News Column

Calif. Rep. Stunned by Federal Budget Dysfunction

March 22, 2013

Michael Collins

U.S. Rep. Julia Browley

Rep. Julia Brownley thought she had a pretty good idea of what was involved in passing a government budget after spending six years in the California Assembly.

But her California experience did not prepare her for budget-making Washington-style.

The freshman congresswoman from Oak Park described her first taste of Congress' chaotic budgeting practices as "shocking" and said she's convinced the process is crazy, dysfunctional and no way to govern.

"We'll never get a budget this way," an exasperated Brownley said.

Budgeting and spending decisions are often among the most divisive in Congress. That divisiveness was on full display Thursday when House Republicans pushed through a budget plan that balances the federal government's finances in a decade but cuts safety-net programs for the poor and takes an ax to domestic programs.

The plan, written by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., passed on a 221-207 party-line vote. The bill now goes to the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, who are certain to kill it.

Brownley, a Democrat who assumed office just a little more than two months ago, voted against the Ryan budget, saying it "has all the wrong priorities, hurts the middle-class families in Ventura County and turns back the clock on our economic recovery."

"I think the people voted against the Republican budget in the last election, and this is simply more of the same," Brownley said.

A day earlier, alternative budget plans offered by groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus were offered on the House floor only to be shot down by the Republican majority.

Afterward, Brownley said it was clear that House Republicans had created a situation in which the GOP budget was the only one that would prevail.

Brownley lamented what she called "the craziness" of "budget mania day" and said she was in disbelief "that this is the way we are governing here in our nation's capital."

"It's just sort of shocking, particularly after being in the California Legislature," Brownley said. "Not to say we did things perfectly there. But we had a process. Everyone agreed to the process, and budgets were debated in great detail in committees and moved from one house to the next. We really wrestled with our state budget."

In Washington, "it just seemed to me these budget proposals have not been through a committee process, haven't been fully sunshined," she said. "They haven't gone through a full discussion with Democrats and Republicans sitting on committees, debating the issues, debating the priorities. Suddenly, these budgets appear, and we take votes."

The California Assembly's budgeting practices sometimes were criticized, but when compared to how things are done in Congress, "it is night and day," Brownley said. "I feel like we were doing an extraordinary job (in Sacramento) in comparison to what is really happening here."

Brownley said she hopes negotiators for the House and the Senate eventually will agree on a spending plan that will move the economy forward.

But, "I imagine nothing is going to happen because the two houses are not going to agree," she said. "I think we'll be back at square one."

"Bottom line," she said, "it has just been a very frustrating day to see some of the dysfunction that has taken place here."

Source: (c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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