If Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy had people shaking their heads last week when she introduced a balanced budget amendment bill, she had a few scratching their heads Thursday as she organized a town hall exercise in Winter Park that demonstrated how difficult it might be.
Murphy, joined by Phillip R. Smith, national political director for the Concord Coalition, arranged a few dozen constituents around tables in east Orange County Thursday to lead them into debating specific federal spending priorities, program budget cuts, taxes, and deficit spending, in teams of four, five, or six taxpayers. And at the end, each table was to present its consensus findings and recommendations to her.
It’s an exercise the Concord Coalition, a national, bipartisan, pro-balanced budget organization has run in congressional town halls for years.
While acknowledging the tough challenge, Murphy opened by stating that she considered federal budget deficits, now in the $17 trillion range, to be major threats to the economy, the future health of America, and national security.
“Let me make it clear; I don’t take the prospect of amending the [U.S.] Constitution lightly,” she said. “But nevertheless I filed this bill because I want to spur a candid and bipartisan debate in Congress, and here in Central Florida, and around the country, about the risks posed by piling deficit upon deficit, as we’ve been doing for the last few years. This is a conversation we need to have as a nation, and it cannot be a Democratic or Republican issue.”
A freshman just finishing up her first six months as an elected official, Murphy has been seeking to establish herself as a moderate Democrat, particularly in fiscal and national security matters.
Her district is pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with a number of large, higher-income, higher-education level communities including Winter Park, Maitland, Baldwin Park and Lake Mary. And she already has drawn one major challenger, Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, and several other prominent Republicans are weighing their chances.
Still, the federal balanced budget bill she introduced last week, House Joint Resolution 107, while the first such bill from a Democrat in this Congress, is more of a Democratic version of the concept. It says nothing to discourage balancing budgets through increased taxes. It leaves open exemptions for not balancing the budget, including during times of war and recession. And it offers some protective measures for Social Security and Medicare.
“My bill doesn’t make budget deficits impossible; it simply makes it more difficult for Congress to continue spending taxpayers money irresponsibly,” she told the group. “I would consider it a way to make legislators intentional about their spending.”