Pryor: Congress can avoid fiscal brinksmanship


LITTLE ROCK — Congress can avoid a federal government shutdown this fall if lawmakers “prioritize good government over politics,” U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Monday.

Some Republican critics of the federal Affordable Care Act, including U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle who is challenging Pryor’s 2014 re-election bid, have suggested using looming fiscal battles to block funding for major provisions of the law scheduled to take effect in January.

“I think that America is tired of the cliffhanger game where we go right down to the last minute, the last day,” the senator told reporters Monday before a meeting about broadband access at the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.

Congress faces two major fiscal issues when it returns next month: approving a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded beyond September, and increasing the government’s borrowing authority.

“My hope is that we would not play games, that we would just get back to governing … try to make Washington work better and run better; not that everyone agrees — that’s part of being in a democracy — but let’s try to make it run better and work better,” Pryor said Monday.

The Pryor-Cotton races is shaping up to be among the most hotly contested in the nation.

The federal government is expected to bump up against its $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by the end of the year. The Obama administration wants Congress to lift the ceiling ahead of that so that the government can honor its debts and avoid the brinksmanship of 2011 that led to a downgrading of the U.S. credit rating.

A last-minute deal was struck in 2011 to raise the debt ceiling in time to avoid a federal default but Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+.

“I think we just got our AAA rating restored, and we don’t need to jeopardize that,” Pryor said Monday.

Standard & Poor’s recently upgraded the outlook for the federal credit rating from “negative” to “stable” but has otherwise kept it at AA+.

The Obama administration insists that it won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling this fall. At the same time, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insists that the House will not consider raising the ceiling unless it is accompanied by “real cuts in spending.”

Congress is not expected to complete work on a federal budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. It will likely look to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating in the short term. Republicans are divided on drawing a hard line over funding for the law known as Obamacare within the continuing resolution.

Cotton has not said for certain whether he would vote for or against a continuing resolution that includes funds for Obamacare. Regardless, Democrats stand ready to blame him for a threatened government shutdown.

On Monday, Cotton spokesman Caroline Rabbitt dismissed the talk of a government shutdown as partisan rhetoric coming from Democrats.

“Once again the only people mentioning shutting down the government are President Obama and his most trusted lieutenants in Washington,” Rabbitt said. “For most Arkansans putting good government above politics means reining in reckless federal spending, reducing our national debt and repealing Obamacare. Had Mark Pryor put Arkansas’ interests above politics, we wouldn’t now be dealing with the job killing Obamacare law.”

Pryor said he thinks a government shutdown can be avoided this fall, as long as lawmakers “are willing to allow the system to work the way it’s suppose to work, which is to prioritize good government over politics.”

Also Monday, Pryor demanded more transparency from ExxonMobil regarding its pipeline that ruptured in Mayflower.

“I would say Exxon has not been transparent enough,” Pryor told reporters. “I don’t know what information they have and what they don’t have, but I do think it’s important that they share with the public and with the neighborhood … what’s going on there, what the causes are and how they are going to proceed going forward.”

A larger question, Pryor said, is the condition of the pipeline and whether it should be moved out of the Lake Maumelle Watershed. The lake is the primary water source for much of Central Arkansas.

“I support that, especially if we don’t know about the integrity of the pipeline,” Pryor said.

Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured in Mayflower on March 29, releasing an estimated 147,000 gallons of oil, forcing scores of residents of a neighborhood out of their homes.