Budget deal

Perhaps it is the goodwill brought about by the holiday season that defused what have become perennial tensions around federal budget negotiations, but it seems the ghost of stalemates past will not appear in this latest attempt at passing a budget. Both parties and both houses of Congress deserve credit for avoiding another meltdown and reaching a compromise budget deal, which the House passed Thursday as its final act of 2013.

The bones of the deal – crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. – allow for military and domestic spending to raise ever so slightly during the next two years and delay and relocate spending cuts by increasing federal employee contributions to pensions, decreasing cost-of-living increases on military pensions, increasing air-travel fees to fund security programs and by extending a 2 percent Medicare reimbursement reduction for two years. While that last bit is problematic in its own right, the shift allows for adequate funding of the federal government while reducing the federal deficit just a tad during the next decade. These are baby steps, to be sure, but in the context of this and the previous Congress’ gridlock pattern, they are more like great leaps.

The deal will increase to $1.012 trillion military and domestic funding, up from what was budgeted to be $967 billion in this fiscal year, had the sequestration cuts taken full effect. Next fiscal year, which begins in October, that amount will increase to $1.014 trillion.

It is not the permanent fix that either side was seeking, of course, but it does what no budget has in years: gets past Congress. As Ryan said, the deal will “get our government functioning at its most basic levels.” That is hardly high praise, but it suits the moment – far more so than the knee-jerk criticism that those on the far right have levied.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was among those who object to the deal, but his critiques sound more like stump speeches than budget input. “We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good-paying jobs, and this budget fails to accomplish both goals, making it harder for more Americans to achieve the American dream. Instead, this budget continues Washington’s irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans,” Rubio said.

More realistic were responses from Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and President Barack Obama, who both recognized the incremental but critical nature of the deal.

“While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings,” Boehner said in a statement.

The president had a slightly rosier view, albeit tempered. “This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like – and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done,” Obama said.

That may be the greatest gift of all.

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