At least government shutdown is off the table as an issue.
The two-year budget deal announced by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is not exactly the grand bargain many had been hoping for. As National Review’s Jonah Goldberg put it, “As Christmas presents go, it’s certainly closer to a really sturdy pair of socks than it is to a new bike.”
Overall spending would increase from $967 billion to a little over $1 trillion both years. Sequestration cuts of $63 billion would be undone. There would be $85 billion in total savings and $23 billion in net deficit reduction. Considering the nation’s $17 trillion national debt and unfunded liabilities in the $80 trillion to $100 trillion range, this is all less than pocket change.
But this is a start and, as they say, something is usually better than nothing.
The worst part of the deal is that it scales back on sequestration, which was proving to be an effective if imperfect tool to force Congress to make cuts in discretionary spending. Sequestration, Heritage Action notes, will be replaced with “a gimmicky, spend-now, cut-later deal.”
The best thing about it, as The Wall Street Journal points out, is that it establishes a precedent for trading discretionary spending increases for mandatory spending cuts. The debt and deficit aren’t created mostly by pork but entitlement spending. Without real entitlement reform, there is no hope ever getting back on the right fiscal path.
So the main question about his “little bargain” is whether it can get us on that path, or at least not send us several steps back. The answer is, yes it can, depending on a couple of things.
One is Republican will. From the GOP’s standpoint, this is a good bargain for a very important political reason. It takes a government shutdown off the table as a issue for the Democrats and the press to beat Republicans up over for the next two years. That means the spotlight can be kept on President Obama’s sinking administration and the disastrous Obamacare.
If that helps Republicans keep the House next year and regain the Senate, that will put them in a position to make some real progress on restoring fiscal sanity. But will they? Too many of them have shown themselves to be as fond of big government as Democrats.
And the voters have a huge say in this as well. They need to send more fiscally responsible senators and representatives to Washington. Voters had an opportunity last year to end Obamacare, which a majority of them had said they disliked intensely. They decided to give Obama a second term instead.