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A Hold-Your-Nose Deal

By Eugene Robinson - August 2, 2011

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Even more significant is that $350 billion of the 10-year cuts -- about 40 percent -- are in defense spending. Bringing the gargantuan Pentagon budget under control would be a major step toward putting the nation on sounder financial footing. This is the one big conceptual breakthrough that the deal represents: Republicans abandoned the position that defense spending must not be considered "discretionary." Just like the money we spend on education or infrastructure, it reflects choices.

Through absurdly complicated procedures, the agreement ensures that Obama will not face another fight over the debt ceiling before next year's election. For this, we can all be grateful.

That's pretty much it, in terms of not-so-bad news.

Obama tried, and failed, to shake Republicans out of their fevered dream that the $14.3 trillion national debt can be brought under control with budget cuts only. Indeed, the tea party zealots who cowed the party into rejecting all proposals for new revenue will only feel emboldened, not just in their anti-tax fantasy but in their technique of threatening to wreck the economy if they don't get their way.

The agreement creates a 12-member bipartisan "super committee" of Congress that is supposed to tackle debt reduction broadly, looking not just at further cuts but at increased tax revenue as well -- despite Boehner's specious claim that taxes are off the table. No one knows whether this new body will be able to function. If it can't, a "trigger" mechanism starts slashing through the budget like Genghis Khan in a bad mood. This is supposed to be so unthinkable that it frightens everyone into sober rectitude. But I'll go out on a limb and say that nothing is unthinkable anymore.

Overall, this is a bad deal that is made considerably less bad by the way its details are engineered. That's still a long way from good.

Progressives lost this battle. They retain the capacity to win the next one, if they are smarter and tougher. If they fight.

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eugenerobinson@washpost.com

Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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