The Edmond Sun

October 21, 2013

We must lead, find real solutions

Rep. Tom Cole
Special to The Sun

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The last several weeks have been difficult for our country and caused many to question not only our economic future, but the very ability of our federal government to perform its most basic functions. We can play the blame game all day long, but at the end of the day, the American people elected lawmakers and the president to govern, and they depend on us to work together and find common ground, regardless of party affiliation.

For months and months, I warned that government shutdown is and was a bad idea. Every other shutdown in our nation’s history has caused needless harm to the American people, including furlough of thousands of innocent federal workers and lost access to necessary services and information for millions of Americans. I am disappointed that, 17 years after the partial-shutdown of 1996, we allowed something so damaging and irresponsible to occur again and for so many days.

Right in the thick of the government shutdown, we were also inching dangerously close to the debt ceiling deadline of Oct. 17. Never in our nation’s history have we exceeded the borrowing limit and been unable to pay our bills. Had we not extended the debt ceiling, allowing the country to plunge into default, the repercussions would have been sudden, severe and lasting. Immediate consequences would have included delay of Social Security checks, members of the military not being paid, and plunging financial markets.

But today is a better day because the shutdown is over and default is off the table. Last week, lawmakers worked together and agreed on a short-term measure to fund the federal government, temporarily lift the debt ceiling and form a conference committee to negotiate long-term budget reforms. While this funding compromise isn’t perfect, I am pleased that we acted in a bipartisan manner to reopen the government and avert default. Even though we have many differences, I was encouraged that both sides agreed risking the full faith and credit of the United States of America is not acceptable and acted with urgency to make sure it did not occur.

Last week’s agreement was good news for every American, but it also averted an economic catastrophe for thousands of federal workers across the Fourth District of Oklahoma, who are finally back at work. This includes individuals at Tinker Air Force Base, Fort Sill, the Federal Aviation Administration and countless other important federal agencies. In addition, services have resumed at Veterans centers and hospitals for Native Americans, where government funding ensures patients receive quality care.

While the suffering caused by the shutdown went on far too long, House efforts to reopen the government never wavered. In the days ahead, however, I am hopeful that both chambers on both sides of the aisle learned lessons from this episode and recognize that despite inevitable differences, it is possible to talk to each other for the sake of a compromise that protects the entire nation.

We have the opportunity to continue talking to each other as we reconvene and negotiate long-term reforms through the conference committee, led by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray and comprised of seven House Members and 22 Senators. I will serve as one of four House Republicans during these high-level budget negotiations between the House and Senate. If successful, this compromise will be the first time since 2009 that both chambers have agreed on a budget.

As the committee meets in the coming days, I am hopeful that we can find common sense reforms that improve our economic outlook and provide a better future for our children and grandchildren. Americans want solutions that reduce the deficit, overhaul the current tax system, create more jobs, spur economic growth and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States. These are all goals shared by my fellow Republicans and my constituents back home, and I am pleased to bring the conservative values of Oklahomans to the table as we enter this critical time.

After the pain caused by the government shutdown and the uncertainty triggered by the expiring debt ceiling, we know now more than ever that we have to talk to each other. While conference negotiations will be intense and tough, it is critical that we find common ground to avoid any repeats of what we experienced during the shutdown.

U.S. REP. TOM COLE, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.