The Senate's approval of a budget deal by a 64-36 margin Wednesday will not solve our nation's long-term fiscal problems. But it did avert the short-term threat of another federal shutdown.
And while the two-year budget plan, which had passed the House by a 332-94 count last Thursday, has its flaws, it does represent some progress toward meeting in the middle.
Yes, the agreement, forged by Budget Committee Chairs Paul Ryan of the House and Patty Murray of the Senate, is limited. For instance, the spending cuts it promises would reduce previously projected federal deficits by a mere $23 billion combined over the next decade.
Compared to the fiscal year 2013 deficit of "only" $680 billion, and the previous four years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits, that's chump change. Meanwhile, our record $17.2 trillion national debt keeps climbing.
The bill also falls far short of the tough decisions needed for long-overdue reform of Medicare and Social Security, both of which face intensifying bottom-line pressures from Baby Boomer retirements as the ratios of payers to beneficiaries continue to dwindle.
And as South Carolina Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, who both voted against the agreement, pointed out, the deal cuts cost-of-living raises in benefits for military veterans - included disabled ones.
However, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., emphasized that his panel will review those reductions early in the next Congress. And public sentiment in an election year could well force a fair adjustment to ease that burden on those who have sacrificed so much for our nation in its armed forces.
And before writing off this budget resolution as just another case of Congress "kicking the can down the road," consider the realistic alternatives.
Democrats control both the Senate and White House while Republicans control the House.
Thus, the electorate has, in effect, assigned both parties the often-tedious task of finding common ground between the aims of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.
Yes, the budget deal's passage provides scant reason to hope that a resurgent spirit of compromise will suddenly sweep away the bitter partisanship that has repeatedly elevated futile rancor on Capitol Hill in recent years,
Still, this bill is a small step on the positive - and practical - path toward the bipartisan middle. And it beats the heck out of another shutdown that, after weeks of debilitating stalemate, would most likely produce another inevitable back-down by the outnumbered (two against one) GOP.
And beyond political consequences, stopping significant federal operations triggers negative ripple effects in the marketplace.
As Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who voted for the accord, put it Wednesday: "The federal government does enough harm to our economy. We don't need to add additional harm by this crisis management."
Now the challenge is to forge more reasonable legislative accords - and not just on spending and taxing - when a new Congress convenes next month. And whether those on the hard left or hard right like it or not, that will require more compromise.
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