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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Published October 21 2013

Letter: Time for political courage

For 16 days, native families on North Dakota’s Indian reservations weren’t able to get help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs – leaving families hungry and without housing assistance they desperately need.

For 16 days, farmers throughout our state were unable to get crucial support from farm programs because the shuttered Department of Agriculture couldn’t respond to their requests.

For 16 days, small businesses across the state were unable to secure financing from the Small Business Administration, leaving the owners and their families – many of whom invested their life savings to start their businesses – in serious jeopardy.

The impacts of the federal government shutdown across North Dakota were very real and very damaging. And taxpayers footed the bill, to the tune of $160 million per day. It is ironic that some extremist members of Congress, claiming to act in the name of fiscal responsibility, manufactured this crisis that Standard and Poor’s estimates took $24 billion out of the economy.

I also hope this experience puts to bed the notion peddled by some members of Congress that defaulting on our national debt would not cause us harm. This is nonsense. Every family in America knows that we must pay our bills to avoid digging a permanent financial hole. If you don’t pay your mortgage or credit card bills, your credit rating will drop and you soon won’t be able to get a loan for your next car, home, or any other large purchase.

Likewise, if our country fails to pay its bills, its credit rating will drop, and we will all suffer the crippling consequences of rising interest rates, threats to retirements savings and slower economic growth. Every 1 percentage point of increased interest payment on our debt accounts for $110 billion of additional federal government payments every year. We can’t do that to our country.

The summer of 2011 was the last time the U.S. came close to default. We didn’t go over the deadline at that time, but we came right up to it. Even just coming close to the deadline had serious consequences. The uncertainty and delays in raising the debt limit cost taxpayers about $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011.

Despite the experiences from 2011, we just faced a similar situation again. Though we’re fortunate that cooler heads eventually prevailed.

I’m proud to have been part of a group of 14 senators – Republicans and Democrats – who recognized the need to put politics aside and worked together in a bipartisan fashion to reach a compromise.

Throughout this debate, extremists tried to grab the loudspeaker, but there are rational, moderate members who want to find solutions.

But our work has only just begun. The compromise that ended the shutdown calls for the House and Senate to negotiate and reach a budget agreement by Dec. 13. This is a discussion we need to have. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on a long-term and bipartisan solution that addresses our budget deficit while also spurring economic growth, creating jobs, and promoting innovation. Everything must be on the table.

In the coming weeks, I’m also looking forward to working on other pressing issues, such as passing a comprehensive farm bill and reducing flood insurance rates, which recently went up for millions of American families. These important issues, and many others, were unfortunately pushed to the wayside because of the government shutdown.

We can’t put ourselves in this situation again. I hope that the many reckless members who caused this pain on our economy and North Dakota families have learned their lesson.

Congress now has a chance to act responsibly. It’s time to do the right thing and work together – Republicans and Democrats. Simply put, it’s time to see some political courage.

We must prove that we are a Congress worthy of the American people. I want to prove that we can live up to this challenge.


Heitkamp, D-N.D., is a first-term senator.