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A Christmas compromise

Dec 18, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Congress looks poised for an actual accomplishment for once

What's this? An actual give-and-take compromise emerging from Congress on the federal budget? It's true -- at least to a point.

Last week the House of Representatives really did pass a two-year budget plan that eases off on the automatic funding cuts -- the "sequester" -- once viewed as so ridiculous as to be intolerable, but which took effect anyway while also eliminating extended unemployment benefits that had been in effect for a couple of years.

It clears the way, in principle, for extensions of the federal borrowing limit so that the operations of the government won't be threatened by another shutdown such as the miserable experience in October that made Congress look like a collection of stumblebums -- and it comes in a form that majorities of both parties think actually could reduce the federal deficit and slow the growth of the national debt (two different things).

All it needs now is passage in the U.S. Senate.

Uh oh.

The chamber of Congress that loves to bill itself as the World's Greatest Deliberative Body has been doing a lot more arguing over the past few years than deliberating -- if we accept a fairly standard definition of "deliberation" as a careful consideration of an issue, including consultation and weighing of salient points of view.

If, however, by "deliberation" we mean -- as Congress seems to -- the automatic rejection of any and every position held by the other political party, the Senate is about as "deliberative" as can be.

The late Carolyn B. Tyler, who worked in The Ranger newsroom as editor, reporter and columnist for 61 years, always used to say that she knew she had done a good job with a touchy news topic when she got complaints about the coverage from both sides of the story. That is the treatment the budget compromise that passed the House has been receiving in the Senate. Nobody seems to like it.

Oddly enough, in the Senate that might be seen as a signal that the bill has a chance. The view there might be that the next best thing to getting what you want is making sure your opponent doesn't get what he wants.

On Tuesday, the Senate signaled that this thing might survive. A procedural vote seen as preliminary to the actual legislation passed with 68 votes. These days, that's an almost unheard of total in the Senate for anything other than proclaiming support for troops or a happy Thanksgiving.

The final vote might happen as soon as Wednesday afternoon. This bill doesn't solve much, but it is a signal that perhaps our elected lawmakers still can get something done if they put their minds to it instead of their emotions.

That would be an encouraging step. But this is Congress, so all bets are off.

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MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Tuesday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.

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