So the government shutdown is over and the debt limit has been increased. President Obama bestrides the Capital City now like a colossus, flanked by Senate Majority Harry Reid and once-and-future Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Republicans, especially Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, have been beaten back and the threat they pose to the country has been downgraded from that of suicide bombers and hostage takers to mere rapist kidnappers (seriously).
So there's really nothing left to say, except this: See you again in about three months, when the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government runs out and, a bit after that, when the feds need to yet again increase the debt ceiling. Or maybe a bit earlier, in mid-December, when the bicameral budget committee headed up by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) report on what they've cooked up to actually deal with, well, all the issues that have been kicked down the road for a few weeks.
As political scientist Larry Sabato tells the Christian Science Monitor:
“It’s a symbolic victory, but also a Pyrrhic victory,” says political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “Obama won and the Republicans lost. It’s obvious. At the same time, what did he win? A brief extension, and we’re going to be having the same fight over and over and over again.”
“I call him the ‘Groundhog Day’ president,” Mr. Sabato says. “It’s Sonny and Cher at 6 a.m., every day.”
Alex Pappas of The Daily Caller writes that while the deal freezes spending, it does so at a higher rate that sequestration called for:
On Oct. 1, more sequester cuts were supposed to bring the discretionary budget down to $967 billion for fiscal year 2014.
But the amount of the spending cap in the McConnell-Reid deal for the next three months is frozen temporarily at $986 billion — $19 billion more than the government is supposed to be able to spend this fiscal year.
More sequestration cuts, worked out in the Budget Control Act from 2011, are scheduled to take place in mid-January. Former Defense Secretary and CIA head Leon Panetta, now heading up a crew called Fix the Debt, is already on the offensive, saying those trims shouldn't be allowed to take place. He tells The Daily Beast:
“We are at a turning point in the United States of America. We can either be an America in renaissance… or we can be a country in decline...The combination of this sequester and this shutdown has hurt our national defense,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that what has happened has been not the result of an economic crisis, not the result of war, but the result of a self-inflicted wound by people who swear they will do everything to protect and defend this country.”
The idea that America's decline in any way stems from an unwillingness to ever cut spending (especially on defense, where outlays are up about 80 percent in real dollars since the start of the century) is richer than fresh cream.
But there's no question that the deal to end the shutdown and to increase the debt limit has settled just about nothing. Government outlays continue to massively outpace government revenues. There is no plan on anybody's table that seriously addresses that imbalance and spending on old-age entitlements (Social Security and Medicare) is where America is beggaring itself to pay for the retirements of wealthy seniors.
Here's hoping that these issues - and a discussion of ending the entitlement state for a system that is actually geared to a modern economy and society - actually are addressed in the coming weeks. In a way that is genuinely encouraging, large majorities of Americans want to see spending cut and debt reduced.
That's something else that the shutdown hasn't changed. If anything, it has helped make those matters more sharply defined. Which means in the end, it might have served an incredibly useful purpose.