Budget Passage and the Looming Debt Ceiling Debate

Throughout life, we often find ourselves enslaved to a project. In school, it may have been writing a term paper or cramming for a final exam. In banking, it may be meeting regulatory-mandated compliance deadlines, hitting a sales goal or satisfying the needs of a customer. Whatever the situation, once that really important task is completed, we often feel as if the weight of the world has been lifted off our shoulders.

I expect Congress is experiencing one of those moments, as its members prepare for the holiday season. For the first time in more than three years, they appear to have passed a budget! Passage of the budget supersedes the so-called sequester that would had imposed funding reductions for much of the federal government, had it failed to pass a budget. We have been living under the sequester for the past year.

An unlikely duo — liberal Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state and conservative Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in the 2012 presidential election — have been working together the past month to develop a budget that both chambers could support. Murray and Ryan each chair the budget-writing committees of their respective chambers.

Few political pundits believed the two would actually come to an agreement on a budget. They are about as far apart ideologically as any in Washington DC. The importance of this bipartisanship cannot be overstated. While both parties have heard from their constituents about the need to put an end to ceaseless Congressional acrimony, it was difficult to envision how.

We certainly hope that this extending of the olive branch sets a new tone for this and future Congresses. We will not have to wait long to see if this situation is an anomaly, or instead is a turning point that reinstates compromise as a tenet of our governing body.

Soon a decision will need to be made about increasing our federal debt limit. That debate, as you will recall, is what triggered the recent 17-day federal government shutdown — which turned out to be a 17-day paid vacation for furloughed federal government employees. Surely the animus created by that shutdown will be fresh on their minds, as they begin the process of agreeing to increase the debt ceiling.

Let’s hope that the leadership displayed by Murray and Ryan endures, and that the federal government deals with the many important issues that seek resolution. It will be a weight off lawmakers’ shoulders … and ours.

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