This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill predicts that Congress will reach a budget agreement in mid-December that averts a replay of the federal shutdown and near-default that occurred less than a week ago.
Speaking on this week’s Politically Speaking podcast, McCaskill, D-Mo., was optimistic that both parties in both chambers will seek to cut a deal. The podcast is a joint venture between the St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio.
McCaskill’s comments were among her most expansive since Congress approved a compromise bill last Wednesday to end the shutdown and avert a default of the nation’s payments on its debts.
“I think we have an opportunity to do some things on spending, hopefully put some flexibility in the sequestration, hopefully do some things on the tax code that allow us to quit picking so many winners and losers in the body of tax code,” she said. “And that we can get a budget deal done by the middle of December and avoid this in January.”
McCaskill was referring to the new deadlines of Jan. 15 for the current continuing budget resolution that keeps the federal government open and the Feb. 7 deadline for lifting the debt ceiling.
McCaskill said she already has been conferring with Republicans in the U.S. Senate, citing U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as senators interested in exploring possible avenues for agreement in any budget deal.
During the 16-day shutdown, McCaskill had been less visible than some of her Missouri colleagues, particularly U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who was frequently on TV and held several conference calls with reporters.
“I wasn’t strategically trying to stay quiet,” she said, linking her lower profile during the shutdown to her decision to furlough most of her staff. Blunt did not.
“I treated the furloughs and the shutdown the way the rest of the federal government treated them. And I didn’t feel comfortable not furloughing the majority of my staff,” McCaskill said.
“I’m not being critical of Sen. Blunt. He made a different decision,” she said.
But then McCaskill add that she was aware of the contrast. “Had I left everybody on, and Sen. Blunt had furloughed his staff, I’m sure the Tea Party would have said, ‘She doesn’t understand the beauty of smaller government'…I’m sure I would have been criticized, ‘The rules don’t apply to her?’ “
Lauds Blunt's compromise approach, blasts Cruz
McCaskill then went on to compliment Blunt, saying he was among the major Republicans in the U.S. Senate who she said acted responsibility by supporting the compromise bill, even though they disliked parts of it.
“He and I disagree on many many things,” McCaskill said. “But he knew how damaging this was to our country. He knew the consequences of us defaulting, which would not be something we felt today, but for decades to come. He knew that it needed to be avoided at all costs.”
McCaskill added that she and Blunt benefited, from a political perspective, because “the beauty of running statewide is that it’s much easier to be a moderate and reasonable, if you’re not worried about your right flank or your left flank in a primary.”
Still, she said she was “shocked and surprised” that all of Missouri’s six Republicans in the U.S. House voted against the compromise.
However, McCaskill’s harshest criticisms were directed at U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who she blamed for instigating the shutdown and 16-day standoff.
McCaskill said she had been alerted ahead of time by a Republican senator who told her, “We’re convinced Cruz is going to do this just for himself.”
“He was just trying to make a name for himself,” McCaskill said. “It was like he thought he was in a movie about himself…that he was starring in a movie, and this was his role in a movie.”