Sen. Murray and debt panel must put nation ahead of party politics

It won't be easy. The national spotlight will be on Murray, who was picked as one of the panel's co-chairs.

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In the past it would have been a political plum to be selected to lead a congressional committee charged with deciding how to reduce the country's debt by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

After all, a lawmaker overseeing such a powerful panel could protect her or his state from losing federal funds that could cost jobs -- or worse.

But times have changed dramatically. It is now accepted -- and expected -- parochial interests must be cast aside.

Sen. Patty Murray's selection to this committee could be politically risky. The Seattle Democrat has been thrust into the national spotlight to serve in a post that isn't likely to make anybody happy and a whole lotta folks very, very angry.

The nation has finally come to accept the realization the federal government can't continue to fund government with a big percentage of borrowed money, resulting in a national debt that sits at more than $14.3 trillion.

Every member of this 12-person deficit reduction committee -- six Democrats and six Republicans -- is going to be under intense public scrutiny. Murray, as one of the two co-chairs, will find the pressure particularly intense.

"There are certainly personal and political perils involved in serving on this panel," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group, who was contacted by Seattle Times reporter Kyung M. Song. "It will take some political courage to sacrifice constituents' concerns for the greater good."

Murray, who was elected to a fourth term last year, has built her career as a traditional liberal politician. Yet, she has been quick to take stands contrary to her fellow Democrats and, more importantly, the leadership of her party -- particularly when she is looking out for the interests of her constituents.

She has shown herself to be an intense and passionate fighter for causes she believes in. Take, for example, her tiger-like approach to keeping the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla open when there was an effort in Washington, D.C., aimed at shutting it down. Murray was quick to join forces with Republicans to keep the local veterans' hospital.

Murray can work across party lines.

On the debt panel, the balancing act will be far tougher. She will be trying to carve out a plan that we hope will put the country on a path to end deficit spending so the debt can be significantly reduced.

Murray said she joined the panel "to take on the serious task of tackling the debt and deficit in a bipartisan and balanced way that works for families in Washington state and across America. I am certainly not concerned about any personal political risks -- that was not a consideration for me."

The work Murray and the other 11 lawmakers is doing is critical to the nation's future -- something that should be far above partisan politics and personal gain.

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