With fewer than 12 hours to spare (a lifetime, apparently, in the ways of Washington) the president has signed into law the combination debt ceiling increase/spending-and-deficit reduction compromise approved by both houses of Congress. There, now don’t you feel much better about everything? I mean, it only took a few months of bluster and pontificating, and a little threat to keep the nation from paying its bills on time, to get our government to pass a simple debt ceiling increase and take a small step in the direction of fiscal responsibility.
The last act of this tired drama was predictable: the loudest of the antagonists made a great flowery show of establishing their innate human goodness while talking past one another directly to those in the wings who were already persuaded of the rightness of their case…they executed the thrust and parry of choreographed stage fights which held no real threat of damage since the outcomes were predetermined…when time wound down minor characters took center stage to deliver the resolution then ceded the spotlight once again to the stars, who declaimed the lessons of the play and bid us all a good night.
Now the treasury has cash to pay the bills, and Congress is faced with continuing negotiations to find ways to cut spending and/or increase revenue (I’m hoping for the “and”) to get the government closer to living within its means. They got there by compromising, which means no one is happy with the product:
Some in both houses are unhappy that there were no tax increases to spread the pain; some are unhappy there weren’t even more cuts to get closer to a final solution in one fell swoop; Democrats are unhappy that GOP priorities suffered few hits (but pleased that the cuts are not as severe as in earlier proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan); Republicans are unhappy about potential cuts to the Pentagon budget if future negotiations are not successful; and Tea Partiers are unhappy because there are no significant spending cuts right now and promised future cuts are contingent on the approval of future Congresses.
The proponents of restraint in government spending should see this as a great victory for their cause: it’s not everything they wanted all at once, but they got the president and Congressional Democrats to give more than would have been considered realistic just a few months ago. That many of them do not—that they feel any compromise was an unforgiveable moral failure—is cause for concern, and the proponents of responsible behavior by grown adults in elected positions of responsibility should see this as a nightmarish premonition of things to come, if not in the budget talks later this year than the next time a debt ceiling needs to be increased.
Now, for those who have the stomach for it, we face the prospect of watching a new select committee of members from both houses and both parties work to find ways to reduce the deficit, and watching both houses debate and vote on a balanced budget amendment—all by end of the year!
How will cuts in federal government spending impact an economy still struggling to recover from recession and build new jobs? Can we do something about overhauling tax code and/or entitlements, the real answers to a healthier federal budget? I’m much less concerned right now with who won or lost the latest political fight than I am with a more pertinent matter: how does this deal help the country?