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Budget Deal

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The Bomb Is Still Ticking

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Congress finally put an end to the government shutdown and lifted the debt limit -- but it was a stopgap measure at best. The budget deal runs out in January, and the debt deal a month later. The Tea Party conservatives are bloodied but unbowed. We will soon be embroiled in this seemingly endless contretemps again.

The mistake of the Tea Party conservatives this time around was to get sidetracked on Obamacare. There is nothing they can do about that law, at least not right now, and all of their ranting served mainly to obfuscate the disastrous launch of the Affordable Care Act. They should have just stood back and allowed the news media to tell that story. If the Administration cannot clean up its health care law, Obamacare will sink under its own weight.

Like most everyone else in Washington, I was put off by the antics of the Tea Party conservatives and believed -- and still believe -- that shutting down the government was extremely poor judgment. Sometimes it seems like our beloved democracy is breaking down and no longer functions as it should.

But I was impressed also during the standoff by numerous reports by objective journalists from the home districts of many Tea Party conservatives that made clear they are representing the views of their constituents. The last time I checked, that is the way our democratic system is supposed to work.

The reality is that a great many of our fellow citizens have legitimate concerns about the direction of our government and its implications for our country. We are spending $200 million in borrowed money every hour of every day. The public debt has more than doubled under President Obama's watch. There is a growing sense of unease in the country that we are on an unsustainable path that demands radical action. I believe that many of the most outspoken advocates of reform do not really understand that it will affect their Social Security and Medicare benefits, but their concern is nonetheless credible.

I share their concern, and in fact am probably even more concerned about our fiscal situation than they are. Right now, our government is carrying its massive debt on the cheap as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates between zero and .25 percent. But this cannot last much longer. Indeed, the recent government shutdown and brush with default has already sent shockwaves through world financial markets. Our government will soon be paying more to borrow to cover our insatiable appetite for deficit spending -- a lot more -- and it will add hundreds of billions to our already dangerous debt load.

The techniques employed by Tea Party conservatives are crude and ineffective, but they may have learned from this experience and next time around they may have a credible game plan. Whatever else we may think about them, their concern about our fiscal affairs is legitimate and demands attention. As part of this deal, President Obama has agreed to participate in budget negotiations, and that entitlement programs are on the table. It is imperative that he and the Democratic Party honor this commitment.