Any bipartisan budget agreement coming out of Congress these days is worthy of note.
Even the one reached (last) week — which nibbles around the edges of various dicey issues but fails to effectively tackle the federal deficit to resolve key concerns about taxation and entitlement spending.
But the proposal — still facing a degree of uncertainty in Congress — at least creates a bit of a framework for future budgetary efforts, and temporarily provides some fiscal stability in Washington by avoiding shutdowns and other assorted crises.
That alone seems to be an achievement these days.
The budget deal — reached through negotiations led by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan — restores many of the automatic spending cuts that had been imposed this year and scheduled for expansion under the sequester. Representatives of both parties were seeking relief from these cuts because they targeted an assortment of favored projects.
That’s one of those ugly — yet open — secrets about the federal budget and its deficit: Many people complain about excess spending, but every dollar allocated has a beneficiary.
In all, the plan adds $63 billion in spending to various programs, while scheduling cuts of $85 billion over the next 10 years.
But critics, mainly on the right, are complaining that the measure is timid, surrendering budget cuts that were already in place, while promising other reductions in the distant future. Most of the planned spending cuts are near the end of the 10-year period.
That’s a legitimate concern, because history suggests that promised reductions in future spending have a way of evaporating over time. They are either restored, or some other program demands the money.
So while the simple fact Congress appears to be reaching agreement on a fiscal deal (assuming opponents don’t scuttle it) marks a victory of sorts in modern-day Washington, the achievement is of dubious value.
Left for another day of reckoning are the rising costs of entitlements, primarily Social Security and Medicare, and a tax system larded with special-interest deals and diversions.
And perhaps that’s the real concern regarding the federal budget. It’s not individual programs that endanger the nation’s future fiscal security. It’s the cost of entitlements that are swelling as baby boomers retire and people live longer.
An agreement is needed to make changes in these programs. And while compromises are possible, not enough lawmakers are interested. Instead, they make all-or-nothing demands that indeed produce nothing.
Meanwhile, the longer America delays in dealing with these issues, the more painful the ultimate solutions will be.
New Castle, Pa., News