Conservatives’ criticism of the two-year budget compromise reached by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is largely on target.
It increases spending in the short-term and does only a little to put the nation’s fiscal house in order.
Yet given the reality of a divided Washington, the agreement looks to be better than more gridlock and economic uncertainty. However modest, the plan does include entitlement and pension reform.
The plan would allow a $63 billion increase in discretionary spending over two years, which would be divided between military and domestic programs. Then the spending caps that have constrained the federal budget the past two years would be restored.
Critics, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dismiss the deal should remember what happened after a budget impasse led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October.
The financial uncertainty walloped the economy, causing Standard & Poor’s economists to cut their fourth-quarter growth forecast from 3 percent to 2 percent.
The continued political brinkmanship hurts Americans. The Wall Street Journal reported that Macroeconomic Advisers estimates all the fiscal-policy battles since 2009 have cost the economy nearly a million jobs.
And because the media focused on uncompromising Republican firebrands such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican Party was largely blamed for the shutdown — though the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House were hardly conciliatory.
GOP poll numbers tanked — until the “Obamacare” rollout debacle showed Americans dislike incompetence and deception even more than intransigence.
Nevertheless, Americans are weary of the partisan bickering and in no mood for more economic upheaval.
Spending reform will achieved through a long-term commitment, not unbending demands.
As Wisconsin’s Ryan rightly puts it: “In a divided government, you don’t always get what you want.”
If the GOP wins the public’s confidence and a few election cycles, it could be in a position to achieve meaningful spending reforms.
The conservatives who accuse Ryan of simply kicking the can down the road should recognize he managed a few victories. Federal workers now contribute a puny 0.8 percent of their annual pay to their pensions. That will be increased by 1.3 percent for new federal workers, which will save $6 billion over 10 years. It is too bad Democrats would not go along with Ryan’s effort to require the increased contribution of all federal employees.
The agreement also will slightly reduce cost-of-living increases for military retirees, which should save an additional $6 billion over 10 years.
The deal includes some new fees but no tax increases, as Democrats usually demand.
The nation, of course, needs more aggressive checks on spending. But it is not compromising one’s principles to recognize that more gridlock and financial instability won’t solve anything.
The naysayers should take the long view, and see that kicking the can a bit down the road is better than kicking the American economy in the gut.