By Tom Curry, NBC News
Senate Budget Committee chair Sen Patty Murray, D- Wash., and her House counterpart Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wisc., gave a vigorous defense Sunday of the budget agreement which they announced last week.
They said the accord showed that serious legislating is still possible even when the two parties appear to be deeply divided on matters of principle.
“It's a step forward that shows that there can be other breakthroughs and compromise if you take the time to know somebody, know what their passions are, and know how you can work together,” said Murray in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.
She added that “one of the things we had to learn to do is to listen to each other and to respect each other and to trust each other…. Either one of us could’ve taken out and blown up and killed the other person politically. We agreed from the start we wouldn't do that. Very important to where we are today.”
Ryan seconded her view saying, “We spent a lot of time just getting to know each other, talking, understanding each other's principles, and we basically learned that if we require the other to violate a core principle, we're going to get nowhere and we'll just keep gridlock.”
Ryan said that he and his Democratic counterpart were motivated by a desire to “make this divided government work, at least at a minimum, basic functioning level.”
The relatively modest agreement would achieve net savings of about $23 billion over ten years. That compares to cumulative ten-year deficits of about $6.3 trillion. On Thursday the House approved the agreement by a vote of 332 to 94.
Although several Senate Republicans have voiced their opposition to the agreement, it seems likely to win Senate approval this week.
A particularly unpopular part of the deal is the cut in cost-of-living increases in retirement benefits for retired military services members under the age of 62. That provision would save about $6 billion over the next ten years.
Three Republican senators who serve on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, sent a letter to their colleagues Friday saying they could not support the budget plan because it “disproportionately and unfairly targets those who have put their lives on the line to defend our country.”
The three Republicans said, “We do not believe it is right to ask our veterans to sacrifice again for our country when we have not had the courage to address the primary long-term drivers of our debt. To cite one example, under this provision, a 42- year old Sergeant First Class retiree—who has served our country for two decades and most likely deployed multiple times to war—would lose approximately $72,000.”
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, another Armed Services Committee Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said “military leaders I have talked to have said because this (Ryan-Murray agreement) gives them relief from the harsh effects of sequestration (by allowing additional military spending) they are supportive of this legislation.”
On the cost of living cuts for military retirees, McCain said, “I wish that provision wasn’t in there, but to shut down the government again” due to a lack of spending agreement would be “an unacceptable act to inflict on the American people.”
McCain said he would vote for the Ryan-Murray accord when it comes up on the Senate floor this week.
And since the House has passed the spending plan and adjourned on Friday, there’s no way for the Ryan-Murray plan to be amended by the Senate and then sent back to the House for further work before the end of the year.
Both Ryan and Murray voiced their hopes Sunday that the accord they designed -- even if relatively small in its total budgetary effects -- could create a foundation for future compromises.
Murray said, “If we just sit in our corners and yell at each other and that's all we get rewarded for, we'll never get to those big discussions about tax reform, or strengthening our entitlements, or how we fund things in the future, or immigration reform, or any of the other really big challenges of our country. So, what we're trying to do is bring some respect to the word ‘compromise.’”
“You gotta, you know, crawl before you can walk before you can run,” Ryan said. “I'm hopeful, as a Ways and Means (Committee) member as well, that we can start moving tax reform legislation.”
Ryan said that in the first quarter of 2014 the House Ways and Means Committee would “be advancing tax reform legislation because we think that's a key ingredient to getting people back to work, to increasing take-home pay, to growing this economy.”
But discord remains between the parties on whether – as Democrats want – tax reform should be done in a way that raises new revenues, or whether, as Republicans want, tax reform should be revenue neutral and simply be intended to achieve a leaner, more efficient tax system.
“We'll have to disagree” on that point, Ryan said.