Two-year budget reflects the reality of divided government

Speaker John A. Boehner was able to fight off growing opposition from tea party Republicans in the House and garner enough GOP votes Thursday for the passage of a two-year budget plan that is designed to avert another government shutdown and a political crisis that has all but paralyzed Congress.

Boehner, R-Cincinnati, had lashed out at the critics of the spending blueprint, including conservative groups such as Freedom Works, saying they were merely trying to score political points with the rank-and-file.

Approval by the House was seen as another test of Boehner’s leadership. While he did not come through unscathed, he can declare victory.

Like the tea-party members and other conservative groups, there were Democrats who weren’t enamoured by the budget plan. They were especially critical of the fact that it does not contain an extension to the unemployment benefits for 1 million Americans without jobs. The benefits will run out after Christmas.

Indeed, President Barack Obama had sought the extension, but the White House has embraced the budget compromise plan. It was the result of countless hours of negotiations between Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP’s budget expert, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.

“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like, and I know many Republicans feel the same way,” the president said. “That’s the nature of compromise. ... The American people should not have to endure the pain of another government shutdown for the next two years.”

Ryan and Murray characterized the plan as a step in the right direction and a reflection of the bipartisanship that was necessary to get the job done.

“In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan said.

“Because of this deal, the budget process can stop lurching from crisis to crisis,” Murray pointed out.

From our vantage point, the restoration of money for programs that have been crippled by across-the-board cuts — sequestration — is long overdue.

We have been strongly opposed to sequestration for two reasons: first, it was a device borne out of desperation when Democrats and Republicans could not agree on a way of reducing budget deficits; second, the pain of across-the-board cuts was largely felt by thousands of government employees, including civilians in the defense department and Americans who receive services from government workers who were furloughed.

Restoration of cuts

The $85 billion spending plan approved by the GOP-controlled House and expected to be approved by the Democratic controlled Senate will restore $63 billion of automatic cuts.

According to the McClatchy-Tribune news service, the deal sets 2014 spending at $1.02 trillion, higher than the $967 billion that would have taken effect under the sequester law on Jan. 15, but less than what Democrats wanted.

The increased spending is paid for with new fees and reductions in spending in federal employee retirement benefits, cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees under the age of 62 and new fees on airline travel.

To be sure, the battle of the budget is not over on Capitol Hill or around the country, but at least for now, government will keep operating.

In today’s highly partisan climate, that’s progress.

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