Omnibus Appropriations: An Epidemic or a 24-hour Bug?

Wait, something just happened.

After watching months of painful bickering and heart-stopping brinksmanship, DC denizens have something else to worry about: An outbreak of cooperation.

As if H1N1 wasn’t enough!

In December, two people with widely divergent world-views locked themselves in a room long enough to come up with the framework for a bipartisan budget deal.

That’s right. Bipartisan. Budget. Deal. No one’s sure about the origin of those three pathogens—political virologists are still working on that—why they came together or how they managed to jump from one species to another. But it took only five weeks before a majority in Congress was overcome.

Just like that. No shutdown. No cliff. No drama.

Twelve months after Congress and the president fought a pitched battle to keep the country from toppling over a fiscal cliff, 14 weeks after the start of the fiscal year and a few hours before the government faced yet another costly and disruptive shut down, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle rallied around a budget agreement that funds all 12 of the annual appropriations bills, sets spending caps for this year and next and rolls back a portion of the sequester cuts.

Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, discretionary funding for fiscal year 2014 goes up by $45 billion, divided equally between defense and nondefense programs. Spending caps for fiscal year 2015 are increased by about $18 billion.

Some say it’s a reprieve from the paralysis that’s gripped Washington, a turning point that clears the way for progress on immigration, tax reform and Medicare.

Only time will tell whether we’re seeing “green shoots of hope.” Yes, the appropriations process may be more orderly now that the Appropriations Committees have a top-line number for fiscal year 2015. But let’s not kid ourselves: the two don’t share the same priorities for that money. And lest we forget, 2014 is a congressional election year, subject to the same wedge issues and the same demagoguery that has dominated recent elections.

It’s far too early to tell whether compromise is still infectious.

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