As Congressman Heath Shuler stood behind the podium yesterday, Aug. 25, at a luncheon sponsored by the Council of Independent Business Owners, he used a story to explain the biggest challenge he sees in Washington: finding compromise for the federal budget regardless of politics.
“The man that walks on the right side of the road is safe. The man who walks on the left side of the road is safe. But — the man who walks in the middle of the road gets hit by a truck,” he said. “Welcome to being a Blue Dog. We get hit by both sides.”
According to the Democrat, who sits on the budget committee and represents Western North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, America must change the way it treats federal spending. Shuler says Buncombe country normally operates at 29 percent revenue. Now, the country is operating on a 15 percent revenue. Even if all federal programs were eliminated except for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense, and interest on the national debt, there would still be a $500 billion deficit, said Shuler.
“We can’t continue down this path. We have to have compromises,” he says. “The problem is that we have is that no one who’s willing to work together. There’s no willingness to compromise. We have one extreme or the other. The only way a compromise happens is for one group to go all the way to the other group and say, ‘That’s compromise.’ There’s no meeting in the middle.” This inability for politicians to work together and put factions aside resulted in the latest fiasco over raising the debt ceiling, said Shuler.
After speaking for about 30 minutes, Shuler invited CIBO members to ask questions, which ranged in topic from economics to Planned Parenthood. One query — as much a statement of frustration as a question — came from local business owner, Dwight Butner, who owns Vincenzo’s Ristorante & Bistro. He says he feels national spending has started to affect his own downtown restaurant. This July, for the first time, Butner’s business experienced its first decrease in revenue compared to last year.
Butner emphasized the negative impact of politicians talking about the debt but not offering constructive ideas on how to fix it or compromise. It has affect his North Market Street restaurant. “For those of us who are business people, it’s incredibly frustrating. We’re starting to feel like no matter what we do, things outside our control are working against us all the time,” the Burnsville native says. “Our leaders are not being leaders, and I agree with Mr. Shuler.”
Shuler also took questions from college student Jesse Kessel. Raised in Asheville, the 20-year-old called Shuler’s moderate approach “rhetorically nifty,” but questioned how it practically solved America’s current problems. Shuler responded, “Quite simply put, we’re willing to do what’s right for America and not for political parties.”
Though Kessel says he has no intention of majoring in political science, he used to volunteer for Shuler and he did have some thoughts about what Shuler had to say at the CIBO meeting. “I was sort of impressed. Congressman Shuler’s public speaking has greatly improved since when he first took office, but like all politicians, there wasn’t really much specificity. But, you know, you get what you get when you deal with politicians.”