December 19, 2013

Thanks, Congress. Really.

The ink on yesterday’s budget agreement had scarcely dried before analysts and media outlets began speculating about the next big congressional “battle.”  (Lest you be tempted by so much as fleeting optimism, CNN has helpfully catalogued a list of popular candidates for the battlefield, including but not limited to budget appropriations, unemployment insurance benefits, immigration, the Farm Bill and the debt ceiling).

CNN, apparently eager to assume the mantle of Most Sarcastic News Outlet, originally announced the agreement under the headline, “Thanks for doing your job, Congress,” a sentiment that undoubtedly resonates with a country that has grown accustomed to the soaring dysfunction of its elected leadership.  To be sure, the 113th Congress has demonstrated impressive levels of inactivity and ineptitude, enacting only 57 laws and managing to shut down the government for 16 days (while paying federal employees for $2 billion worth of non-work).

Despite this – or perhaps because of it – (and in the spirit of the season of giving), can we not – for just a few hours – suspend our cynicism and damning judgments and take a more charitable view of an agreement that successfully rose above acrimonious partisanship and powerful lobbyists (some of whom all but impugned the patriotism of anyone who dared to vote for the bill’s passage) to put the good of the country first.  However short-lived this bipartisan moment may be, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, as well as their many colleagues, deserve recognition and appreciation for exhibiting the kind of cross-aisle leadership that is largely absent from today’s political scene.  In passing this agreement, they have granted defense leaders their long-standing wish of relieving some of the near-term pressure on the defense budget topline, and thus increasing DOD’s flexibility to implement the sequester cuts.

As others have observed, the agreement is not a panacea for all that ails the U.S. defense budget, and hard choices will most certainly remain.  But in a city like Washington, you can’t always get what you want – you just have to take what you can get.  And sometimes, this time, that’s good enough.

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

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