Facing a tough fight to secure a fourth term in the U.S. Senate, Patty Murray said she understands voters’ frustration with a struggling economy, prolonged war, complex reforms in health care and the fact that a fix for immigration issues continues to elude Congress.
“It’s no surprise to me that people are overwhelmed,” Murray said during a stop Friday at The Columbian.
“They’ve been stomach-punched” with all that’s come in the past 18 months since the U.S. economy buckled, she said.
At the micro level, she can relate to Clark County commuters who battle Interstate 5 backups near the Columbia River.
Two weekends ago, she and her husband were caught in a 90-minute delay in Portland on their return from a funeral in Salem, Ore., she said.
“Guess who your best advocate on this (Columbia River Crossing) is?” said Murray, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that writes the federal transportation budget, with a laugh.
As far as federal support for a replacement bridge, stay tuned: She promised news next week she couldn’t yet share.
“It’s not easy, but people are moving along on this, and I have been pushing them hard to do that,” Murray said. “I’m gonna reward that behavior next Wednesday.”
Making her best pitch to keep her job at a time Americans’ wrath for incumbents of either political stripe has reached an all-time high, Murray said she remains committed to fight daily to address problems in Washington state and Southwest Washington.
“It’s a job that I love to do, and a community I love to do it for. And all the investments we’ve worked on are at stake in this election,” she said.
Republican opponent and former legislator Dino Rossi has said he’d eschew most federal earmarks — what Murray calls “targeted local investments” — in a misguided attempt at deficit reduction, she said.
“What happens to Clark County if one of my opponents is elected?” Murray said in response to a question.
As senators carve up appropriations for transportation and other projects, “If you opt out of fighting for the regional investment, it’s not like the budget gets reduced by any amount of money,” she said. “There’s a number of senators who are quite happy to have our region opt out of those local investments.
“I happen to think it’s my job to come down here, work with this region, find out what the priorities are … and then go to bat for you in Washington, D.C. That’s what I intend to do, and keep doing,” she said.
The riddle of balancing deficit reduction with work to jump-start the stalled economy resembles her first year in Congress in 1993, Murray said. Tough budget cuts were made, tough votes were taken, and many incumbents paid a price in the following election, she said.
Now, she’s working with her ranking Republican subcommittee colleague to pare inappropriate projects during lean budget times, she said. “I get that,” she said.
She still hopes for movement on her plan to free up cash for businesses and put community banks on a more stable footing. Her Main Street Lending Restoration Act would redirect $30 billion in unused Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to community banks to buy their toxic assets and thus stimulate more local lending, she said.
Murray said financial oversight legislation passed by Congress this week fulfilled her personal goal to prevent another market meltdown — and resulting federal bailout — such as that in late 2008.
“I’m as mad as everyone else what happened and how it happened. (The law) will make a difference, so we will not see that kind of collapse again,” she said.
The financial reform bill is “not perfect” but includes strong consumer protection language and new support for financial literacy — the latter a shortcoming that played into predatory lending and poor decisions, she said. The senator said she had had a hand in authoring the financial literacy section.
Murray hit on other topics:
o BP Gulf oil spill: Beyond overseeing a long cleanup, she said, Congress must investigate either lax or convoluted federal regulation that contributed to the deadly April 20 explosion and lack of effective response.
Several agencies split oversight of the oil drill, the platform, the pipeline, etc.: “It is beyond complex. Nobody’s in charge of the bus here,” she said.
The disaster is part of a trend of deadly refinery and oil-related accidents, including in Washington state, she noted: “Are we pushing for profits so hard that we’ve lost sight of making sure people’s lives are safe?”
o Immigration reform: Congress must pass comprehensive changes to avoid a “patchwork quilt” of state laws such as that adopted in Arizona.
But she lost an ally in her push for a visitor job program, with the exit of former Idaho GOP senator Larry Craig. And sharp election-year pressures rule out help from past supporters Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, she said.
“They’ve got a constituency that won’t let that happen” until after November, she said.
o Voter unrest: From economic turmoil to the Gulf oil spill, the public has been battered, she said. “It is fair to look backward” to years when then-President George W. Bush pushed tax cuts “without paying for them,” instigated two “off-the-budget” wars and sought Medicare Part D expansion that helped explode the U.S. debt, she said.
“I share (voters’) frustration, I totally understand it,” she said. But complex issues demand perspective and debate and time, she said. “There aren’t simple, 10-second sound bite solutions. (Financial reform) wouldn’t have passed a year ago.
“Yeah it’s a difficult race for me.” But “… (voters) get to make a choice. I’m okay with that. Every time I run, I’m an underdog.”
Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.