The years of Republican obstructionism and the corporate campaign for deficit reduction have taken such a toll that merely the fact of getting a budget deal at all looks like a great achievement. This one is better than continued impasse, but the deal itself is a stinker.
Representative Raul Grijanva, co-chair of the House progressive caucus, put it well: “I feel like punching myself in the face, but I’ll vote yes.”
The deal does override the automatic sequester for this year. It will restore some $31.5 billion in sequester cut over the next two years in domestic spending, and a like amount in military spending. But those increases are against a backdrop of more than a trillion dollars of cuts over a decade. The deal nominally is deficit-neutral, because it adds new budget cuts in Medicare in 2022 and 2023.
Even worse, the deal did not even include an extension of expiring extended unemployment insurance, at a time when the share long-term unemployed is stubbornly stuck.
That Republican Representative Paul Ryan and his Democratic negotiating counterpart, Senator Patty Murray could get a deal at all is testament to their skill and to the fact that the Republican Party increasingly gets the blame for contrived budget crises. But Tea Party Republicans have made clear that they will go back into action when the next vote on increasing the debt ceiling comes up again, most likely in March.
At a time when the economy is crying out for a real recovery program, built around serious infrastructure and jobs spending as well as aid to hard-pressed state and local government, this deal shows just how much ground has been gained by the right.
The right, in this case, includes the take-no-prisoners Tea Party right, in tacit coalition with the corporate “Fix-the-Debt” right. The former plays tactical hard ball, the latter persuades opinion elites that the big problem facing the economy is the national debt rather than a deflated economy.
The center has moved so far to the right that Paul Ryan looks like a pragmatic moderate. To restore affirmative use of government to its necessary role in battling a protracted slump will require far more leadership on the part of the Administration than we’ve seen.