Watching the recent events in Washington to tackle the national debt crisis reminded me of this spring when we in the New Jersey Legislature became a national model by enacting historic and bipartisan public employee benefits reform.

In both cases, there were undeniable problems – largely unsustainable spending habits –that required both parties to compromise without abandoning their principles to find solutions that will benefit the public.

I was proud when Governor Christie stood with legislative leaders of both parties and signed our reform bill because it preserved pensions and healthcare for public workers while making them affordable for the rest of us.

I wish the example we set were followed more closely by members of Congress when they finally agreed on a bipartisan debt limit law because, bipartisan accords are always better than partisan gridlock.

It was a classic give-and-take in which both parties made concessions without abandoning their core beliefs. The deal allows the country to borrow more with assurances that the increased debt will be mitigated with mandated spending cuts, not tax increases.

The pact also protects some of our nation’s most important programs from those cuts – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits, and the military.

The deal makes it clear that further reform is needed through a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and reforms to stop abuses in Social Security and federal health care programs.

If nothing else, this agreement means that Congress can no longer consider raising the debt ceiling a fait accompli. Like New Jersey government had, the federal government has a serious spending problem that cannot be ignored.

In our state, the new law may have concrete impacts, such as preserving more than $260 million worth of Homeland Security funding to help thwart terrorists to keep us safe and a $450 million upgrade to Amtrak’s rails that will keep us moving.

As with any bipartisan compromise, there are points we can disagree with and I’m sure new concerns will arise as we fully digest the new law, but on a whole this is what needed to be done to move our country forward and avert a catastrophic default.

This compromise was necessary and the politicians who attempted to block it were avoiding the job that they were sent to Washington to do. I am very disappointed that two of the Congressman who represent the same Monmouth County constituents I do and both of our United States Senators voted against this bill.

Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, and Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez couldn’t put aside their political ideologue even in the face of a colossal problem that doesn’t see a difference between blue and red, discern the smell of an elephant from a donkey, or know its left from its right.

Their vote indicated they don’t care whether our country pays its bills or descends into economic chaos. Their “principled” stand jeopardized the vital social security and health safety nets that so many people in New Jersey, and throughout the nation, rely on. This was not an issue to use to call your opponents’ bluff.

A New Jersey columnist, who is usually a foil of the Governor, recently suggested that the President could take some cues about leadership from our Governor. I would extend that further to members of Congress who refused to work across the aisle.

Their political entrenchment hinders progress and benefits no one.

New Jersey set an example of how a divided government should function. Many in Washington followed that model to avoid a calamity, but the resistance of many others is a great concern.

This accord solved an immediate problem but a tougher obstacle remains to find a long-term solution to our nation’s deficit. I’d feel much more confident about our chances in overcoming it if Congress acted more like the model we established this spring and less like Reps. Pallone, Holt and Sens. Lautenberg and Menendez.

Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini
11th Legislative District 

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...