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Budget deal meets low expectations, but is no 'grand bargain'

| Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 5:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — People hoping for a government that works better can't decide whether to cheer or lament a bipartisan budget bill that legislative leaders call a breakthrough even as they acknowledge it does little.

In an era of low expectations, House passage of the bill marks a rare cease-fire that should avoid a repeat of this fall's partial government shutdown and flirtation with default. Yet it comes nowhere near the more ambitious efforts to address long-term spending and debt. Such comprehensive plans repeatedly collapsed in recent years despite secret White House talks, blue-ribbon panels, a congressional “supercommittee” and other devices and tactics.

Several Washington insiders warn against assuming the budget deal will lead to progress on immigration and other stalemated issues.

“The president calls it a good first step, but to what?” said Bob Bixby of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates far-reaching budget reforms. “My fear is that it may be the end of the search for the larger grand bargain rather than the beginning. It has that feel.”

“Grand bargain” refers to a bipartisan accord that would start to slow the long-term cost projections of Social Security and Medicare while raising tax revenues to lower the deficit, among other things.

The bill that passed the House on Thursday and awaits Senate action is a tiny step forward, Bixby said. “But you can't get that excited if your kid brings home a D because it wasn't an F,” he said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a chief architect of the budget deal, said the agreement helps “bring some respect to the word ‘compromise.' ”

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who represented Republicans in negotiating the deal, expressed hope that “the country is not going to see these shutdowns and Congress is going to get back to the business of paying the bills and prioritizing spending.”

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