U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy returned to Hartford Monday to praise the two-year budget deal reached last week by Congress.
They said the deal, which increases spending by $80 billion over two years, is good for Connecticut’s economy because it continues a commitment to a “defense industrial base.” The budget includes funding to build two Virginia class submarines per year and earmarks $8.5 billion for the joint strike fighter.
“It is a breakthrough for job creation,” Blumenthal said.
But it’s not all good news. Blumenthal said Congress has until Dec. 11 to appropriate the money, and the far right wing of the Republican Party could try and amend the final appropriation with a rider to defund Planned Parenthood or some similar request.
Murphy, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, said there are still a lot of fights to come because of potential riders on the appropriations bill.
“There is still a risk we are going to have some Tea Party-created crises in Washington,” Murphy said. “Because of an insistence that the Appropriations bills don’t fund Planned Parenthood or include blocks on new clean air regulations or new regulations to support minimum wage requirements, so there are still a lot of fights to come because of these potential riders.”
However, Murphy remains optimistic about the ability of Congress to complete the process.
“This is a level of certainty we haven’t seen before,” Murphy said.
That being said, Blumenthal said the Connecticut delegation will remain vigilant to “make sure that Connecticut receives its fair share.”
But the budget deal is only good for two years, and Murphy fears what will happen after that time if Republicans retain their majority.
“These shutdowns and these threatened debt defaults didn’t happen by accident,” Murphy said. “They happened because there still remain in Washington a group of radical right-wingers who want to destroy government from within. They intentionally push government to the brink and sometimes over the brink with the object of cratering people’s belief in government.”
He said the “problem hasn’t been solved.” He said there are lawmakers, mainly in the U.S. House of Representatives, who want to create these crises so people lose faith in government.
“Senator Blumenthal and I will both tell you we are regular daily critics of the federal government. We’re there to fix it, but we’re not there to destroy it,” Murphy said.
He said the federal government plays an important role in protecting our country, building highways and rail lines, and providing a safety net for vulnerable residents.
“I’m glad Democrats and Republicans came together to push these radicals off to the sideline for the time being,” Murphy said. “But they’re still in Congress and they’re going to use the appropriations process to try and drive their agenda.”
Murphy attributed the two-year budget deal to the transition in leadership in the House of Representatives. Former House Speaker John Boehner resigned in September and was recently replaced by Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Murphy said because Boehner was about to resign, “he was no longer reliant on the radical wing of his caucus for votes…They couldn’t threaten to depose him as speaker any longer.”
Blumenthal didn’t disagree, but he viewed it a little differently.
He said the last government shutdown in 2013 “was a searing, undeniable lesson for the Republican Party that [showed] they will be blamed for shutdown and default.”
That lesson, according to Blumenthal, forced Boehner out of power because he knew his party would be blamed for another shutdown.
“He literally enabled the United States to avoid default and shutdown, but Dec. 11 is a date that is staring us in the face as a deadline for appropriations, so this battle will continue not just over the next two years, but literally over the next four weeks,” Blumenthal said.
He speculated that if there are agenda-driven backdoor attempts to attach a rider to appropriations bills, “it will once again force us to the brink of calamity.”
He said it will be a test for the new speaker to see if he will stand up to the right wing of his party.