Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016

WASHINGTON — It’s a sign of how far to the right House Republicans have dragged governance in our country that the very conservative budget deal reached by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray will need many liberal and Democratic votes to pass.

The agreement leaves the jobless out in the cold, because it doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, and provides little room for new initiatives to combat rising inequality and declining upward mobility — the very problems that President Obama and most Democrats believe are the most important facing the country.

Yet this parsimonious spending plan is being subjected to such vitriolic attacks from the right wing that you’d imagine Ryan, a one-time hero to the slash-taxes crowd, had converted from Republicanism to socialism. Heritage Action, whose job is to denounce any concession to moderation at any time, called the agreement “a gimmicky, spend-now-cut-later deal.” Erick Erickson of RedState accused Ryan of “outright capitulation” to the forces of big-government darkness.

To say this is a very conservative outcome is not to knock Murray or her negotiating approach. Democrats had two major goals going into the talks, and she made progress on both of them. As a general matter, Murray’s side wanted to lighten the burden on the recovery from the automatic budget cuts known as the “sequester.” And it sought to protect Head Start and other education programs, scientific and medical research, and some infrastructure spending.

Thus her victories: the $1.012 trillion for discretionary spending is about halfway between the House and Senate numbers. Imagine, politicians who actually split differences, which used to be the rule of compromise. It allows an additional $45 billion in spending for this year and $19 billion for the next fiscal year. And Murray won agreement for a more or less 50-50 split between restoring military spending, Ryan’s priority, and restoring spending on domestic programs, her priority.

The bad news is not only that the proposal unconscionably lets unemployment insurance lapse for millions, which will cost the economy some 300,000 jobs next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It also comes very close to enforcing a spending freeze after this year.

What this suggests is that by enshrining the sequester into law, the 2011 Budget Control Act — enacted under the threat of default — was a miscalculation, perhaps even a colossal one, by the Obama administration.