In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives last week agreed on a budget accord that averts another government shutdown. The Senate should set aside its own bitter differences and do the same if it wants to avoid another embarrassing episode of Dysfunction on the Potomac.
In most years, the budget agreement would be no big deal. The House merely agreed on a plan to pay the government’s bills. But this is not most years. In a Congress whose members seemingly can’t agree on the time of day, this represents a major accomplishment.
By any accounting, the House-passed bill is a modest plan. It would eliminate about 61 percent of the senseless sequestration cuts in domestic programs such as education and transportation that were on schedule to deepen next month, adding $31.5 billion over the next two years. Spending would rise to $1.012 trillion from the $967 billion foreseen this year.
To compensate for the $45 billion increase, consumers would pay as much as $5 extra in security fees per airline ticket, plus it slows federal spending in areas involving pensions for federal employees, civilian and military.
It’s not much, but in this season of counting blessings, we’ll count it as a win, if the Senate can agree without making major changes that would rile members of the House.
But voters should be clear on what this package is not: It’s not a thoughtful spending and revenue bill that that controls the long-term causes of rising federal debt like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. It’s not a plan to increase revenue by closing loopholes to bring the budget into balance. It’s not a plan to invest in the future by improving our infrastructure or education.
It’s a (probably temporary) cease-fire in the budget wars. Plus, in a particularly mean-spirited gesture, the House delivered a lump of coal to 1.3 million people by failing to extend their jobless benefits, which expire on Jan. 1.
Even so, the most shrill voices on the right condemned the deal because of the spending increase. That prompted Speaker John Boehner to denounce the critics, which he should have done years ago. Right-wing critics are not supporting conservative policy, Mr. Boehner said — they’re just trying to raise money for their own extreme agenda.
Mr. Boehner’s sudden turn against the far right may be the best thing to come out of the bipartisan budget plan. This sensible behavior in the House may not last long, but it’s encouraging to see, even if only for awhile.