By Dan Lipinski
Southwest News Herald
Since Congress came to its senses last week and passed a bill to reopen the federal government and keep the country paying what it owes — avoiding serious damage to our economy — you have heard a lot about who won and lost from this whole fiasco.
But any debate over who came out ahead during this shameful shutdown and unnecessary confrontation over the debt ceiling is ridiculous — and another prime example of what’s wrong with Washington.
There were no winners. Not Congress. Not the President.
But the American people were once again clear losers, thanks to those in Washington who would rather fight a hopeless battle than solve problems.
During the shutdown, I refused to get caught up in the blame game and finger pointing. I continued to do my job. I kept all of my offices open so we could continue to provide the top-notch constituent services you expect and deserve. On the shutdown’s second day, I made sure that 90 veterans who left Midway Airport with Honor Flight Chicago were provided access to the National World War II Memorial, ignoring National Park Service warnings the monument would be closed due to a lack of funding. That these heroes would have been denied access to their memorial after traveling halfway across the country shows just how out of touch politicians and bureaucrats have become.
On the day the shutdown took effect, I started meeting daily with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House determined to find a way out of this mess as quickly as possible. From the outset, we put aside partisan gamesmanship and focused on doing what was right for the country. Since our effort upset Washington’s “we win, you lose” mentality, our group faced a lot of pressure to stop. But we never quit.
The plan that we developed in the House was taken as the template for a proposal formed by a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues. In turn, this proposal was taken up by Senate leadership to become the outline for the agreement that finally reopened government and allowed our bills to continue to be paid.
While the agreement we reached is not perfect, it offers a commonsense solution that not only ended the shutdown, but kept the country solvent and stopped a potential meltdown of the financial markets. The government is now funded until Jan. 15 and the debt limit is raised until at least Feb. 7. And to diminish the likelihood of fraud in Obamacare, applicants seeking federal subsidies will have to face more stringent requirements for income verification.
But perhaps the most important element of this agreement is the creation of a formal conference committee of the House and Senate to work out a budget agreement by Dec.15. I have been calling for this step to be taken for the last six months. I believe it will force both sides to come out of the trenches they dug for themselves and get to the negotiating table — where they belong.
The committee has a lot of work to do. For starters, we need a budget that carries us through Fiscal Year 2014. We also should replace the indiscriminate cuts of the sequester with smarter, more strategic cuts. Finally, we have to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive, long-term solution that simplifies the tax code, strengthens entitlements, and addresses the country's unsustainable debt situation.
I am hopeful that the spirit of bipartisanship I worked to cultivate these last few weeks will lead to more solutions. I have already spoken to my colleagues about continuing the bipartisan discussions we began during this crisis so that we can work together to find permanent solutions to these issues.
No matter what, I will continue to bravely stand up to work for a Washington that is focused on solving problems and seeking more wins for the American people.