Boehner’s parting gift averts a fiscal crisis

House Speaker John Boehner’s proposed budget deal would prevent a government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner’s proposed budget deal would prevent a government shutdown. AP

Outgoing Republican House Speaker John Boehner is handing his party — and the nation — a parting gift by forging a last-minute budget deal with President Obama to avert an imminent federal shutdown and bring peace to Washington’s perennial money wars for two years.

No shutdown, no default on U.S. government debt. What’s not to like about that?

If you listen to the conservative GOP minority in the House whose members made life so miserable for Mr. Boehner, plenty — especially the secretive way in which the deal was reached. Perhaps they’re narrowly right about that, but they’re missing the bigger point: Failure to reach a budget agreement to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government open would be a black eye for the party and a disaster for the economy.

Given the disarray in the House sparked by conservative activists, the Republicans have a serious problem: How can they convince voters that they can govern the nation when they can’t even govern themselves?

Mr. Boehner quit rather than put up with the rejection caucus any longer. His abrupt decision, born of frustration, and the subsequent melodrama over who would succeed him showed a party deeply divided and in need of direction. Another government shutdown would only confirm the belief that the party is hopelessly stuck in an ideological logjam and has no way out and no business shaping the national agenda.

Now Mr. Boehner and the Obama administration have reached a compromise — yes, there’s the dreaded C word, so indispensable to the functioning of government — that gives each side a little bit of what each wants, but not everything. That’s the way government used to work … back when government used to work.

The CliffsNotes version of the deal: It lifts spending caps from established levels by about $80 billion in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, extends the debt ceiling until March 2017 and replenishes the ailing Social Security Disability Insurance fund. This would be paid for with a variety of spending cuts and revenue increases touching areas from tax compliance to spectrum auctions.

Pretty it’s not, nor is negotiating a backroom deal and giving Congress about 48 hours to consider it before voting an ideal way to do business. But it avoids a fiscal crisis on three fronts — the budget, the debt ceiling, Social Security — and restores a semblance of order to the House, not to mention increasing confidence in the economy. That, as Vice President Joe Biden once said in another context, is a big f------ deal.

Now Mr. Boehner must push the agreement through his unruly House in a vote as early as Wednesday — even though its most recalcitrant members oppose its provisions and the way the deal came about. Still, it’s likely to pass thanks to bipartisan support. Mr. Boehner rightly brushed off right-wing objections, saying he had made good on a promise not to hand his successor, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a mess. “I didn’t want him to walk into a dirty barn full of you-know-what. So I’ve done my best to try to clean it up.”

Mr. Ryan’s first reaction was to disparage the secretive way the deal was reached. That may sound good to the party’s extremist faction, but instead of sounding so churlish and looking a gift horse in the mouth, Mr. Ryan should thank John Boehner for having the wisdom and courage to do the right thing.

Brinksmanship is not a recipe for partisan success, nor does it help the country. Mr. Boehner has delivered a significant agreement that is the hallmark of an able legislator and a strong public servant. President Obama will miss him.