Utah's members of Congress were oceans apart Tuesday about whether Congress had spent Columbus Day beginning to navigate the government's sea of red ink, simply managing to stay afloat or drowning.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, was the most optimistic as Congress passed and President Bush signed a non-binding, mostly Democratic budget resolution that reduces Medicare cuts proposed in the original budget package rejected last week and calls for congressional committees to decide how to raise taxes."This is a much improved plan," Owens said of the package approved 250-164 in the House. It cuts down the pain for people on Medicare." He also said it hurts the middle class less.
And most importantly, he said, it plus an attached stop-gap funding bill put the government back in business for at least 11 days. The government was technically broke for three days, with non-essential services closed while Congress squabbled.
Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, voted with the 66-33 Senate majority for the package to reopen government and keep it temporarily afloat, but they made it clear they were not thrilled with it.
"I don't like it. But at least it moves the process forward," Hatch said.
Comparing it to the original budget compromise that the House rejected Friday, Hatch said, "This is probably worse. At least with the original, we knew that there would be taxes and spending cuts and where they would be. We don't with this."
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, had voted for the original compromise but voted against the newer package, preferring to have the government close down another day rather than accept what he said is a package that will sink the economy.
"I stated last week that a drowning man doesn't care how ugly the life raft is as long as it floats. But this latest proposal we were offered was not only ugly, it didn't float either. We were throwing a concrete life preserver to the American people," he said.
Hansen added, "Again we look at $118 billion in new taxes and no commitment to putting an end to the tax-and-spend philosophy that has dominated the House of Representatives for so many years."
Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, voted against both the original and the new budget plans. He said the new budget plan was slightly better but still bad enough that he also preferred keeping the government shut down or compelling across-the-board spending cuts to force a better budget.
"The good in it is that it does not hit Medicare and energy taxes as hard," Nielson said. "But it has $20 billion in new taxes . . .. There is no real enforcement mechanism," so he said any deficit reduction the package claims may simply be smoke and mirrors.
Republicans and Democrats also were not shy in blaming each other for the budget mess.
Owens said, "The Republicans are in total disarray. They ignore the public interest for political advantage."
His Republican opponent, Genevieve Atwood, had criticized his vote for the original budget compromise, saying it was bad for Utah and the nation.
Hansen also is being attacked by his Democratic opponent, Kenley Brunsdale, for the voting as Owens did to support the original compromise. Brunsdale said it put "too much of the burden on middle-income families, senior citizens and the working poor."
Brunsdale also attacked Hansen for missing one of the earlier votes that could have avoided the partial shutdown of government over the weekend. Hansen missed it to be in Utah to attend the funeral of a close uncle, according to his press secretary, Rick Guldan.
Brunsdale also said pledges by Hansen not to undermine certain tax reforms passed in 1986 amount to a pledge "never to increase this tax bracket for the super rich." He added, "Hansen's policy of serving the super rich is a major obstacle standing in the way of a budget agreement."
Hansen's press release about the new budget agreement attacked Democrats for "tax and spend policies . . . dumped on us by President Johnson in the '60s."