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Congress, jump on the bipartisan budget proposal

Dec 12, 2013 By The Detroit Free Press

First, you have to step back from the brink.

That's exactly what lawmakers in Washington are poised to do with a bipartisan budget deal that could reach the floors of both houses of Congress by the end of the week.

Let's be clear about what the proposed deal does not do: It does not address long-term spending or revenue issues, or safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security. It doesn't stop all of the ridiculous sequester cuts, which carved up federal spending in a willy-nilly, irresponsible way.

But it does mark a significant point of departure from the standoff politics that have brought the nation to the brink of credit default several times and shut down the government this fall.

In short, it's a start.

The two-year budget deal would fund key projects from both sides of the aisle, giving a boost to defense and more money for domestic investment in education and infrastructure, things President Barack Obama has made a priority.

It would also normalize the way federal government agencies operate. For years, because there has been no real budget, they've had to guess about how much they had to spend, and hold off on long-term commitments because of the uncertainty of continuing resolutions and threatened shutdowns.

The key players in crafting the deal are much the same as the core of the group that walked Congress away from the shutdown in October. If they continue to work together, they might convince the rest of our lawmakers to deal with issues that have defied rational discussion and debate for years.

One area where the proposed deal falls woefully short is on unemployment benefits, and lawmakers ought to work this week or next to be sure it doesn't become a permanent part of the legislation. As written, the deal would toss about a million of the nation's unemployed off long-term unemployment. Republicans have been hankering to do this for a while, as Democrats have continually held the line. It's shortsighted in economic terms; money saved up front in reduced benefits yanks economic activity out of the economy, effectively cutting the country's nose off to spite its face in a still-fragile recovery.

It's also morally repugnant. How can such a monumental compromise be achieved through the cruelest cut to the nation's neediest? This deal shows that when lawmakers act like grown-ups, America can take a step away from the brink. But if unemployment benefits get slashed, it will also show a willingness to toss the most vulnerable over the cliff in the name of progress.

Democrats should draw a bright line between this deal and the unemployed, who aren't at fault for our economic troubles and shouldn't be sacrificed to move ahead.

Overall, Democrats and Republicans ought to embrace the budget deal's spirit, and work to make sure the details move the conversation forward and the nation away from the brinkmanship that has substituted for good governance for far too long.

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