Bridges possible over 
federal budget divide

In the nation’s capital these days, the partisan budget divide appears as wide as ever. Still, there is reason for very cautious optimism.

There are indications that a meaningful compromise to address the budget and federal debt is at least within the realm of possibility. However, this is Washington, D.C., where everyone knows serious negotiations can devolve into partisan grandstanding in a heartbeat.

Based on competing budgets released this week by the House and Senate, the budget chasm looks as insurmountable as ever.

House Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, presented a plan to balance the budget in 10 years without raising taxes. The House plan would eliminate Obamacare, authorize the parital privatization of Medicare and roll back the top income tax rate to 25 percent. It calls for the elimination of unspecified tax loopholes.

Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, on Wednesday released a budget plan that would raise revenue almost $1 trillion over the next decade by closing tax loopholes, would spend $100 billion on a new jobs package and would not balance the budget.

The two sides appear so far apart they can barely launch rhetorical bombs at each other. But maybe, just maybe, there are reasons to hope for an agreement that would put us on a path toward budget stability and end much of the uncertainty that is holding back the struggling economy.

✔ For one thing, people on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that the two budgets are only beginning points for negotiations — opening bids, if you will.

✔ Additionally, President Barack Obama has actually been meeting with Republicans to discuss the budget and has toned down much of his earlier strident language about them. Many people are skeptical about this so-called charm offensive. But a number of GOP leaders say meetings with Obama so far have been productive.

In any event, the president is displaying more leadership on this issue than he has in the past. New polls that show his approval ratings plummeting may be a catalyst for his charm.

✔ Despite its rerun of budget proposals that failed last year, Ryan’s House budget plan contains a significant compromise. It would cut projected defense spending $2.3 trillion over the next decade, compared to what Republicans proposed last year. Moreover, his budget only reduces the growth in annual federal spending from about 5 percent a year to 3.4 percent.

✔ Senate Democrats also made some concessions. In addition to tax increases, Murray’s budget proposes $1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. And, if the Senate adopts the plan, it will be the first budget passed by that body in nearly four years.

An agreement will be difficult, but not impossible. We can only hope that the political will exists in both parties to reach a much-needed compromise.


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