The Tri-Cities on Wednesday became the battleground for a national partisan debate about taxes and how to tackle the federal budget deficit as Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Congressman Doc Hastings each brought their party's message to residents.
Murray visited Richland shop Adventures Underground and heard from co-owner Amanda Divine that she and her husband, Logan Kaufman, earn just $11.50 per hour for their work, and sometimes the couple hold their paychecks so they can pay employees.
The Richland store started as an online bookstore before becoming a brick-and-mortar shop selling new and used books, toys, comics and a wide variety of games and gaming supplies.
They have been in business for five years, and now employ five people.
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"We hope to create more jobs in the future," Divine said.
Divine said that as a small-business owner, she supports a plan approved by Democrats in the U.S. Senate that would extend tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000 per year while allowing tax cuts for those earning more to expire.
"I don't take home $250,000 per year with a joint paycheck," Divine said, adding that if she did, she'd be glad to pay the taxes that support roads, schools and other things that benefit the community.
Murray said that without action by Congress, the tax cuts first enacted while President Bush was in office and later renewed under President Obama will expire at the end of the year and everyone -- rich, poor and middle class -- will pay more.
She urged members of the House of Representatives to pass the Senate bill extending the cuts for the middle class now -- she said everyone agrees taxes shouldn't be raised for the middle class -- and then debate whether the cuts should be extended for wealthier Americans.
"This shouldn't be controversial," Murray said. "This should be a no-brainer. I think it makes sense to pass the cuts we all agree on. Then if someone wants to debate tax cuts for the very rich ... I'm happy to have that debate. They shouldn't hold middle-class tax cuts hostage."
Across the river in Pasco, Hastings told about 300 members of the Tri-Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce that Congress must address the nation's "crushing burden of debt" and other national issues.
"They're sobering because of the consequences if they're not dealt with," Hastings said. "First, we have some huge challenges on the federal level, things we all have in common because we're all taxpayers. ... The question is, how long can we go before we collapse? Just look at what is happening in Europe."
He said federal spending needs to be reformed, especially in the areas of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"Medicare, in its present form, will be dead broke in 11 years. If it can't pay the providers -- who need to make a living -- they'll begin to deny health care, and that's called rationing," Hastings said.
He said the solution has been apparent for two years, but politics has gotten in the way.
"The (federal) budget is the solution because it deals with spending and taxes on a broad scale," he said. "The Senate for three years has not passed a budget. That's where the problem and challenge is. We need action sooner, not later. It's important, and we need an adult discussion between the House and Senate.
"But it's something not likely to be resolved seriously until Americans go to the polls," he added.
Murray told the Herald that bringing in more revenue has to be part of the debt-resolution equation, and that means asking the wealthy to pay "their fair share."
"I do believe tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should expire," Murray said.
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