Analysis: For once, gridlock takes a seat

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 12, 2013 at 2:21 am •  Published: December 12, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sit down, gridlock.

After years on the bench, compromise is taking a turn in Congress, however briefly, in the form of a budget deal that is modest in size yet marks a major step away from brinkmanship.

It's a different model for America's divided government, nothing like the version pressed by the tea party adherents who stormed to power in the House three years ago. They have maneuvered their own Republican Party from showdown to self-defeating shutdown, with dismal approval ratings to show for it.

"We understand in this divided government we're not going to get everything we want," Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said Wednesday. He was referring to himself and rank-and-file Republican lawmakers after pitching the plan to them the day after he'd announced it alongside Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

"By having a budget agreement that does not raise taxes, that does reduce the deficit and produces some certainty and prevents government shutdowns, we think (it) is a good agreement."

The mood inside the closed-door meeting was said to be positive — nary a boast about defunding "Obamacare," the objective that motivated Republicans to send the government into a partial shutdown in October. "Not even mentioned," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California.

Nor was there talk of any other national cataclysm, real or imagined, hovering in the background.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the negotiations shared a goal of easing the across-the-board spending cuts known in Washington-speak as a sequester, and of returning Congress to a state in which the Appropriations committees would be able to write and pass routine bills covering each agency, rather than lumping them all into one sure-to-be-disputed bill.

"The Constitution says that the legislative branch should exercise the power of the purse," Ryan said Tuesday evening, standing next to Murray, the Democratic negotiator from Washington state. "We want to reclaim that from the administration instead of having all of these" stopgap bills.

The two parties also share a recognition that a deal needed to come together before the House adjourned for the year this week. That's because the next round of across-the-board cuts are due to kick in by mid-January.

Yet there was no threat of a government shutdown or a default, no "fiscal cliff" approaching, and no recession recovery-damaging increase in payroll taxes looming, as was the case two Christmases ago.

House Speaker John Boehner was feisty, two months after being steamrolled by outside groups like Heritage Action, Club for Growth and their allies, who swore off compromise in the run-up to the fall shutdown. The Ohio Republican was primed to pounce and, surprisingly, neither President Barack Obama nor congressional Democrats were his quarry.

"You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?" he asked a reporter inquiring about opposition to the new budget deal. "They're using our members, and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous."

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