A DUSTING of snow, which soon turned to rain, shut down much of Washington, DC on December 10th. Grey slush on the sidewalks made the buildings that house those government agencies not blessed with familiar acronyms look even more Soviet than they usually do. The wonkishly minded waited for news from the budget conference headed by Senator Patty Murray for the Democrats and Congressman Paul Ryan (pictured) for the Republicans, which was rumoured to have reached a deal. At around six o’clock it came, a seemingly impossible mix of modest deficit cuts, spending rises and revenues magically raised without corresponding tax increases. There looks to be enough in it to keep all parties happy, reducing the possibility of a man-made government shutdown in January and holding out the promise of a Congress that functions a little better.
When this round of budget talks began, I asked a congressman what there was to talk about given that each side already knew the other’s position line by line. The negotiation, he explained, would turn on the meaning of words like “revenue”, “spending” and “tax”—it would be a kind of high-stakes...Continue reading