If you had stayed awake through the early Saturday morning hours just before the Senate's most recent recess began, you could have witnessed some of the best and the worst of Congress.
For the first time in four years, the Senate actually voted on a budget. And while critics deride the vote as an exercise in futility, it is a positive step in the right direction.
Sadly, both the Senate and House budgets passed along party lines, so it's clear that much work remains for us to find a balanced approach that both parties can embrace.
Since my first day in Washington, more than two and a half years ago, I have urged my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a real budget - one that takes a balanced approach to reducing our national debt, while protecting programs many West Virginians depend on, such as Social Security and Medicare, mine and air traffic safety, and infrastructure investments, while applying fairness to our tax code.
For too long, all we have done is create one self-inflicted crisis after the next. We cannot afford to continuously kick the can down the road rather than solving our nation's serious problems. Reducing our growing debt, managing our deficit and passing a responsible budget are goals we can no longer ignore because it is the American people who suffer the consequences.
Our annual deficit in 2012 exceeded $1 trillion and the national debt is $16.7 trillion, and counting.
Inaction is not an option. Nor is governing -- can we really call it "governing?" -- by the same political bickering that creates budgetary gimmicks like "sequestration," the reckless, across-the-board spending cuts that undermine our commitment to seniors, veterans and children.
In order to truly improve, our economy needs stability and certainty. Congress can do its part by balancing our budget, and that is why I was the only Democrat to vote in support of an amendment that would have forced a balanced budget by 2023. Families in Wheeling and across West Virginia try to live within a budget every day, and it's about time our government does the same.
While both the House and Senate passed their respective budgets last week, April 2009 was the last time Congress agreed to the same budget. That's unacceptable to West Virginians, to the American people and to me. If there's no budget, your elected leaders shouldn't get paid. "No Budget, No Pay," a bipartisan proposal I have cosponsored, would pressure Members of Congress to act responsibly and work together to get the United States back on track.
As bad as things look, I think we have a rare opportunity to work towards a "grand bargain" - a deal that includes new revenue through pro-growth corporate and individual tax reform and targeted cuts to eliminate wasteful spending and duplicative programs. We need to fundamentally reform our tax code and make the system fairer by getting rid of the countless loopholes and preferences that benefit special interests, not ordinary Americans. And, as difficult as it may be, we need to look at our entitlement programs so that they remain strong now and for generations to come.
Americans are calling for a renewed spirit of bipartisan cooperation and collaboration. We need to respond by moving past the gridlock and bickering that brought us sequestration and a downgrade in our credit rating. Something is terribly wrong when one of the biggest threats to the United States economy is the United States Congress.
We cannot afford to continue business as usual. We must put our country back on track. It's time for our leaders in Washington to do the job the American people elected them to do.