The good news is Republicans and Democrats in a divided Congress finally agreed to a plan to fund the government through September and they did it with six whole days to spare.
The bad news is it only covers the next six months and their plans for the next budget are miles apart. Already the rhetoric has been cascading down the black hole of sequestration and into the valley of the fiscal cliff.
The House approved on a 318-109 bipartisan vote last week to agree to a budget that goes through Sept. 30. It went along with some changes to its original proposal by the Senate, which voted to approve it in a bipartisan 73-26 vote. The budget avoids a government shutdown that could have occurred when the previous temporary measure was set to expire March 27.
The plan leaves in place many of the automatic cuts brought about by sequestration, but made budget adjustments so food inspectors would not be furloughed and tuition assistance programs to veterans would also continue. Some other spending shifts were adopted as well but offset by changing spending in another area.
Still, we have to credit even small successes in our politics today. Credit goes to leaders in the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, for getting this done and not resorting to another “crisis” management situation that rattles world financial markets.
While “Kumbaya” seemed to be the song of the day in Congress after passage, the longer term budget battle ahead between House Republicans and Senate Democrats suggests a more heavy metal tone.
House Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan called Democrats status quo taxers and spenders while Democrats called his budget “unbelievable” and suggested Ryan has a small attention span regarding the last election.
Ryan’s plan to cut $5 trillion from future spending over 10 years and balance the budget contrasts sharply with a Senate Democrat plan to remove sequestration cuts, add $1 trillion in tax revenue but not balance the budget. Ryan calls for Medicare reform for people under 54 and the Senate plan calls for closing tax loopholes for corporations.
While there is some optimism that even these two widely divergent budgets can somehow be merged into one that is bipartisan, skeptics haven’t ever gone broke betting against bipartisanship in Washington.
Let’s hope President Obama and other leaders can bottle whatever it was that helped bring agreement on the short-term budget and use it to bring about a long-term budget solution.