A good compromise, it's often said, is one that makes none of the parties happy. By that measure, the debt-ceiling agreement signed into law Tuesday, fits the bill.
A months-long ideological clash over whether or not the nation would pay its bills was totally unnecessary. Yet it has outlined a debate over budget cuts versus revenue that is far from over.
The deal — which closed no corporate tax loopholes and raised no revenues — did protect the nation, and consequently the world, from default. But we have set a mighty low bar if we applaud Congress for not destroying the economy.
In the "it could have been worse" category, the agreement does allow the nation to pay its bills until the end of 2012; postpones a lot of cuts to domestic programs for years, allowing time for recovery; and protects the nation's social-safety net — for now.
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Kentuckians should also be encouraged that their senior senator, Mitch McConnell, played a key role in ending this crisis. He negotiated with Democrats, the Republican-controlled House and President Barack Obama to fashion the compromise.
The Senate minority leader, who has handled himself as if he imagines the top Senate position within reach, has been praised by pundits as worthy of high statesman status.
That's going too far, considering McConnell's decades as a partisan tactician and his declaration to make Obama a one-term president. But in this case, McConnell did appear to lead the way, rather than obstruct. In his speech before the Senate vote, he even praised Obama, while putting a positive spin on the politicking that led to the deal.
"The push and pull Americans saw in Washington these past few weeks was not gridlock. It was the will of the people working itself out in a political system that was never meant to be pretty," he said. "You see, one reason America isn't already facing the kind of crises we see in Europe is that presidents and majority parties here can't just bring about change on a dime, as much as they might like to from time to time. That's what checks and balances is all about."
Kentucky's junior senator, Rand Paul, however, rejected the McConnell compromise and the Republican bill forged by House Speaker John Boehner because they did not mandate the approval of a balanced budget amendment. "The current deal to raise the debt ceiling doesn't stop us from going over the fiscal cliff," Paul said. "At best, it slows us from going over it at 80 mph to going over it at 60 mph."
Most Kentucky House members voted for the compromise, except for Democrat John Yarmuth, the most liberal member, and Republican Geoff Davis, the most conservative member.
The fight over the nation's finances isn't over. The law requires a commission of lawmakers to outline by November other spending cuts and revenues. However, now that Congress and the White House can say they have done something about debt, maybe they can now feel empowered to focus on creating jobs.
If not, this whole debt-ceiling debate will have been just a dangerous distraction.