Bipartisanship is our responsibility

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Congress has spent far too much time over the past few years lurching from crisis to crisis and engaging in partisan fights. But when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and I worked together to pass a budget deal last year, we showed that it didn’t have to be this way.

So I am hoping that President Obama will talk in his State of the Union about ways we can build on that bipartisan foundation and keep making progress for the families and communities we represent. And I am hoping that Republicans will decide to join us at the table and get to work instead of pushing us to another needless debt-limit crisis.

When Ryan and I sat down together in October, we faced a lot of skepticism that we would be able to get anything done. Every bipartisan budget group that had met over the past few years had ended the same way: with gridlock and inaction. And coming so soon after the partisanship and bitterness surrounding the government shutdown, a lot of people thought there was just no way Democrats and Republicans could work together for the good of the country.


We came into our budget conference knowing we weren’t going to agree on everything. Ryan and I had very different budgets, very different ideologies, and very different values and priorities. But we were both ready to listen to each other, put partisanship aside, find some common ground and make some compromises.

We both wanted an agreement, not a fight. We aimed for what was attainable, and we were able to reach a deal that showed the American people the dysfunction of the past few years was a choice made by a minority, not an inevitable fact of our divided government.

The bipartisan budget deal was a step in the right direction. But it was only a step. It proved that bipartisan work was possible — but we now all have a responsibility to keep that work going.

So when the president lays out his agenda, I am particularly hopeful that he will focus on ways we can work together to expand economic opportunities for families, small-business owners and communities across the country. The vast majority of Americans understand that our economy simply isn’t working for people like them, and they expect their elected representatives to address that.

I expect Obama to talk about education, the heart of true opportunity for the next generation. High quality, affordable higher education is critical for middle class families, as well as for those hoping to climb the ladder up from poverty. And the evidence for the value of early childhood education is clear. So I am hoping Obama doubles down on his commitment to a national preschool initiative that will not only help our youngest children and pay dividends in future economic growth, but also empower millions of women who would be able to go to work and give back to their communities.

I also hope the president talks about supporting the workers still fighting to get back on the job, reforming our immigration system, investing in our veterans and wounded warriors, and increasing the minimum wage to give millions of workers a raise and help make sure that working hard in America is properly rewarded.

These are a few of the many policies we in Congress should be able to work together on and that I am hoping to hear the president talk about. But Congress can only play a role in creating broad-based economic growth and opportunity if Republicans join us at the table.

One lesson that should have been learned from last year’s shutdown and debt-limit crisis, along with the bipartisan budget deal that followed, is hostage-taking and threats don’t deliver results. Only bipartisan negotiations and compromise can do that. But I am very concerned that some Republicans haven’t learned that lesson and are already dreaming up new ways to hold the debt limit hostage and push us to another needless crisis. This is absurd, counterproductive and needs to stop.

Democrats are not going to negotiate over whether the federal government should pay its bills. Republican leaders have said default isn’t actually an option, and we proved just a few months ago that there is a bipartisan coalition ready to do the right thing, as soon as Republicans push the Tea Party aside. Another round of debt limit brinkmanship will cause more economic harm and uncertainty; it will be another source of senseless partisanship and division; and just like last time, it will accomplish absolutely nothing for those Republicans causing the crisis.

Democrats and Republicans took a step in the right direction together with the budget deal last year, and our constituents are expecting us to keep moving forward this year, not to lurch backward into another crisis.

Murray is the senior senator from Washington, serving since 1993. She is chairman of the Budget Committee and sits on the Appropriations; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Rules and Administration; and Veterans Affairs committees.