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Editorial: A welcome, if small, budget deal

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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As of late, the nation’s capital has been in a sad state of affairs. So far, this session of Congress has been among the least productive on record thanks in large part to partisan bullheadedness that has crippled decision-making. Irresponsible lawmakers have created crisis after crisis, coming inches from driving the entire country off a cliff repeatedly. All this has accomplished is turning voters into cynics and scaring the bejesus out of the economy.

This has been the sad story of American democracy until two days ago, when House and Senate budget leaders finally reached an agreement. The legislation would increase spending on military and domestic programs through Sept. 30, 2015. It would dodge $63 billion in automatic cuts imposed by the draconian sequestration, cut the budget deficit by $23 billion with no tax increases, and avoid the possibility of another government shutdown on Jan. 15.

Maybe this deal marks a turning point for Congress’ disappointing performance of recent years.

Maybe this can serve as time for Congress to regroup and rethink how it approaches the budget deficit, because its current approach obviously isn’t working. Perhaps making piecemeal agreements in which Democrats and Republicans share common ground is the place to start before deciding how to tackle big budget items such as Medicare, Social Security, and military spending.

This certainly isn’t a perfect deal. It doesn’t qualify as landmark legislation in what it does, but maybe its significance comes in what the agreement represents: recognition that the way Congress is trying to cut spending has been miserably failing and that it’s time to take a different approach. 

Of course, the budget agreement is fairly small. It trims retirement benefits for some federal employees, increases airline fees, and cuts cost-of-living adjustments for retired military officials under age 62 who are neither injured nor disabled. There are no extensions for unemployment insurance or closures of corporate tax loopholes, as many Democrats would have liked. The legislation also averts cuts to the budget deficit, which bothers several Republicans.

That’s called compromise. It’s rare that everyone’s ever truly satisfied with it.

But apparently, some people don’t understand the concept of teamwork and are perfectly content with the shape Congress has been in and don’t at all mind the status quo of the past two years.

Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing extremist group propped up by the a pair of corporate cronies, the Koch brothers, publicly stated that “Now, Republicans should once again stand firm in upholding the modest sequestration spending cuts that both parties agreed to for the current fiscal year. Otherwise, congressional Republicans are joining liberal Democrats in breaking their word to the American people to finally begin reining in government over-spending that has left us over $17 trillion in debt.”

This is the very definition of insanity. The sequestration cuts are idiotic; they were meant to be. The whole idea is that they were supposed to be so ludicrous that no one could seriously let them go into effect.

As we’ve noted in the past, these are across-the-board spending cuts that blindly and recklessly slash funds for the military, financial aid for low-income college students, domestic-violence shelters, preschool programs, and even HIV testing.

The new budget deal that’s arisen isn’t amazing, but it’s far better than anything Congress has produced lately and is certainly preferable to randomly hacking the deficit with a chain saw.


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