IN AN eleventh-hour (literally) finish, the White House and congressional leaders averted a shutdown of the federal government by reaching agreement on a 2011 budget. But the drama isn't over.
Negotiators agreed to $38 billion in spending cuts — more than President Obama proposed, but less than many GOP lawmakers demanded. The accord slashes a long list of non-defense programs, but the military will get $5 billion more than it did in the last budget.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) kept Tea Party elements in his House majority under reasonable control. The President refused to yield to extreme cost-cutting demands while maintaining government operations. Lawmakers of both parties would have felt public wrath if political posturing had disrupted federal services, even temporarily.
The next opportunity for confrontation: Government borrowing will bump up against the statutory debt limit of $14.25 trillion around May 16. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the government can stay afloat until July 8 by moving money creatively throughout various federal agencies. Such counsel does not inspire confidence.
Congress would have to approve a higher debt limit. If lawmakers can resolve that issue, the next challenge will be the 2012 budget. Republicans apparently hope to leverage their votes on both items to obtain policy changes they seek on health care, education, the environment, and abortion rights.
If the United States is to get serious about bringing its deficits and debt under control, President Obama must offer a budget proposal that fairly addresses taxes, military spending, and entitlements. The only way to fix the budget is calmly and responsibly, over the long term and not at the stroke of midnight.