I know I should be impressed. After forcing a government shutdown, the Republican Party may briefly abandon its ideology of obstinacy to approve an $85 billion deal. Lacking leadership in the White House, Democrats may have finally found a willing and able bargainer: Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, who struck the deal with conservative House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
With voter disillusionment approaching record highs, President Obama's approval rankings hitting record lows, and Congress completing one of its least-productive years in history, finally (all together, now!), something finally … got … done.
I'm not impressed. I'm dubious. I'm like the parents of a boy who never cleans his room and yet one day he manages to put his pants in the hamper. While the son fishes for compliments, Mom and Dad are more likely to say, "Thank you, pal, but your room is still a mess."
Our room is still a mess. As Dana Milbank of The Washington Post wrote:
Much is wrong with the deal to fund the government for the next 21 months. It does nothing to address Medicare and Social Security, which are the long-term problems threatening the nation's finances. It doesn't change the inefficient and illogical tax code. It doesn't extend unemployment benefits, and it doesn't even fully replace the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, which is what negotiators had set out to do in the first place. Essentially, lawmakers reached agreement by jettisoning everything consequential.
In his column titled "High Road Leads to Middle Ground," Milbank credits Ryan with persuading fellow conservatives to defy powerful groups such as the Club for Growth, Heritage Action, and Americans for Prosperity. Influential conservative writer Erick Erickson ominously predicted that John Boehner will not return as House speaker in 2015. And yet, the GOP leadership compromised.
"This should give the public, and the markets, a modicum of reassurance that Washington can still handle the simple task of keeping the government running," Milbank wrote.
While he concluded his column by saying the respite from gridlock "almost certainly will not last," other commentators seemed to get lost in the moment. The Post's front-page story suggested the deal points "toward a determined era of more functional governance." Even Ryan, interviewed on MSNBC's Morning Joe, called the agreement a "step in the right direction" in an age of "broken, dysfunctional government."
My view is that the deal is better than nothing—microscopically.
It spares the country a government shutdown in 2014, not because lawmakers acted in the nation's interest, but because they were acting in theirs: Nobody in Washington wanted a distraction from their midterm political plans.
It eases (but does not eliminate) the impact of the so-called sequestration. That's the least Democrats and Republicans could do, given the fact that draconian sequestration cuts were a joint creation of the White House and the House GOP.
Beyond that, we've got the status quo. The stinking, rotting status quo: an ineffective House leadership team still largely held hostage by unbending conservatives; a disengaged president who long ago surrendered on his promise to govern by consensus and compromise; and a tangle of structural problems that seem to stifle any attempts to reform, including hyper redistricting, secretive big-money cabals, the polarization of the media, and the self-sorting of the U.S. populace.
It's hard to be impressed by anything in Washington—that is, anything short of revolutionary reform.