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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Budget deal reachable, says Sen. Murray

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, right, talks with Mel Freeman, left, and Craig Dias of Haskins Steel during a company tour before a meeting about jobs and job training Tuesday in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley)

The new leader of the U.S. Senate’s budget committee said Tuesday that Republican threats to shut down the government are irresponsible.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Seattle-area Democrat, said there will be opportunities to negotiate budget cuts without crafting a deal around increasing the country’s borrowing limit.

“The budget ceiling debate just puts our country in a very precarious position where we’re defaulting on our loans,” said Murray, who held a forum about job programs in Spokane on Tuesday. “That puts every business and person in our country in jeopardy. And it’s not a good place to be debating.”

On Monday, President Barack Obama vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Spokane, has said Republicans would be willing to shut down the government if Obama doesn’t change his stance.

“He said it would be irresponsible and absurd to shut down,” McMorris Rodgers said in a phone interview. “I would say that it’s irresponsible and absurd for the president to want another blank check.”

But Murray said Congress and the president could craft a deal around other issues, including sequestration – spending cuts that are slated to go into effect this year that are generally disliked by both parties.

“We want to have this debate. We’re going to have this debate,” Murray said. “We’ve got decisions we need to make, but need to take it out of the context of putting our economy in jeopardy.”

Murray noted that she served in the Senate the last time the government was shut down in 1995 and 1996.

“I don’t think that’s a good place for our country to be right now. We’ve been through a lot in the last four or five years,” Murray said. “People need stability, and instability is not an answer to our country’s problems.”

But McMorris Rodgers, the chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus, said the time has come to address America’s mounting debt.

“What got us to this point is too much spending by both parties,” McMorris Rodgers said. “But especially in recent years we’ve seen record deficits, and we need to be rolling back Obama’s spending increases.”

After touring Haskins Steel in east Spokane, Murray listened to education and business leaders and recently hired workers about the importance of job training programs.

Many of the programs discussed at the forum are supported by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which provides job training and job search programs as well as assistance for employers who are recruiting for openings. Murray said the act is in danger of not being reauthorized by Congress.

“As I take on the chair of the budget committee, our nation is rightfully talking about our debt and deficit, but we also have to be talking about our education deficit and our transportation deficit, our jobs deficit,” she said.

Kip Hill, a student in the University of Missouri Washington, D.C., Reporting Program, contributed to this report.