Herrera Beutler hopeful about deal on debt limit

White House, U.S. lawmakers facing August 2 deadline

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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At her Vancouver town hall meeting in May, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler vowed to vote no if presented on the House floor with “the option to raise the debt limit with no strings attached.”

She would insist on deep cuts in federal spending, she said. Asked whether tax increases were a part of her plan to reduce the federal deficit, she said, “I’m not going to ask middle-class Americans to pay more than their fair share. “

The freshman Republican from Camas hasn’t changed her view, but she’s a bit more optimistic that White House and congressional negotiators will reach a compromise by Aug. 2, in time to avoid an unprecedented default by the federal government on its $14.3 trillion debt.

“I’m open to collaboration on this. I think we can get this done in a way that doesn’t doom our future,” Herrera Beutler said in an interview with The Columbian last week.

Unlike some hard-liners in her party, she also makes a distinction between raising taxes and plugging federal tax loopholes.

Congressional Republicans disagree even among themselves about exactly how to define a tax increase. That debate has become a roadblock to an agreement between the Obama administration and GOP lawmakers on a plan to raise the debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline while agreeing to trillions of dollars in federal spending cuts over the next 10 years.

Herrera Beutler says it’s not an issue for her. In fact, she joined the House majority in voting last month to bar the use of federal funds for ethanol blender pumps and storage tanks and cosponsored legislation that would remove the ethanol industry’s tax credits. Because the White House has vowed not to repeal ethanol subsidies fully, it’s unlikely the bill will become law.

She also voted — twice — to end a federal subsidy to Brazilian cotton farmers, a policy that U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., called “the single stupidest policy I have ever encountered.” The subsidy, which had grown to $157 million by the end of June, resulted from legal wrangling over whether U.S. subsidies for domestic cotton growers violated a World Trade Organization ruling.

Herrera Beutler also voted last month to curtail farm subsidies to big agribusinesses to the tune of $30 billion over 10 years.

“For us to be really honest in this discussion, we have to consider everything,” she said.

Her spokesman, Casey Bowman, pointed out that the 2012 federal budget Herrera Beutler supported instructs key budget and appropriations committees to “scale back subsidies for the big corporations and close tax loopholes.”

There’s plenty of fat in the Pentagon budget as well, she said, including for military contractors. “The Pentagon has a slush fund. It’s ridiculous,” she said.

Herrera Beutler signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise by legislators and candidates for public office that commits them to oppose any effort to increase income taxes on individuals and businesses. Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, the pledge’s sponsor, has equated a vote to end ethanol subsidies with a vote to raise taxes.

But Herrera Beutler says her support for plugging some tax loopholes is consistent with her view that federal spending must be slashed dramatically.

“Unless we get structural reform,” she said, “we’re going to have a debt crisis either way.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.