December 13, 2013
By John Zogby
At first glance, I was ready to cheer the news of a bipartisan budget deal struck by Congress. After all, leaders of the budget committees of both houses came up with a package that ensures no government shutdown for two years, ends the worst elements of the draconian sequestration cuts, and reduces the uncertainty that characterized recent budget cycles.
This is indeed good news and it is pleasant to hear both Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray use words like “compromise” and “common ground”. But I am not going to applaud members of Congress for finally performing one of their most basic jobs. I applaud police for catching a perp, not for getting into their squad car every day. And a physician is heroic when he or she saves life, not for showing up to work. Congress passing a budget is routine, constitutional, expected, and essential. The fact that what has always been expected has become unexpected is a testimonial to how far things have gone awry, why Congress’ job approval is tanking in the single digits, and why public cynicism is greater today than when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated or when President Richard Nixon resigned from office.
The deal is not perfect. There are serious problems – notably huge deficits, extension of unemployment benefits, and insufficient revenues – that have been postponed. And conservatives have already declared war on the deal. So in a sense, Ryan and Murray deserve lots of credit for at least creating a structure that will last two years, providing a cooling off period that may enable calmer voices to dominate the conversation and isolate the loudest voices. At least for a while. Maybe this is a day to rejoice after all.
Back in the 1970s, then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield was a guest on CBS’ Face the Nation. Host George Herman congratulated him for his reputation for integrity. Always plain-spoken and laconic, Mansfield said it was very strange when a politician was heralded for doing the expected. A Senator is supposed to be honest, Mansfield told Herman.
The announcement of a deal was a breakthrough and we can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief. But it is only a reminder of how bad and ugly things had become.