There's a good reason why people are warned never to watch either sausage or legislation being made.
It took a heck of an argument about the ingredients, but the Washington, D.C., sausage factory — a.k.a. President Obama and the Congress — put the finishing touches Monday on legislation that raises the debt ceiling while laying the groundwork for substantial — $917 billion — spending cuts over the next 10 years.
Many are touting the compromise agreement — spending cuts and no tax hikes — as a triumph for tea party conservatives who are desperately concerned about the federal government's size, cost and accumulated debt.
True enough. But arguments are built on facts, so the tea party's concerns about the federal government's borrowing — 40 cents for every $1 spent — are entitled to respectful hearing and serious action if the U.S. is going to avoid a Greece-style economic implosion.
Unfortunately, there is still much left to do if economic disaster is to be averted.
Let's start with a few facts. Congress just approved increasing the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion to $16.4 trillion. That decision presupposes that the federal government is going to continue to spend its way deeper and deeper into the hole. The interest payment on that debt is eating up a bigger and bigger portion of the federal budget.
While a step in the right direction, this bipartisan agreement is only the first in a series of very tough decisions required to get spending under control and the lagging economy unburdened.
President Obama insisted that Medicare and Social Security be off the table in his discussions with Republicans over the debt ceiling. Republicans, in turn, insisted that tax increases would not considered.
All those subjects have to be addressed in the next round of negotiations.
No matter how much some people might wish it wasn't so, current Medicare and Social Security spending levels are unsustainable. Both systems are going broke. Changes have to be made, whether it's raising the age for eligibility, full taxation of benefits, revising the cost-of-living increase formula or means-testing recipients.
At the same time, Congress must address the tax issue, and it would be well advised to consider a comprehensive package that eliminates or reduces deductions while flattening rates.
This is not the first time a debt ceiling debate has offered legislators a chance to posture and score political points on the spending issue.
During the recent Bush presidency, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling to highlight his objections to Bush administration spending decisions. This time, Republicans made a symbolic as well as substantive stand on the question, giving shape to the issue that will dominate next year's presidential election.
Locally, U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson continued to adhere to the symbolism of the issue even after the opposing sides reached an agreement. Given the importance of the issue, Johnson's vote was harmless — even if mistaken.
The histrionics surrounding the debate caught a good deal of public attention and undoubtedly raised the temperature level of many, needlessly so in our view.
An agreement always was going to be reached because enough legislators on both sides knew there was no other responsible option. Default — whether on Aug. 2 or weeks later — was unthinkable. Like good negotiators, both Democrats and Republicans worked hard for the best deal they could get and then held their noses while passing it into law.
That's how the process works, and that's why it's not for the squeamish — last week or in the months ahead.