The late, great Everett Dirksen, who served the citizens of Illinois in Congress from 1933 to 1969, was a powerful politician who embodied a Republican Party that — unlike today’s — was more concerned about responsible governance than political absolutism.
Dirksen, who helped write and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Open Housing Act of 1968 while compiling a strong conservative economic record, is perhaps best known for his famous quip about the national budget:
“A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”
For many of us, even those who pay close attention to this sort of thing, when it comes to the federal budget, our eyes tend to glass over.
A bill negotiated last week by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray would — according to the Associated Press — erase $63 billion in across-the-board cuts set for January and early 2015 on domestic and defense programs, leaving about $140 billion in reductions in place. It projects savings totaling $85 billion over the coming decade, enough to show a deficit reduction of about $23 billion over the 10-year period.
Got all that?
What most of us do understand, however, is how damaging the lack of a fairly long-term budget has been for our economy. With Democrats and Republicans dickering and posturing under self-produced deadlines to shut down the government or default on the country’s loans, Congress’ “real money” politics has hurt lots of real people.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has spent the better part of the last year kowtowing to a vocal minority of tea party extremists in the Republican caucus and right wing groups that threaten to finance primary opponents for sitting congressmen.
Happily, Boehner showed some courage last week when it came to the budget agreement, and had some harsh words for those outside groups.
“I think they’re misleading their followers,” he said. “I think they’re pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be. And frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility by opposing legislation before the details are known.”
On Thursday, the House passed the budget bill by a vote of 332-94, with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats.
The bill’s fate in the Senate is more uncertain, with Democrats needing five GOP votes for passage. Potential GOP presidential candidates and incumbents facing tea party primaries are reluctant to vote for the compromise. If it doesn’t pass, real people will again be hurt.
We can only hope enough Republican senators can be swayed by the spirit of Everett Dirksen.
“The mind is no match with the heart in persuasion,” he said. “Constitutionality is no match with compassion.”