Region calls Congress on debt limit impasse

Hererra Beutler, Murray hear from many constituents

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Thousands of Washington residents Tuesday accepted President Barack Obama’s invitation to contact their members of Congress and express their views about the continuing impasse between Congress and the White House over a deal to reduce the federal deficit and raise the debt limit.

Gregg Payne of Yacolt was one of many callers greeted with busy signals Tuesday. Payne said he tried repeatedly to reach U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, at her Washington, D.C., office, to no avail. He said his attempts to send the congresswoman an email also were unsuccessful.

“I just want to give my viewpoint,” he said after finally calling The Columbian. “I’d like her to do what’s best for the country and not just for the party. It’s a historical vote that is coming down here. There needs to be some give and take from both parties. Democrats have done way and above with what they’re putting on the table. Republicans aren’t moving at all.”

Casey Bowman, Herrera Beutler’s spokesman said both the congresswoman’s Vancouver and Washington, D.C. offices were seeing high volumes of calls Tuesday. Callers fell into three broad categories, he said: Those “from folks who are thanking Jaime for holding firm with regard to spending reform in Washington, D.C.,” those “from people who simply want to see leaders in D.C, work together and come up with a solution” without specifying the details of their preferred solution; and those “from people worried that Social Security won’t be protected under a potential plan.”

A call to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s D.C. office Tuesday was answered by voice mail. Murray, D-Wash., has received thousands of calls and emails since President Obama’s Monday evening speech, “the vast majority of which are urging compromise and an end to this crisis,” said her spokesman, Eli Zupnick.

Jared Leopold, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Cantwell’s office had received three times the normal volume of email since the Obama speech and also was seeing an uptick in phone calls.

“The vast majority of callers we’ve had say it’s time for both parties to work together for the good of the country and avoid an economic catastrophe,” he said.

Cantwell will support a plan that staves off default, cuts wasteful spending and puts people back to work while protecting Medicare and Social Security, Leopold said.

Herrera Beutler’s Vancouver staff heard directly from some of her constituents Tuesday when about 50 members of the progressive group MoveOn.org gathered at noon outside her district office to listen to speeches and sign placards.

At the rally, MoveOn.org activist Tom Scharf said Herrera Beutler has to realize that she doesn’t just represent the tea party fringe.

“The tea party is a vocal subset of Republicans,” Scharf said. “They are trying to attack our social welfare system. They want to steal the Social Security Trust Fund. They don’t want to pay back the money they’ve been stealing for years.”

Herrera Beutler has vowed to protect Social Security from cuts. “Social Security has not driven our debt,” she wrote in an op-ed piece published in the July 24 Columbian, “and I will not support a debt ceiling that makes cuts to Social Security in order to cover overspending in other areas.”

In that same piece, she said she won’t vote for any plan that raises general federal tax rates or any plan that does not “significantly address overspending.”

Scharf, the main speaker at Tuesday’s rally, said liberals and progressives in Clark County have been too timid in speaking out on their views.

“We have to be just as noisy and visible as those tea partiers,” he said.

Many at the rally trooped upstairs to Herrera Beutler’s office at the O.O. Howard House, where they were invited to fill out comment forms and given copies of her op-ed piece. A few engaged staff members in discussions about their views.

In a floor speech Tuesday, Murray warned that if Congress fails to act and the Obama administration is forced to make “desperate spending decisions” in August, essential programs will be put at risk. She said those include “the benefits and health care we owe our veterans, loans for struggling small businesses, food stamps for those struggling to buy groceries, Social Security checks for our seniors, unemployment benefits for the millions of workers desperately seeking jobs, and even active duty pay for our military.”

“If the debt ceiling is not raised, we also face the very real and frightening possibility of our economy falling back into another deep recession,” Murray said. “Interest rates could go up for families and consumers. Millions of workers could lose their jobs and small businesses across America could be forced to close their doors.”

Many Washington families have reached out to her office during the debt limit debate “trying to figure out what they would do if the support they depend on to stay in their homes, or put food on their tables, suddenly got cut off,” Murray said. “These families have a simple message. Get it done. Compromise. Put American families first.”