The fight for the long-term deal is over, at least for now. It is over because it was unachievable. And it is over because, don’t tell anyone, the deficit is coming down, way down. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that by 2015, the deficit will have fallen from a high of 10.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 2.1 percent, well within the sustainable range historically. For 2015, CBO estimates that the deficit will be under $400 billion, something that hasn’t happened for seven years.
Of course, that doesn’t change the reality that the federal debt continues be a high share of GDP and, as the baby boomers grasp at their Social Security and Medicare benefits, the federal deficits and the debt will continue to rise, posing problems 10 years from now. But, you see, that’s the real long-term, which is not what Congress does.
What this little deal does, however, is get back toward getting back to business. It is a smack-down to the Tea Party, underlined by Speaker John Boehner, who finally found the guts to call the Tea Party funders “ridiculous,” for criticizing the agreement. “They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals,” he said. My colleague Stan Collender says it is equally a rejection of the deficit hawks, writ large: “not only was their position almost completely rejected, after years of being seen as the voice of angels, the deal makes them voices in the wilderness for some time to come.”
The deal says to these “long termers”: enough, already. We cannot get there the way you want us to. Budget plans, tax reform, mandatory reform are going to take time, baby steps, and gradual measures; there will be no big bang.
And in my bailiwick — defense — the little deal actually looks like it will be a big deal, as well. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff welcomed it: “I support the legislative proposal, as I understand it, which provides relief to the immediate and urgent readiness problems we face. I hope this is the beginning of a conversation on the longer-term challenge to the capability and capacity of our force that is developing over time because of sequestration.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hurriedly chimed in: “While this agreement doesn’t solve every budget problem facing DoD, it will help address our military readiness challenge by restoring funding for training and procurement — especially in fiscal year 2014.”