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Congress changing its ways?

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

The budget compromise that came out of Congress last week is not the grand bargain that once was thought possible, even in divided government. It’s a small deal. But for Speaker of the House John Boehner it’s a big win and a big deal.

Boehner delivered all but the tea party wing of his Republican caucus, and he had strong critical words for that crowd. The House vote was surprisingly lopsided in favor of the compromise, which was the product of hard work by budget chairs Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. It’s not perfect, nor is it comprehensive. It is, however, an important step in the budget process, if not the ultimate solution. But as a sign that congressional gridlock and partisan enmity can be overcome, the deal cannot be minimized.

Boehner, who had been slipping into the ranks of the ineffectual, emerged as a clear winner. He not only delivered Republican votes, he also chastised outside right-wing groups that he said were using political gridlock as a fundraising tool. He charged that they did not care about governance as long as the money was coming in. He made it clear he’d had it up to his collar with those organizations, and publicly said as much at a news conference during which he enthusiastically endorsed the Ryan-Murray compromise.

The fact Democrats don’t like parts of the agreement and Republicans don’t like other parts reflects a real compromise, however small in the context of the larger budget situation. There is a lot more coming at Congress in the next few months that will again highlight partisan and ideological divides.

If the substance of the compromise budget is not sufficient, its symbolism is of great value. Having overcome extreme positions on the right and left, Ryan and Murray demonstrated that it is possible for Congress to find common ground.