A small budget step forward

  • Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014 12:01 a.m.

Both chambers of Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, a bipartisan budget bill last week.

That's a welcome avoidance of another federal shutdown - and a sign of short-term progress on the fiscal-responsibility front.

Unfortunately, though, federal lawmakers - and the president - are still ducking the nation's severe, long-term fiscal challenges.

The Republican House approved the $1.1 trillion spending deal by a 359-67 count. The Democratic Senate followed suit by a 72-26 margin. Though it fails to address intensifying bottom-line pressures on federal entitlements, that required political courage - at least by the dismal standards of recent years - in both parties.

This rare venture onto common budgetary ground removes the "sequester" spending caps imposed by the 2011 budget deal.

No, it's not exactly an inspiring display of belt-tightening as our record $17.3 trillion national debt continues to climb. And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday that another debt-ceiling hike will be needed next month.

However, last week's accord did feature pending restraints tight enough to produce howls of protest from assorted quarters.

And in a much-needed alteration from last month's initial budget agreement, which was crafted by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray, D-Wash., the final bill exempts disabled veterans from benefit cuts.

Plus, regardless of the deal's flaws, it's encouraging to see Congress finally making some hard and specific budget calls instead of again "kicking the can down the road" with a continuing resolution based solely on previous spending levels.

Yes, the longer our elected officials in Washington keep postponing overdue reforms of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the more painful those difficult decisions will be.

Meanwhile, though, the budget compromise beats another shutdown - and offers a reminder that sufficiently motivated federal lawmakers can still meet in the bipartisan middle.

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