Last week, Congress approved a $1.1 trillion, two-year spending bill that keeps the threat of another unproductive government shutdown at bay. It signals that, at least for now, the Tea Party kamikazes have not sunk the art of compromise that is essential to the American system of democratic governance.
Although it is great news that Democratic and Republican lawmakers have rediscovered a talent for working together, it is an indication of how political partisanship has brought the nation so low that Americans applaud the simple fact that lawmakers have done their jobs. The budget bill is a great victory for process, but the verdict on what it actually achieved is mixed.
The final bill was the product of weeks of negotiations between Rep. Harold Rogers (R., Ky.), and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.). The Senate passed it 72-26, with all no votes cast by Republicans, after the House had approved it a day earlier on a 359-67 vote, with three Democrats joining the Republican opponents.
Remarkably, funding for the Affordable Care Act survived, despite that provision’s portrayal as a poison pill by conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). But both parties experienced sweet and sour aspects of the spending bill, according to their own tastes.
Some $9 billion in unsought funding was approved for overseas military and diplomatic operations. The Head Start early education program got an additional $1 billion over last year.
To Tea Party stalwarts, the fact that the bill increases spending by about $26 billion over fiscal 2013 was reason enough to oppose it. But the deficit has been falling, and it makes no sense to starve an economy that is struggling to revive.
Soon lawmakers must decide again what to do about raising the federal debt limit, threatening another useless partisan showdown. But for the moment, sanity has returned, and the government is functioning. That is something to applaud.