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Let's be real

Daines votes against budget, falls back on familiar excuse

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Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan budget bill. It was a remarkable achievement in much the same way that it's a remarkable achievement when a toddler uses the toilet. Should the Ryan-Murray compromise make it through the Senate, it will be the first time Congress has passed a budget since 2009. Normally just passing something is not so great, but it's thrilling when you've spent four years changing diapers.

The last time the House addressed fiscal issues, we had no federal government for 16 days. The time before that, Republicans and Democrats triggered sequestration—the across-the-board spending cuts Congress set up when it failed to agree the time before that, supposed to be so awful that negotiators would have to compromise to avoid them.

That'll teach Congress to bet on itself. Sequestration is where we are now, but for the first time in four years, our elected representatives are passing a federal budget. It spends a little more money than we do now, but it reduces the federal deficit over the next 10 years. The best part is not the numbers so much as that Republicans and Democrats actually agreed on them.

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  • Office of Steve Daines

To continue our metaphor of diminished expectations, it's as if Mom and Dad took their toddler to Chili's and had a nice dinner without anyone shouting or throwing his Loaded Potato Skins. It's not a happy marriage, but in this historical moment it's a heartening sign. Almost everyone agreed to compromise on their disagreements, and the Ryan-Murray deal passed the House 332㭚.

Rep. Steve Daines, Montana's Republican congressman, was one of the 94 who voted "no." He saw the opportunity to end four years of partisan gridlock, and he didn't take it.

The reason, according to his official statement, was that the Ryan-Murray budget relies on long-term spending cuts to offset short-term increases from sequestration. "We need to continue working toward real solutions that get our country back on track and ensure a better future for the next generation," he said.

There's that word I don't like: "real." I am like a toddler who tried to use the toilet once, and there was a snake in it. Whenever someone says "real," I get sad and damp.

In this case, Daines appears to be using the word "real" to refer to "something that does not exist." The Ryan-Murray budget is a real solution, both in that a House committee wrote it out line-by-line and in that it stands a good chance of passing the Senate. Daines' "real solutions that get our country back on track," by contrast, are totally imaginary.

This is not the first time Daines has abused the word "real." Back in October, when Congress lifted the debt ceiling and reopened the federal government, Daines lamented the missed opportunity to discuss "real solutions that deal with our spending and balance the budget."

That statement used the word "real" twice in three sentences. "Montanans want long-term reforms and real solutions," he wrote, "not more of Washington's persistent failures to resolve its spending addiction."

Daines did not specify the "real" solution that offered an alternative to what Congress had done. If we're talking about persistent failures, though, I might mention the first piece of legislation he introduced as a representative: the Balanced Budget Accountability Act. That bill proposed that members of Congress would receive no pay unless they passed a budget that would balance within 10 years.

You'd think that representatives from both parties would love the idea of not paying themselves unless they did something they've never done, but Daines' bill went into committee in February and hasn't emerged. GovTrack.us gives it a 6 percent chance of passing both chambers.

Of the nine bills that Daines has sponsored since entering the House, exactly zero have become law. He has cosponsored six bills that passed the House and Senate and were signed by President Obama, but on average each of those bills was also cosponsored by 171 other members.

So far, Daines has not fulfilled his promise to find "real solutions" to the problems facing this country. He has proposed a number of exciting theoretical solutions, but they have remained just that.

Also, he is running for the Senate. Even more than the House, that chamber is paralyzed by a lack of comity—an inability to settle on real solutions. There are plenty of members shouting about fun ideologies, but agreement—the kind of real compromise that makes representative government work—is in short supply.

Maybe Daines has plenty of the "real solutions" he cites when expressing his opposition to actual bills, and he just hasn't told us about them yet. Or maybe he has hit on that phrase as a fine way to talk about fake ideas. The voters of Montana should think about whether we want to make him a senator to find out.

Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and lying at combatblog.net. His column appears every other week in the Independent.

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