Bipartisan deal aims for common ground, avoids intractable details

The new congressional budget deal, as announced Tuesday evening by Republican Rep. Paul D. Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, was light on fiscal details and big on buzzwords that have not exactly carried the day in Washington recently: Compromise. Common ground.

Had there been a soundtrack, the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get what You Want” would have been playing on Capitol Hill speakers.

Although the road ahead for the deal is highly uncertain — conservative groups declared war before the deal was even announced and liberals weren’t too pleased either — Ryan and Murray appeared visibly relieved, as if trying to put to rest on behalf of the entire Congress the crisis-to-crisis careening that has been the congressional hallmark of late. For two years, anyway, if things go as they hope they will.

“We decided to focus on where the common ground is,” said Wisconsin’s Ryan. The deal “shows that we can work together to get our government functioning at our very basic levels.”


“In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” he added. “That said, you still can make progress to your goals.”

Murray, of Washington state, echoed his remarks. “For far too long here in Washington, D.C., compromise has been considered a dirty word,” she said, criticizing the forged-by-Congress crises and shutdowns as “devastating to our fragile economic recovery.”

“We have broken through the partisanship and the gridlock,” she said of herself and Ryan. “We’ve made some compromises and we’ve worked together to get something done.”

Neither of the speakers ignored the difficulties ahead — or the fact that as a template for the future goes, this was a very tentative one, avoiding some of the big and intractable budget matters that led to some of the past conflicts, such as tax reform and the long-term solvency of programs for the poor and elderly.


In that, the bipartisan duo was navigating around both congressional partisans and an American populace that desperately wants Congress to get together — at least until the pesky details surface.

In a CBS News poll conducted before the October government shutdown, at least three-quarters of Americans thought that Democrats and Republicans should compromise on a budget deal. A year earlier, a Pew Research poll found that 80% of Americans wanted their political leaders to compromise and bridge the yawning partisan gap on Capitol Hill.

But when it gets down to the nitty-gritty level included in, say, a budget bill, things fall apart: Although they embrace generic compromise, voters tend to define that as the other side giving in to their view, numerous polls on issues such as healthcare and abortion have found.

With its public release, the deal now faces buffeting by the political crosscurrents: conservatives upset that it would void the stiff “sequester” cuts that have brought down government spending, liberals worried that it is not generous enough, and interest groups pressing their will in an election year already marked by a series of challenges to conservative Senate leaders deemed not conservative enough by moneyed activists.


(As the public face of Republican support for the agreement, Ryan may now find himself in the bulls-eye previously inhabited by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who faces a primary challenge driven by anti-Washington, anti-compromise tea party sentiment.)

The most forceful propellant for the deal also may be its timing in an election year, as current members recall the depths to which their popularity was driven by the last government shutdown—historically low single digits. The Republican-led House was expected to vote on the package by the end of the week, followed, if approval is given there, by the Democratically-controlled Senate.

President Obama, whose involvement in any issue in these partisan times can hurt perhaps more than it helps, issued a carefully worded statement Tuesday evening that reinforced the message sent earlier by Ryan and Murray: Compromise. Common ground.

“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like – and I know many Republicans feel the same way,” the statement said. “That’s the nature of compromise. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”


Twitter: @cathleendecker