The budget conference committee that came out of this month’s fight over the government shutdown and debt ceiling increase is likely to be a positive outcome, both U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin agreed.
“We’ve been trying for six months to get that budget conference committee going,” Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told a group at Bradley University during a Friday afternoon question-and-answer session.
He said that negotiating there was likely to help avoid a future shutdown in January 2014 when the terms of the current deal expire.
“We need the environment of a conference committee to get (a lasting deal) done,” Schock, a Peoria Republican, agreed during a lengthy phone conversation about the process of the next several months.
“We’re not going to get everything we want,” he said, admitting that negotiating with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House meant both parties would have to give some.
Durbin said he expected an opportunity to address longer-term issues including the future of Social Security.
“There are a handful of levers you can pull (to shore up the system financially),” he said. “It’s either how much you pay out, when you collect it, and when you qualify (based on income).”
It’s something that’s “basically a math equation,” Schock said.
Both he and Durbin agreed that comprehensive, bipartisan tax reform would benefit the country and likely help spur job growth.
The third-term congressman also said it was imperative that President Barack Obama be actively involved rather than showing another “failure of leadership” with little willingness to negotiate.
“There’s no excuse for the president to not negotiate on structural reforms,” Schock said.
Absent those structural reforms, Schock said he “will not be voting” for future increases to the nation’s debt limit.
There are other lessons learned from the shutdown, Schock said. Some other House Republicans, for example, had it driven home to them that controlling one-half of one third of the federal government limits what they can achieve.
“To expect absolute control and perfection of all legislation is naivete,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ideological fight between moderates, conservatives and extreme conservatives in the party may cool.
“I think this is a learning lesson that you can’t allow a very small fragment within the Republican Party to steer policy,” Schock said.
The GOP’s actions also distracted voters at a time they could ill afford to, in Schock’s view.
Page 2 of 2 - “Politically, the president did not have a good August or September, and the fiasco of the last three weeks has taken the voters’ eyes off the president’s poor performance and basically focused it on the dysfunction in Congress,” he said.
Durbin said the easiest way for voters to demonstrate they didn’t like the results of the shutdown is at the ballot box.
“If the voters are fed up with what they’ve seen ... it’ll make a difference,” he said.
He also said that the business community needs to help bolster moderate Republicans — many afraid of more conservative primary challengers funded by the Club for Growth — and encourage them to speak out more firmly.
“They’ve got to engage on behalf of moderate Republicans,” Durbin said. “... If they do, they can save this party.”