WASHINGTON, D.C. – Washington Senator Patty Murray holds one of the most powerful positions in the nation as co-chair of the deficit reducing “super committee.” The decisions she’s helping to make will affect your life for years to come whether you’re a college student, a senior citizen, a welfare recipient, a veteran, the lists goes on. Correspondent Matt Laslo (LAZ-low) caught up with Murray in the nation’s capital and found her being lobbied a million different ways.
Patty Murray is the only woman on the twelve member “super committee.” It’s tasked with slashing more than a trillion dollars from the federal debt. I ask the mom and former preschool teacher how it feels helping to run a boys club.
Patty Murray: “I know when it’s time to say, ‘Okay, my turn to talk’ and ‘Boys, we need to get this done.’”
But getting anything done is a challenge when the super committee is getting lobbied hard by those who want to protect their special interest. Seniors want their benefits preserved. Educators want more money, not less. Pentagon officials are lobbying against steeper cuts to avoid layoffs in places like at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. I ask Murray if she knows how many letters she’s received.
Patty Murray: “Oh gosh, I have no idea.”
Reporter: “But they’re coming from every angle, right?”
Patty Murray: “Of course. I mean, everybody is really concerned about where the country is. They all want to see us be successful, they have ideas about how we can get there and they want us to know.”
Communication with Murray is easier for her northwest colleagues, like Washington Democrat Jim McDermott.
Jim McDermott.“I do travel from Seattle with Senator Murray on United Airlines, so I’ve talked a little bit to her about what’s going on.”
McDermott is mainly focused on protecting social programs from cuts…while Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has his eye on taxes. He’s worked through the normal committee process for two years to overhaul the tax code. Now he’s hoping the super committee will listen to his ideas.
Ron Wyden: “A key component of tax relief, and I think one of the attractive aspects of it, is you have a chance to put $3,000 into the pockets of the typical middle class person.”
Besides colleagues, the committee is also getting an earful from a diverse range of lobbyists. Right now, I’m outside the committee room where lawmakers are about to kick off their second public hearing and there’s a long and growing line of advocacy groups clamoring to get inside.
J.P. Delmore: “J.P. Delmore, Assistant Vice President for the National Association of Home Builders.”
Lobbyist: “Yeah don’t really want to be on the record with anything. Sorry.”
Jessie Givens: “Jessie Givens, I’m working for an advocacy organization.”
Matt Laslo: “Which one?”
Jessie Givens: “It’s called the Senior Citizens League, so I’m just listening for anything that has to do with Social Security and Medicare.”
These competing voices can be deafening and there’s widespread skepticism here that Murray and the boys can reach a deal.
Thomas Mann: “It won’t happen. End of story. I mean it really won’t.”
That’s Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. He points out that Murray is among many “super committee” members who also hold leadership positions. Mann says party leaders stacked the deck against a broad compromise.
Thomas Mann: “It shows they want to control this process, have people they trust who are part of their leadership team.”
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander resigned his leadership post to gain what he says is more independence. Murray did not follow suit and continues to head the fundraising operation for Senate Democrats. Even with the partisan makeup of the committee, Murray remains ever the optimist.
Patty Murray: “I’m hoping that my committee can prove them wrong and rise to this, and I’m working on that every minute of every day.”
If the committee fails the entire federal budget will see more than a trillion dollars in across the board cuts over the next ten years. The panel has until Thanksgiving. To pass a deal, just one committee member needs to team up with the opposing party. At this point, even that looks challenging for Murray’s committee.
This story first aired on the Northwest News Network.