The pleasant surprise of the new congressional budget deal is that it covers two years, through September 2015. It is the first time congressional budget negotiators have agreed to look that far ahead in four years.
While the agreement increases spending in 2014 and 2015 by $63 billion, including much-needed relief for the Defense Department, it raises enough money through fees and changes in federal pension plans to make a small contribution to deficit reduction over the next decade.
Both liberal and conservative lobbies have plenty of reasons to object to the deal, which passed the House by a 332-94 margin Thursday.
And as of Friday afternoon, despite heated warnings of a filibuster threat from many conservatives, the Democratic Senate majority appeared to have enough Republican votes to pass the bill next week.
That's good news. Precipitating another shutdown blocking the agreement would be another serious setback for a Congress that already has historically low public approval ratings.
And many liberals don't like the deal, either, in large part because it leaves out a continuation of extended unemployment benefits.
From the right, the Heritage Foundation, headed by former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, denounces it for raising spending and revenues - and for failing "to make substantive reforms to the real drivers of spending and debt: the entitlement programs."
We share Mr. DeMint's distaste for more spending and taxes and his disappointment with Congress for ducking long-overdue entitlement overhauls.
Still, given the current balance of political power in Washington, the only alternative to the deal on the table is more deadlock and another government shutdown.
That is a losing proposition that would damage not just Congress' credibility but the American economy.
If another shutdown occurs, the world's financial markets - which buy the bonds that fund our deficit spending - could be motivated to unload U.S. bonds, thereby forcing up the already mammoth cost of our debt.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., hardly see eye to eye on most issues. But the House and Senate Budget Committee chairs, and their committee members, are to be praised, not condemned, for setting aside differences and finding common ground in this modest budget accord.
Moreover, the agreement itself is not the last word on the budget. Congress still has to go through the annual appropriation process each year, with lots of room for disagreement on detail.
And the spending and revenue targets in the deal can be revisited in new budget resolutions.
A potential upside of the deal is the possibility that Congress will use the time it buys to refocus on the tax-and-spending issues that must be resolved for a viable long-term solution to the nation's financial problems.
Under the circumstances, that makes this agreement the only reasonable way forward.
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