The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 13, 2013

Congress makes Progress

Why it matters: The Christmas spirit seems to have taken hold in Congress as Democrats and Republicans agree to a sensible budget deal to avert further shutdowns.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Maybe we’re all just too optimistic this time of year, but it seems Congress has made some real progress rebutting various grinches and latching on to the wonder of the season or, if not wonder, at least a short-term budget deal.

House Republican and Senate Democrat leaders announced the agreement on a short-term budget deal Wednesday that seemed to breed more humility than acrimony. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., noted the deal did not give either side everything it wanted. Republicans wanted steeper spending cuts and Democrats wanted an extension of unemployment benefits.

The deal provided some overall debt reduction and kept some 90 percent of the sequester spending cuts in place. It removed $63 billion in sequester cuts over two years that were beginning to affect everything from national defense to children’s education programs. Ryan struck the deal with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

Ryan told the House Rules Committee “It shows that we can work together,” according to report in the Associated Press. Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, said in the same report: “On balance, my view is this is a step forward. A small one, but a step forward.”

House and Senate leadership also praised the deal and suggested chances are good for positive votes in both Houses. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the deal a “breath of fresh air.” He suggested it would lead to further progress on a number of issues between House Republicans and Senate Democrats.

House Speaker John Boehner noted that the plan still reduces the deficit and he took aim at outside groups (grinches) who were opposing the deal and causing other acrimony in the House. “They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous,” he told the Associated Press. And the people in Whoville certainly know that.

While Democrat and Republican rank and file groused about the deal, many were willing to accept it as a positive step forward. It will avert a shutdown in January and beyond. While some $63 billion in automatic cuts over 2 years would essentially increase spending, that spending will be paid for with increases in some fees – such as airline security fees – over a longer period of time.

It increases the short-term deficit, but decreases deficits in the long term. While Ryan noted it is not the type of budget he proposed in the past that didn’t pass, he sounded a more pragmatic tone, noting as a “conservative” he was operating in a divided government and getting a budget passed that would help stabilize the economy.

He’s more than right about that. He’s also building credibility as a budget hawk and will likely be more influential in the long run should he continue to be reasonable about what can be done. It’s a new side of Ryan that all Republicans should be embracing.

Now, committees will be able to get back to work of writing individual budget bills, and with any luck, those bills will be passed in a timely and bipartisan manner.

There will be opposition, but those member of Congress who would throw out the good in pursuit of the perfect, should realize we have to move on.

Bipartisan cooperation has come in very small steps in Congress. This deal should be considered a start, a positive direction to build momentum for the policy debates to come. It’s a credit to Ryan and Murray, and Boehner and Reid for that matter, for allowing their chairs to work together without too much political interference.

It seems leaders of both parties are beginning to hear the American people loud and clear. They want progress. They want bipartisan cooperation and reasonable solutions to the country’s problems, large and small.