Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Heinrich hopeful ahead of budget deadline

As the U.S. House of Representatives try to strike a short-term budget deal to prevent a government shutdown the magic number being discussed in the nation's capitol today isn’t billions or trillions, but just two.

In just two days the continuing resolution that is funding the government expires unless the two parties come to an agreement by mid-night this Friday.

After launching his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in Albuquerque on Saturday, Rep. Martin Heinrich is back in Washington monitoring behind-the-scene negotiations.

On Tuesday, the congressman called us and said he’s hopeful something will be hammered out before the deadline.

“This is one of those situations where the American people expect us to act like adults and sit down and find some middle ground,” Heinrich said. “We have to be willing to support some level of compromise and that's true of both sides."

Heinrich said the Republican leadership faces a huge challenge, because their entire freshman class wants to send a message about government spending and the federal deficit by shutting down the government.

"I just don't think we can afford to be shuttering the doors at the VA and all the jobs that would go on hold during that period. I think we all need to step up and come to some sort of agreement and find some middle ground,” Heinrich said.

Reaching a compromise could be difficult for Heinrich and other Democrats who believe Republican priorities are focused on cutting the wrong things.

“The problem is that everyone agrees that there needs to be cuts within the federal budget," Heinrich said. "But, you can't expect to balance the entire federal budget on the backs on teachers and firefighters. So, we need to meet where we can in terms of overall numbers, and then figure what are priorities are within those limits.”

Heinrich said he will not agree to maintaining tax breaks for corporation that outsource jobs overseas and protect tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. He said that undercuts the people who provide really basic services.

He also expressed concerned over House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s 2012 Pathway to Prosperity plan.

“It really ends medicare as we know it. It gets rid of the current medicare program and replaces it with a voucher program,” Heinrich said. “I can tell you in the many, many town hall meetings, visits to senior citizens over the years, that's a proposal I've never heard come out of the mouth's of any seniors. That's a proposal that's going to meet with a lot of resistance from the American people.”

Heinrich isn't worried about an imminent financial market collapse like former Gov. Gary Johnson, who told us last month last month in Taos, that unless the government cuts spending by $1.6 trillion and fixes government entitlement programs the global economy could fail.

“What we have to look at is how far we can cut spending and still maintain economic growth,” Heinrich said. “The most powerful thing we can do right now, not only to reduce the deficit, but more importantly, to keep recovering from this recession, is to make sure that the economy continues to grow throughout 2011 and 2012. So we have a very fine line we have to walk of bringing down spending and making sure we live within our means, but also not pulling the rug out of this recovering economy.”

Heinrich’s priorities

The second-term congressman said there are wasteful programs he can live without, but insists he is willing to make compromises. Still, he expresses concern some of the cuts Republicans are proposing "are a threat to the countries national security."

In February, Heinrich and members of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee sent this letter to Chairman Ryan expressing their concern over the potentially dire consequences that the Committee's planned 2011 budget allocation would have on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

He’s concerned a “one-size” budget would jeopardize the state’s national laboratories.

“One of the things we've really been fighting for is the NNSA. At a time when we're asking NNSA to step up and make sure we implement the new START treat and make sure our nuclear deterrent is safe, secure and reliable,” Heinrich said. “We can't have a 17 percent cut at Los Alamos and an 11 percent cut at Sandia National Labs. And, those are numbers that Rep. (Steve) Pearce, and other Republicans, actually voted for. Their not responsible in today's national security climate, and hopefully will make sure that we have some progress in the midst of all this.”

While, Heinrich is in favor of reducing government spending he worries that cuts to the national labs could hit the state’s economy hard.

"Impeding the work being done at our national labs won't grow our economy and certainly won't create jobs."

Earlier this year Heinrich tried to save Pell Grant Scholarships from the chopping block. Those are the the single largest source of federal grant aid for post-secondary education and Heinrich knows many unemployed New Mexicans are headed back to school, including veterans returning from the Middle East, to prepare for new jobs.

The former city councilor also told us cutting National Public Radio funding is “highly partisan legislation.”

“It has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility and everything to do with politics. Instead of focusing on creating jobs or reducing the deficit,” Heinrich said. “The House Republicans have wasted time trying to de-fund one of the most widely-used and independent journalistic institutions in America.”

Federal workers, who will be locked out if a budget settlement isn’t reached by the deadline also face wage increase freezes.

The budget outline unveiled Tuesday by House Republicans seeks to freeze federal salary schedules through 2015, reduces the federal workforce by 10 percent and requires employees to pay more toward their retirement benefits.

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