A Step In The Right Direction For Congress, But Only A Small One

imagesSince the announcement last night that House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a short-term budget deal, which raises military and domestic spending over the next two years, commentators have been asking: Does Congress work?

The answer is two fold. On the surface, it appears to – or at least it did last night. But on a more fundamental level, this budget deal actually represents only a very small step for Congress. And though it is an important one – we haven’t seen the Republicans and Democrats working together in a long time – it would miss the point to consider this budget deal anything but modest.

We can see just how modest this deal actually is by looking to Congressman Paul Ryan, the chief architect of the deal for the Republicans, who said that the budget plan is a way to “get our government functioning at its very basic levels.”

Basic is exactly the right word – no more, no less.

After a prolonged government shutdown just a few weeks ago that cost the American taxpayers upwards of $24 billion, I can well understand the relief many feel in knowing that our government will be financed through the end of September 2015.

But I have always been a proponent of a grand bargain – a true meeting of Democrat and Republican minds to address the real fiscal challenges that our country faces. Indeed, this deal does little to address entitlement reform and our broken tax code. And it doesn’t adequately address deficit reduction or offer hope of balancing the budget, especially when one considers there are plans like the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan that do all this and more.

To be sure, we live in extraordinarily polarized times and it is a good sign to see the partisan gridlock subside, at least for a moment. The agreement will eliminate $63 billion in across the board domestic and military cuts and provide $23 billion in deficit reduction by extending a 2 percent cut to Medicare providers through 2023.

That said, there are holes in this deal that could bring back the same Washington budget wars of the last few years as early as March, when the government’s statutory borrowing authority could lapse.

And, crucially, this deal means that the Republicans can continue to focus on their crusade to defund and repeal ObamaCare. We can be sure that 2016 hopefuls like Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will double down on their efforts in this area and, potentially, paint Paul Ryan – a hopeful himself – as a traitor to the party for agreement to raise spending.

It is clear that both sides know that this deal isn’t everything it could be. President Obama noted that this is the “nature of compromise” and House Speaker Boehner called it “modest in scale”, but a “positive step forward.”

Both men are surely correct in their assessment. And it is my strong belief that we have not seen the end to warring Washington, even if this deal represents a small, baseline ability for compromise between senior leaders.

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