Budget accord modest but encouraging

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Congress appears to be poised to accomplish something that seemed nearly impossible just a few short weeks ago.

After quickly winning lopsided approval in the U.S. House, a compromise budget bill negotiated by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and endorsed by President Barack Obama is expected to be approved by the U.S. Senate in the coming days.

The bipartisan legislation aims to restore $63 billion in across-the-board spending cuts from the so-called “sequester” over the next two fiscal years and cut $85 billion from the federal budget in the coming decade.

The budget bill sets spending levels for the rest of the current fiscal year and the 2014-15 fiscal year – a feat that has not been accomplished in years. The federal government has been funded by temporary spending measures as the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate failed to reach agreement on annual spending measures.

Approval of the bill also is likely to avert a potential government shutdown early next year, when another in a long series of temporary spending resolutions that ended the shutdown in October is set to expire.

While modest in scope, the measure is an encouraging sign that lawmakers can indeed set aside their ideological differences to forge legislation that a substantial majority of them can agree on – something that has been in very short supply for the past three or four years on Capitol Hill.

But it is far from time to celebrate the beginning of a new era of harmonious, bipartisan cooperation. The parties remain deeply divided, especially on many of the most serious and complicated problems that confront the country. The budget deal is but one small step on a long road toward truly functioning government in Washington.