By DOYLE McMANUS
Here’s what counts as success in Washington these days: a budget deal that almost everyone hates and that doesn’t solve any of the country’s major problems.
The spending bill that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled Tuesday evening has something for everyone to dislike. It won’t cut federal spending or shrink the national debt, so conservative Republicans don’t like it. It won’t restore much money for domestic programs or extend unemployment insurance, so Democrats don’t like it either.
Its main virtue is that it will spare members of Congress from worrying about a government shutdown during their long Christmas break.
But in these dark days, the prospect of a deal — any deal — is hailed as the dawn of a new age of pragmatism and bipartisan cooperation.
After a series of fiscal train wrecks culminating in the 16-day government shutdown this fall (a shutdown that accomplished exactly nothing), the idea of a staunch conservative and an equally staunch liberal forging a bipartisan, bicameral compromise seems almost charming.
Let’s be clear, though. The deal isn’t a grand bargain — at best it’s a mini-bargain. All the Murray-Ryan deal would do, in essence, is split the difference between House and Senate spending proposals, give federal agencies a little more flexibility to adjust to the budget cuts imposed by the sequester, and — the main thing — avoid the prospect of another government shutdown on Jan. 15.
It won’t reduce the national debt, something both parties say they want. It won’t reform the tax code. It won’t even end the sequester’s meat-cleaver method of indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts.
Surely the Congress of the United States, legislature of the world’s greatest democracy, can do better than this? Actually, maybe not. By Tuesday afternoon, even before Murray and Ryan had a chance to unveil their handiwork, the well-funded pressure groups of the tea party right were swinging into action, warning Republicans in the House of Representatives that if they voted for Paul Ryan’s deal — Paul Ryan’s! — they’d be branded as big spenders.