Editorial: After budget battles optimism hard to find

Exuding a candidate’s optimism, President Barack Obama predicted last year that partisan fever in the Republican Party would break if he were re-elected. Now, only weeks removed from a government shutdown followed by perilous congressional flirtation with debt default, it’s reasonable to wonder whether fevered brinkmanship is the only way to write a budget in Washington.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, exuding the optimism that has made her popular at home and in Washington, says no. The Minnesota Democrat finds a “silver lining” in the recent Tea Party-leveraged confrontation, which she says uncorked years of simmering political tensions and left a vast number of Americans boiling mad.

“It really brought things to a head for people,” Klobuchar told the ECM Editorial Board one day after Democrats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives delivered most of the votes needed to end the budget stalemate.

“I want to make clear,” Klobuchar added, “that while this agreement was important, it’s nothing you can celebrate and dance on this table about.”

Sure isn’t. Still, most members of Minnesota’s Senate and House delegations acted responsibly at crucial times during the crisis.

Klobuchar is part of a bipartisan group of 14 senators who meet regularly to discuss a range of issues and saw parts of their plan for ending the standoff enacted.

Republican Reps. John Kline from Minnesota’s Second District and Erik Paulsen from the Third District bucked the reckless ideologues in their caucus, which delivered only 87 votes for ending the crisis and 144 against.

A New York Times analysis labels Kline and Paulsen “leadership” members of the House GOP – an experienced group of 44 who originally opposed using shutdown and default as a weapon to defund the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

They went along for the ride when Speaker John Boehner took up the renegade cause that started the crisis, according to the Times.

But 31 of the 44 stepped back from the ledge when it came time to vote.

We expected no less of Kline and Paulsen, who have had little trouble gaining and holding seats in districts that also voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 (by the narrowest of margins the second time).

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Sixth District Republican who is retiring this year, was the only Minnesota lawmaker to vote against the deal.

There’s no guarantee the blustery spectacles of autumn, which culminated in only short-term budget and debt-ceiling deals while sapping the nation of an estimated $24 billion in economic output, won’t reappear.

The debt-ceiling battle of 2011 gave us sequestration, a blunt budget knife both parties have reason to dislike. The beginning of 2013 saw Republicans force another crisis over the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. Why should new budget talks be any different?

At least both chambers have appointed budget conferees, which should have happened months ago.

And there will be no “grand bargain” to get in the way, with its intractable arguments over taxes and spending. It appears legislators plan to play budgetary small ball in the weeks before a Jan. 15 deadline to fund the government and a Feb. 7 deadline to increase U.S. borrowing authority.

That’s probably fine for now, but not for long. Spending on entitlements for an aging population is on an unsustainable trajectory.

When voters come to terms with whether to pay more, accept less, or both, maybe the politicians will, too.

Editor’s note: This editorial is a product of the ECM Editorial Board. The ABC Newspapers are a part of ECM Publishers Inc.