The good news is that Congress has reached a bipartisan budget compromise that may, if passed, avert a government shutdown later this month.

The bad news is this is a tenuous agreement that easily could fall apart as politicians make perfection the enemy of good. 

Compromise requires give-and-take from all sides. Holding the nation’s budget hostage, even for the sake of important items such as border security or funding for Ukraine and Israel, rarely accomplishes much. Those things need to be approached deliberately and separately. 

The $1.66 trillion agreement reached by party leaders is nearly identical to the compromise Republican leaders and President Joe Biden reached last spring as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Simply put, it is probably the best that can be done under current political conditions.

That earlier deal led hard-line Republicans to successfully oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which led to more than three weeks of legislative paralysis as the GOP sought to find a leader who could garner the necessary votes to become the new speaker.

The new speaker, Mike Johnson, now faces a similar challenge. If he adds border security issues or riders concerning things such as abortion restrictions to the final deal, he risks losing the Democratic support he would need to override opposition from far-right Republicans. If he doesn’t include those things, he risks the type of revolt that cost the former speaker his job.

Meanwhile, Congress faces a two-part deadline for a government shutdown — one on Jan. 19 and the other on Feb. 2.

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The far right simply lacks the votes to enact its agenda. A threat to shut down the government is, frankly, becoming a worn out and ineffective tactic. NBC News puts the number of actual shutdowns at 20 over the last four decades. 

All of this is a distraction from the worst news of all, which is that neither political party has yet to get serious about dealing with the fiscal nightmare that looms unless the nation finds a way to stop its rapidly growing national debt, which just passed $34 trillion, less than four months after it passed $33 trillion

This will require budgets that are within the nation’s means, erasing current deficits. The nation needs a serious bipartisan process aimed at reducing debt — one that most likely includes both cuts and targeted tax hikes — to avoid catastrophe. That won’t happen through threats. It will require hard and difficult work, and enough good faith to agree to compromises.

The day of reckoning is coming. Last November, the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model published a report that estimated the nation will reach a crisis stage when its debts total about 200% of its total economic output, or GDP. At current spending levels, it said this will happen in about 20 years.

The report said that will be the likely point at which investors begin to doubt whether the U.S. is capable of paying its debts. When that happens, “no amount of future tax increases or spending cuts could avoid the government defaulting on its debt whether explicitly or implicitly,” a brief accompanying the report said.

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Today’s lawmakers should be so focused on avoiding this that they spend every waking hour laboring to get spending in line. Such a day of reckoning would hamper the nation’s ability to do much of anything, from border security to helping allies that may be under attack from hostile nations. There would be little choice other than to inflate the dollar in order to make interest payments on the debt, which would destroy wealth and lead to unemployment.

The $1.66 trillion budget deal does include some compromise. Among other things, Democrats agreed to cut $20 billion from the $80 billion they had intended to go toward the IRS to fund more tax audits. Non-defense budgets would drop by a little less than 1%, while military programs would rise by about 3%.

With deadlines looming, there simply isn’t time to include a solution to border funding or money for Ukraine and Israel. Those must be dealt with separately.

Congress should pass the 12 appropriations bills that comprise the budget, then, as quickly as possible, move toward efforts that will get the nation’s fiscal house in order.

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