A bi-partisan budget agreement was unveiled in a press conference this past Tuesday night by House Budget Chairman Congressman Paul Ryan (R - WI) and Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash). According to Ryan, this is the first "divided government budget agreement since 1986."
"I'm proud of this agreement," said Ryan. "It reduces the deficit -- without raising taxes. And it cuts spending in a smarter way. It's a firm step in the right direction, and I ask all my colleagues in the House to support it."
"This agreement breaks through the recent dysfunction to prevent another government shutdown and roll back sequestration's cuts to defense and domestic investments in a balanced way," said Murray. "It's a good step in the right direction that can hopefully rebuild some trust and serve as a foundation for continued bipartisan work."
Firm step, good step, baby step.
Many conservative groups are against the bi-partisan deal, including Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, was critical of the deal. "This budget deal creates a faux peace in Washington, D.C.," she said in a statement. "If the sequestration was a baby step forward, this is a baby step backward."
Baby step backward.
The bill would set 2013 overall discretionary spending "at $1.012 trillion -- about halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion," stated the House Budget Committee Press Release. "The agreement would provide $63 billion in sequester relief over two years." (That means more spending than the 2011 agreement for those not versed in political speak).
"The sequester relief is fully offset by savings elsewhere in the budget," the press release noted. "The agreement would reduce the deficit by between $20 and $23 billion."
The sequester cuts were focused on discretionary, and more specifically, military spending. Two years later, Ryan is trading the discretionary military cuts for longer-term mandatory spending cuts. These cuts will stay in effect longer than the two years of spending increase in the military. This differential is the $20 to $23 billion in overall savings.
"As a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists," Ryan said in defense of the deal. "I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way I want things to be. I've passed three budgets in a row that reflect my priorities and my principles, and everything I wanted to accomplish. We're in divided government. I realize I'm not going to get that. So I'm not going to go a mile in the direction I wanted to go to, but I will take a few steps in the right direction."
Few steps. Better than no steps.
The other option for Republicans was to stick with the original sequester, which might very well lead to another government shutdown. It's been done before and will be done again -- but the current timing is not right for a shutdown.
A budget shutdown would allow President Obama to pivot away from the Obamacare debacle and point his finger at Republicans for shutting down the government.
A grand pivot is exactly what Obama needs at this point. A poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University noted a plummeting approval rating for Obama. "President Barack Obama's job approval among American voters drops to a new low, a negative 38 - 57 percent," noted the release. "American voters say 41 - 38 percent that they would vote for a Republican over a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives, the first time this year the Democrats come up on the short end of this generic ballot. Independent voters back Republican candidates 41 - 28 percent. Voters also say 47 - 42 percent that they would like to see Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate and the House."
There will continue to be vocal critics on the right that would prefer to hold the line on spending no matter what and face a potential shutdown rather than deal with Democrats. But their shutdown would provide Obama with the relief he needs.
Ryan is right. A baby step in the right direction is better than no step at all.