The budget skirmish ends, the war begins

The end is in sight. Or is it?

At the end of the day, Republican and Democratic leaders were able to get past their barbs and come up with a deal that could keep the federal government renewing passports, refunding taxes, and paying the troops.

Still, both Republicans and Democrats are girding for the next wars: the vote to raise the debt ceiling that'll come this spring and could lead to the first federal default in American history if the tea party prevents it from being raised. Within moments of President Obama hailing the deal that was struck, the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hoped that the debt limit vote would be an occasion for more spending cuts. And then there is next year's budget where the House Republicans are already pushing the plan developed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who would cut some $6 trillion from the federal government over the next decade and voucherize Medicare. What's past really is prologue.

Historians call the beginning of World War II "The Phony War." After the Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939, Great Britain and her allies declared war on Germany. But their armies didn't really clash until May 1940. Churchill called it "The Twilight War" while the Germans punnily called the it the "Sitzkrieg," a lackadaisical Blitzkrieg.

What we've just seen is a phony war in Washington, a quibble over a few billion that presages the fight over trillions.

It's hard to see how anybody goes into the real battle stronger, prouder. The Democrats had to give on money in order to rid themselves of the effort to staunch the flow of federal money to Planned Parenthood. The Republicans realized how hard it was to shave a few billion off the federal budget. Just wait until they tell seniors that Medicare is about to change big time. Can the White House really go another couple of years without a long-term plan for reducing a federal debt that's north of $14 trillion now close to 100 percent of our GDP? If they do, they'll be fighting on the Republicans' terms.

Alas, this little shutdown fiasco ended with both sides having just enough strut and gumption to want to pick another fight. Neither side feels chastened, humbled. They probably should.

And what of the presidential candidates, the many Republicans who are considering running against President Obama? In a reversal of roles, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was the voice of reason in her party, counseling on Friday that House Speaker John Boehner should cut a deal and save his pluckiness for another day. We've yet to hear from the other would-be commanders in chief, but at some point they'll have to offer their approval or disapproval over this little episode. It's a good bet that whatever they say about this skirmish they'll promise a wider war.

The other thing we've been reminded of is how the abortion wars remain unresolved. Obama's health care deal nearly fell apart over abortion funding within his own party. This time the mere flow of money to organizations that provide abortions was enough to nearly close Yellowstone and halt military pay. Roe v. Wade will be 40 in a couple of years, but almost two generations after the 1973 court decision the country is still divided, a chasm magnified by politicians who treat this emotional, complex issue with all the sensitivity of carnival barkers.

Earlier this week, Conan O'Brien joked on his show about a country that's guaranteed Jersey Shore for another season but can't promise to keep the government open. Now it stays open -- but the coming wars over spending and social issues and priorities will be anything but phony or funny.

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