Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY), who voted 'no' on the three-week federal budget extension, and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), who voted 'yes,' discussed the budget battles in Washington.
The House of Representatives passed a budget extension yesterday that funds the government through April 8 but cuts $6 billion from Fiscal 2011 spending levels. The final vote was 271 to 158, with 104 Democrats voting 'no' to the budget extension, mostly because they were against the elimination of 25 federal programs, and 85 voting 'yes' to avoid a government shutdown. As for the Republicans, the majority were in favor but some voted 'no' because they felt the budget wasn't severe enough.
Congressman Eliot Engle (D-NY) remembered the government shutdown of 1995 and said he voted 'yes' in order to avoid damaging the country. He's still unhappy with the budget though, and said if Republicans don't compromise in three weeks he might not vote to approve another extension.
I don't like the cuts, I think the premise of the cuts is wrong, I think the Republicans think you can balance the budget just by cutting programs, discretionary non-defense programs. That cannot happen, they're lying to themselves and their supporters. We're going to have to look at lots and lots of things, it cannot just be programs that Democrats like.
Engle is hopeful that some of the 25 programs can be restored in the final budget. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY) is less optimistic.
What I have found with the Republicans in the majority is that they're reckless, they're heartless, and they're not trying to look at ways in which we can balance the burden that our nation faces right now.
Clarke said she voted 'no' because the cuts are to basic services that will directly affect her constituents in a negative way, giving the example of the elimination of Head Start program funding when her constituents are trying to improve their educational achievement. She didn't relish being in the same "camp" as Republicans who want even deeper cuts.
Voting 'no' for me meant that we need to send a message to our constituents that we are fighting against what is happening to them. The misery factor in all of our communities is going to go up exponentially as we go through this agonizing process as we cut the nation's budget. We have yet to touch defense spending and in many cases we're funding obsolete weaponry just to keep certain parts of the country employed. There needs to be a shared burden here. Until I see that I'm going to stay in the 'no' camp.
Both Clarke and Engle faulted the Republicans for putting the burden on middle class people while retaining tax cuts for the wealthy and not venturing to cut defense spending, which is over $663 billion, accounting for about 20 percent of federal outlays. Engle:
They're saying that all these average people have to suffer, and everybody's got to bear the pain, but when it comes to their rich friends they somehow think that there shouldn't be any pain there.
Engle finds the stalemate in Congress worse now than it was in the Gingrich years. He said at that time Republicans realized you had to compromise down the line.
A lot of these guys, they're just uncompromising. They're true believers, they think they have the right way and I worry about that.
Well, Clarke said she was willing to take a hard line too.
If it takes a shut down of the government for people to come to their senses, or as President Obama says, for the adults to get into the room then perhaps that's what it will take.
With just a three week extension, you can count on more Congressional budget bickering to begin immediately.