WASHINGTON-The budget agreement is hardly what either side would like, but its importance is that it is an agreement. Is this finally the end of the partisan strife that has been so debilitating since 2008 when the economic crisis further aggravated a political scene very short on sociability? Does it mean political peace in our time? Not bloody likely as the saying goes.
But it is recognition by concerned leaders in both camps that Americans are becoming fed up with a Congress that has stifled any resolution to most of the nation's problems, putting personal interests above those of the country. So the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Democratic chairman of the Senate's budget panel, not normally on the same wave length, turned months of conversations into a detent that if nothing else would postpone the warfare for the time being.
The agreement reached between Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington would mean at least an end to the threat of another government shutdown until at least 2015. About $63 billion in federal sequester cuts would be restored. Deficits would be reduced by $22 billion over 10 years. There would be no extension of long-term benefits for the unemployed and pensions would be trimmed for military retirees and for new federal workers.
More importantly, however, it may offer some further opportunity for constructive bipartisanship on fiscal issues instead of mindless, snot nosed bickering. Beyond that neither side is satisfied with the amount of restored sequestration or much else with factions in both parties charging a sell out by their own.
We have been assured that nevertheless the radicals on the Right and Left will go along and adopt the agreement. How long this will last is beyond the intellect of most of us to say. But guessing honed by decades of observing close up, leads me to predict not terribly long given the upcoming election next fall and the probability for outside agitation by ideologically driven special interest groups like the newly formed Heritage Action committee which seems to have displaced its mother house, the venerable conservative policy formulating Heritage Foundation, in importance and motivation under former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a tea party leader.
Ryan, the former GOP vice presidential nominee and a likely seeker of the main job in 2016, called the agreement "a way to get our government functioning at its basic levels." That's hard to dispute given recent history.
The glimmer of hope for enough accord to avoid the destructive forces that have threatened to set back productive government almost to the status of a second Civil War is heartening if not terribly realistic in the long term.
As the electioneering begins for the midterm balloting less than a year from now a divided Congress is almost a certainty to continue. Republican gerrymandered districts probably make it impossible for Democrats to take the House. Republican senators up for reelection face primary fights from ultra conservative candidates that probably will impede the GOP's chances of capturing the upper chamber. When you throw into the mix those seeking position early as presidential candidates, the future of bipartisanship looks rather bleak.
Still, by merely giving the electorate any respite from the threat of Armageddon, the agreement is most welcome for however long it lasts. It holds out the possibility that the resolution to some of our thorniest problems like immigration might be solved amicably with the best arguments of both sides incorporated. It would be nice to at least believe that changes in obvious deficiencies in the Affordable Care Act could be adopted without the rancor and bitterness of the past five years.
It would sort of be like what one gets when he plays a country western record backward. He gets his pickup back, he gets his wife back, he gets permanently sober and the train he loves to ride comes back into service.
That of course amounts to the unrealistic Christmas wish list of one who has been on the job long enough to know better-too long perhaps. We have been given a gift and can only hope that unlike the toys we buy for our children it lasts longer than a few weeks. That is if it gets under our tree at all.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at email@example.com.)