Rep. Paul Ryan's budget deal: modest but smart
By the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board
The two-year federal budget deal that passed the House Thursday is notable because it got done. It is not notable because of what got done.
It has been years since a divided Congress forged a budget agreement, and this one was negotiated amiably. Style points to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat.
But are we really supposed to cheer when the best the political leadership can do is promise that the government probably won't shut down again? (Not to worry, fans of brinkmanship; there's always the debt ceiling confrontation likely coming in March).
This deal leaves untouched most of the important issues. Entitlements. Nothing done. The nation's byzantine tax code. Still byzantine.
We know why. There just isn't much common ground in Washington, D.C., and Ryan and Murray are crowded onto a tiny patch of land.
Conservative groups heckled the agreement and tried to scuttle it. Even before it was announced, Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity opposed it. The libertarian Cato Institute called it a "huge Republican cave-in."
Some liberals complained, too, arguing that an extension of unemployment benefits should have been part of the deal. But it's the conservatives who were most belligerent. Republican pollster Glen Bolger nailed it when he said that Republicans are at a watershed moment:
"We are either a party that is serious about governing when control of Washington is split, or we are an unserious party that doesn't care about realistic incremental gains, only caring about unrealistically getting the whole ball of wax, which will never happen as long as there is a Democratic president and a Democratic majority leader," Bolger told The Washington Post.
The GOP has too many members who would rather preach than govern. Ryan wants to govern. He deserves credit for standing up to the reactionaries in his party (so does House Speaker John Boehner).
"Look, as a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists. I passed three budgets in a row that reflect my priorities and my principles," and none of the budgets passed the Senate, Ryan said. "We're in divided government...So I'm not going to go a mile in the direction I want to go to, but I will take a few steps in the right direction."
The $85 billion agreement is the first time in years that the two parties have negotiated anything other than a stopgap measure. The proposal cuts the mindless "sequester" in half and cuts spending and deficits by $20 billion over the next 10 years. That's not a lot, but it's something. Yes, the additional revenue comes from fees (including on airline tickets) and gimmicks, but we'll take it for now.
The nation needs more from its elected officials. It needs a real discussion about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and the long-term deficit, which over time, must be brought under control. Austerity, no. Sanity, yes. But as Ryan said, for now it's about taking a few steps in the right direction.