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EDITORIAL: Debt deal makes a handful of modest improvements

Something is usually better than nothing — and that’s certainly the case with the debt ceiling compromise.

More than a handful of House Republicans are grumbling about the deal revealed over the weekend between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden. The complaints touch on a number of issues on which the GOP gave a little, including stricter regulatory reform, larger spending adjustments, a rollback of White House efforts to forgive student loans and more significant budget cuts for the IRS.

These are legitimate grievances. But Republicans don’t run the Senate and are on the outside looking in when it comes to the White House. Politics is nothing if not an exercise in pragmatism. There is a modicum of progress in the agreement, and that agreement was made possible only because House Republicans stood united, putting pressure on the president and forcing him to abandon his insistence that the debt ceiling be addressed through a “clean” bill. Had Republicans fractured, they would have ended up with no concessions at all. How is that preferable?

Instead, the compromise at least temporarily slows the massive increases in spending that have led us down this dangerous path. Nonmilitary discretionary outlays will remain essentially flat in fiscal 2024. Democrats call this a “cut,” because spending won’t increase as quickly as it would have otherwise. In reality, it’s an act of responsible governing given the nation’s fiscal trajectory. For fiscal 2025, discretionary spending will increase no more than 1 percent. The budget restrictions don’t extend as far into the future as many Republicans had sought, but the GOP can fix that by taking their case to the American people and winning elections.

In addition, the deal modestly expands work requirements for able-bodied adults on food stamps living without children. Currently, those ages 18 to 49 fall under the demand, which will now include those 50 to 54 years old. The bill exempts the homeless and veterans.

The proposal also reduces some of the budget largesse that Democrats showered on the IRS last year, makes a limited effort to improve the federal permitting process and recovers about $30 billion in federal COVID emergency funds that have yet to be spent by the states. An additional provision imposes automatic budget caps if Congress fails to pass all dozen regular spending bills by the end of a given year.

They say it’s foolish to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s also folly to let the good be the enemy of adequate progress. The compromise leads us forward and avoids the potential calamity of default. House Republicans should remain unified and move this legislation forward.

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