Two White House budget office veterans who experienced the 1990s government shutdown lambasted current Washington leaders on Wednesday for imposing the appropriations lapse and near-breach of the debt-ceiling on “the innocent people” who elected them.
Leon Panetta, the Clinton administration budget director and more recently the Defense secretary, joined with Jim Nussle, former House member from Iowa who ran the Office of Management and Budget under the George W. Bush administration, to say it is time to end “this shameful and tragic episode in our history” that hurts the fragile economy and the national defense.
“It’s time to govern, to roll up our sleeves and get to work, like they should have done weeks ago in a budget conference,” Panetta told reporters at a National Press Club event sponsored by the advocacy group Campaign to Fix the Debt. Speaking as both chambers of Congress appeared poised to enact a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, he called for lawmakers to address entitlement savings and develop a five-year strategy for discretionary spending. He warned that “if leadership is not there, we will continue to operate in a crisis.”
Nussle said, “This is not a proud moment for our country,” warning that the country in the future could take one of two paths, “one, another juncture on Jan. 15 or Feb. 7 just as damaging” as the current situation, or another in which “cooler heads who want to govern” prevail in focusing on the long-term future.
Nussle was especially tough on his fellow House Republicans, saying “any child watching Saturday morning cartoons and seeing Schoolhouse Rock’s ‘How a Bill Becomes a Law’ would have known that if the president and the Senate say ‘no,’ then it won’t work in the House.”
Asked whether trimming federal benefits should be part of the coming budget conference called for in the pending package, Nussle said, “We may have already lost a generation of public servants who were watching over the past three years and saying, ‘Forget it.’ So many good people don’t deserve to be treated as pawns.”
Panetta said lessons from the shutdown include a need to overcome a lack of trust of those in the opposition party and the need to put everything on the table. “We don’t elect people to survive in office, but to make the tough decisions it takes to govern,” he said. After the deal is finalized, “you’ll see people on both sides taking credit,” Panetta added, “but there are no winners or losers.”