The bipartisan budget deal unveiled by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan this week represents a step forward for broken Washington. It makes repairs to the shortsighted sequester, the across-the-board slashing deemed so wrongheaded it wasn’t supposed to happen. It breaks from the pattern of noisy, hollow and harmful confrontations. It says that, yes, Senate Democrats and House Republicans can find their way to a compromise.
Part of that deal-making involved Speaker John Boehner and other establishment Republican saying, enough, to extremists in their party apparently more interested in the fight than in governing. So, the accord deserves the support it received in the House on Thursday, as something better than what too easily might have been.
That said, the deal disappoints in many ways. It lacks an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, even as the weak recovery has been distinguished by the high number of long-term jobless. Roughly 1.3 million workers will lose their benefits three days after Christmas, the toll reaching 5 million by the end of next year. The Congressional Budget Office calculates that the expiration will cost 300,000 jobs, reflecting the blow dealt to the overall economy.
In the same way, the misguided sequester still will apply its grip, less than half of the sequester replaced in 2014, a smaller share in 2015 and then back to its original course. As a result, relief will come in small doses for such priorities as Head Start, low-income housing and medical research. The sequester set discretionary spending for 2014 at $967 billion. The budget deal bumps the amount to $1.012 trillion.
In 2012, the total was $1.285 trillion. Thus, the sequester will remain a burden on the economy. One analysis projects growth will be shaved by as much as 0.5 percentage points in the year ahead.
The budget deal does include revenue increases, including a higher fee on airline tickets, reflecting a better balance in constructing such packages. So far, the past three years of deficit reduction have delivered 70 percent spending reductions and 30 percent revenue increases. What the effort continues to neglect is the responsible course, spending now to aid to the economy, with deficit reduction taking effect after the economy gains sufficient momentum.
Unfortunately, neither Republicans nor Democrats are ready to give ground to achieve the appropriate mix, the former on tax increases, the latter on entitlement spending (though President Obama has signaled his willingness to start with a new formula for automatic inflation-adjusted increases). The result is the tiny advance achieved by Patty Murray and Paul Ryan.