced replacement that doesn’t call on the middle class and most vulnerable families to bear the burden alone.
PubliCola: Although attacks on women's health care have gotten a fair amount of attention at the federal level, the real battle right now seems to be at the state level, with state after state adopting new restrictions on access to abortion and contraceptive care and with at least five governors saying they'll opt out of Medicaid expansion (which disproportionately benefits women). Is there a federal solution to the state-level attacks on women's rights? What can Congress do to combat this troubling trend?
Murray: One of the most important things we can all do is make sure women across America understand what is happening and are clear about the threats to their health care choices. We’ve seen again and again in recent months the power of raising awareness, coming together, speaking with one voice, and standing up strong for women when they are under attack. We’ve had more success at the federal level than in some states, but we are going to keep fighting.
And I want to mention that while health care issues have rightly gotten a tremendous amount of attention, there are other attacks on women’s rights that we are fighting back against just as hard at the federal level. Right now Speaker Boehner is holding up passage of the Senate’s inclusive and bipartisan Violence Against Women Act because members of the House don’t want to extend that bill’s protections to the tribal, immigrant, and LGBT communities. I think we can all agree that where a person lives, their immigration status, or who they love should not determine whether or not perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice. It’s shameful that members of the House of Representatives are fighting us on this.
PubliCola: You came out with a statement condemning 1st Congressional District candidate Laura Ruderman's anti-Suzan DelBene ad, which looks to us like a statement of tacit support for the Democratic establishment's pick, DelBene. Who do you support in this race? And what's the best mechanism for getting rid of these kinds of anonymous IEs?
Murray: I have not made an endorsement in this race, but I am very concerned about some of the tactics being used involving outside groups. I think one of the most important things we could do as a country is pass the DISCLOSE Act to close the loopholes opened up by Citizens United and shine a bright light on the anonymous donations, mostly from corporations and special interest groups, that are swamping our airwaves and drawing out the voices of ordinary citizens.
[Editor's note: The DISCLOSE Act would require groups that make more than $10,000 in campaign contributions to disclose the identity of donors who contributed more than $10,000 to such groups. Citizens United was the case that allowed corporations and unions to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns.]
PubliCola: During the last congressional election, global warming was the number one issue. Since then, despite all kinds of alarming reports about global climate change, the issue seems to have fallen off the radar at the national level. Is there anything in the works on the Democratic Party agenda to refocus national attention on carbon and climate change?
Murray: There is no question that Congress should act to address climate change and promote clean energy. This isn’t just an environmental issue, though—it’s also a jobs issue. We should be investing in clean energy jobs and making sure they are created in Washington state and across the country, rather than overseas. Unfortunately, Republicans don’t feel the same way and seem intent on blocking any path in Congress to tackle this in the serious way it deserves right now.
PubliCola: You've been a major advocate for Sound Transit. Lately, though, the agency has come under fire from environmentalists for failing to focus on transit-oriented development---proposing a huge new parking garage at Northgate, building rail directly on I-5 where development is impossible, and building a Mount Baker station that doesn't actually connect to Metro's Mt. Baker transit hub, to name just a few examples. How well do you think Sound Transit is doing at achieving its mission of promoting not just rail but smart growth, and how would you like to see them improve?
Murray: Sound Transit has taken major steps forward toward providing transportation options for commuters in the Puget Sound. We can always strive to do more to create transit oriented development, but I believe we are building a strong foundation with our investments in Sound Transit projects.