By Charles Pope
WASHINGTON - As one of the House's least senior members, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., wasn't in Congress when the fiscal cliff and the spending "problems" were created.
But now that those tough issues need to be solved, she has a distinct philosophy about what needs to be done. It embraces many of the mainline positions of President Barack Obama and her fellow Democrats. But Bonamici also blends those positions with the needs of her district.
Cut spending, she says, but protect education and the social safety net. Extend unemployment benefits for people who've been out of work for long periods, renew tax credits for research and development and for alternative energy, and pay for infrastructure projects.
Congress is working on a deal to forestall $600 billion in budget cuts and tax hikes that begin with the new year. The change, called "the fiscal cliff," is widely viewed as a threat to the economy, though there's considerable disagreement about whether problems would be immediate or increase gradually. There's also substantial disagreement about what the deal should be, with plenty of nuance even among members of the same party. Charles Pope, The Oregonian's Washington correspondent, contacted all the members of the Oregon delegation to get their opinions on this issue. We are publishing the views of the House members this week, with the senators on Monday and Tuesday.
"We need to make sure we don't end up with so many cuts we end up with a lot more people on unemployment who put more demands on the safety net at a time we're cutting the safety net," she says.
Her ideas are in flux though. Like others, she's waiting for details. While some lawmakers say the revenue and spending cuts must hit a fixed number - $4 trillion over 10 years is common - Bonamici doesn't.
"I want to have an open mind. I don't want to say 'here's a hard line and I won't cross it.' I have certain values I'll follow. But when there are so many possibilities and so many ways to approach this, I don't have a hard line.
"I certainly don't think we need to cut programs that help with the safety net. Do we need to make changes? Maybe. But I don't think we need to be cutting. We need to maintain that safety net and we need to pick policies that are going to grow, not hinder, economic development," she said.
She wants to reform the tax code but says that should wait because it's complex and that moving too fast could produce a flawed result. She supports raising taxes for the wealthy, which in most proposals means anybody earning $250,000 or more a year.About this series
"Continuing tax breaks for people who are already successful is not my priority because that's not how we're going to rebuild our economy," she said.
On changing entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, she wants a light touch - or no touch at all.
"People have paid in to those programs and have earned the benefits.¤.¤.. We can make changes in those programs without affecting benefits," she said.
And on the big question, can Congress get it done and avoid the combination of tax increases and budget cuts that independent economists say would stagger the economy?
Bonamici is hopeful but uncertain.
"I'm sort of encouraged by what I'm hearing. There seems to be a lot of desire to get this done. I'm hearing a lot of people saying we need to have a balanced approach.
But I haven't had a lot of conversations about it yet," she said, noting that lawmakers had only been back in Washington for four days before taking this week off for the holiday.