A baby step toward bipartisan budgeting

The News TribuneDecember 13, 2013 

Senate Budget Committee chairman Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee chairman Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) shake hands after a Tuesday news conference.

JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

As Ron Burgundy might have put it, Tuesday’s budget agreement between U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan is kind of a big deal.

Kind of, because the money involved – roughly $65 billion in restored spending and $85 billion in savings – is budget dust compared to the $17 trillion national debt. The total net effect on projected deficits may be something like $20 billion.

But it’s a big deal, too, because what it helps, it helps a lot.

That especially includes the nation’s military, whose readiness has been suffering under the mindless, indiscriminate spending cuts known as sequestration.

Rriggered by partisan deadlock two years ago, sequestration was designed to be so ugly – to both defense and social welfare programs – that Democrats and Republicans alike would feel forced to agree on taxes and spending rather than let it take effect. The so-called super-committee behind the mutual assured destruction plan apparently lacked a crystal ball.

Tuesday’s bargain — approved by the House on Thursday — will repeal much of sequestration for this fiscal year and next.

Washington state and the South Sound will be among the winners. Half the restored funding will go to defense, which means that Joint Base Lewis-McChord and other major military installations will get a two-year reprieve – though the Pentagon will decide whether particular bases would be held harmless.

The first months of sequestration haven’t done much harm to the armed forces. Over the next nine years, though, the plan threatened $470 billion in cuts.

Defense experts warn of a hollowed-out military with poorly maintained equipment and inadequate training.

JBLM commanders say they’ve already been forced to curtail normal exercises, such as large-scale maneuvers at the Yakima Training Center. They note that long-term planning becomes much harder when funding prospects are unpredictable.

It’s not just about people in uniform. Sequestration-driven civilian furloughs have hurt families and businesses in this area. Cutbacks have threatened environmental cleanup work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington.

While the Murray-Ryan agreement is good news, it’s a very long way from a true bipartisan budget solution.

Some tea party Republicans in the House of Representatives almost went berserk when they got wind of it. And the bargain will be only a two-year truce; if Republicans and Democrats can’t work out a long-term agreement the end of 2015, full-scale budget warfare will be back.

Murray on Tuesday expressed hope that her deal with Ryan will “rebuild some trust and serve as a foundation for continued bipartisan work.” Let’s hope that’s not wishful thinking.

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