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Editorial: Budget plan is final chance for Congress

So, this is compromise.

The budget agreement announced Tuesday afternoon by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan may be modest, but after years of embarrassing congressional dysfunction, a deal of any size has its virtues. It’s a tribute to both that they never lost sight of the value of trust and the need for the nation to know that the Congress can do the people’s work.

Another failure, another crisis, would continue to hobble the economy, erode faith in government and confirm the global perception that the United States has become a paralyzed giant.

“We can manage this country,” Murray said after the deal was announced, although she deflected congratulations until the House and Senate approve the measure.

The House must work quickly: Members adjourn Friday. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers issued a statement that appears to endorse the compromise, suggesting the leadership will bring the measure to the floor for a vote. They must be prepared to do so even if a majority of Republicans are not on board.

The two-year budget does increase spending somewhat, with defense and nondefense agencies splitting benefits that are largely a reversal of the mindless, across-the-board cuts imposed by sequestration. However, the overall budget deficit decreases, in part by eliminating or curbing some programs and in part by increasing airport security fees and corporate contributions to the federal pension guarantee program.

Some of the largesse for the oil and gas industry is withdrawn.

Members of the armed forces ages 38-65 would have their pension cost-of-living adjustments scaled back. Nondefense employees would pay more, with the savings to taxpayers amounting to about $6 billion for both funds. Recent experience in Detroit and Illinois underscore again the pain caused by carelessness regarding pension obligations.

The details are much less important than the process that eventually produced the agreement.

By relying on an endless patchwork of continuing resolutions, sequestration and other measures, Congress has forfeited its constitutional responsibility to enact a budget. The looming cuts to the Pentagon, and the harm that would have been done to the national defense, and the ugliness of October’s government shutdown may have finally awakened Washington, D.C., to the menace it has become.

Murray noted especially the stress on furloughed defense employees and the contractors that depend on government checks.

As the liberal in the negotiations, she accepted the pension changes. As the conservative – and potential 2016 presidential candidate – Ryan swallowed fee increases and other revenues that dare not be named “tax.”

For two years of budget peace, these were small sacrifices. For a Congress with single-digit public approval, this is a brass ring.

There are bigger battles ahead on immigration and tax and entitlement reform. If our lawmakers cannot approve this little deal, adjournment should be permanent.

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