Congress finds budgetary common ground

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: America may finally go a couple of years without fretting over a government shutdown

It took a while, but Congress may have finally found some common ground on a way to avoid the periodic federal budget crises that it creates.

On Thursday, the House passed a bipartisan two-year spending deal that will allow the federal government to operate through Sept. 30, 2015, without any threats of partial government shutdowns, like the one that hit in October. Congress also won’t have to OK stopgap spending plans during that period.

One of the more positive aspects of this deal is that neither conservatives nor liberals particularly like it. That means neither side felt like it go enough of what it wanted to be satisfied. And while it is almost certainly an imperfect creature of politics, it does have two things going for it. One, it creates a certain degree of certainty that enables businesses and individuals to know what they have to deal with over the next two years. Second, it’s expected to pass the Senate this week, which means it will actually go into effect.

Two things the deal does is it dulls the clumsy, indiscriminate knife known as sequester in defense and domestic programs. Both are important to our area of Southwest Georgia.

“The legislation will restore $31 billion of irresponsible sequester cuts for our defense over the next two years,” said U.S. rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, who voted for the measure. “The fight is not over, but we have made significant progress in halting the decline in our military strength and the erosion of defense readiness.

“While this agreement does not go as far as I think it should, it does achieve real budgetary reforms and is a step in the right direction that gets Washington back to a budget process where meaningful entitlement reform can be achieved. I hope this bipartisan agreement will pave the way for continued work toward putting our country back on a fiscally responsible path and securing economic security for hardworking Americans.”

Some of the bill’s provisions include reducing deficit spending by $23 billion over the next decade, raising some taxes and fees by $7 billion in that time and raise discretionary spending to a little over $1 trillion a year for the current and next fiscal year. Medicare payments to doctors won’t get cut, but payment to some Medicare providers will be. And airline passengers are going to see higher ticket fees because of it.

We want to hope that lawmakers have finally decided that butting heads at every turn in Congress only leads to headaches, especially for the American public. There were no real “winners” in this agreement, at least politically. But it was something that needed to be done, something that should have taken this long to do. It’s oddly reassuring that no political side is smiling broadly. It’s also nice that, unlike this time last year, we’re not looking for fiscal cliffs to fall from when the new year rolls in.

This also appears to be a good time for senators and representatives to take another, closer look at a proposal by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, in regard to the way the federal government handles its budgeting. Isakson has been a proponent of a two-year budgeting cycle that he co-introduced with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Under the proposal, Congress would move to a biennial budgeting process. In each two-year cycle, one year would be devoted to appropriating federal funds. The second year would be focused on oversight of federal programs.

The result would be less opportunity to play politics with the federal spending plan and debt spending caps.

Perhaps this ending to 2013 will lead to some progress in this area in 2014.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board