EDITORIAL: Mending a bad bargain

The budget deal includes a provision making tax increases easier

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All eyes now turn to the Senate to see what happens with the budget agreement stitched together by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Republican, and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a Democrat. The measure, which raises spending limits by $63 billion, passed the House with not much more than a whimper of opposition last week. The Senate must fix the bill before it reaches President Obama’s desk.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is dissatisfied with the deal because it diminishes his influence. Mr. McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, has been arguing for months that any agreement on the budget should preserve the sequestration and the budget caps adopted in 2011. He insists that these mechanisms must be defended at all costs by Republicans because they’re the only restraints on expenditures that can actually work. The deal that Mr. Ryan cut with Mrs. Murray allows spending and taxes to rise with a handful of spending cuts that take effect only a decade from now.

The Democrats went into the budget negotiations to eliminate even the fig leaf of future restraint. Mr. McConnell’s critics say he wouldn’t be so upset if he were not facing a Tea Party challenger back home in Kentucky. Maybe, but he did play a part in putting these provisions into place. While sequestration and the caps are not perfect, he’s right that they’ve done more good than anything else has so far.

Neither party is interested in a protracted argument over the budget, and they’ll vote for anything just to get out of town. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs only five wobbly Republicans to join his Democrats to pass it, and it appears he may have already lined them up. Mr. McConnell and conservative senators like Tom Coburn of Oklahoma or Marco Rubio of Florida might argue for a better bargain, but the Senate is full of wobbly Republicans, and finding senators to show backbone and unite for fiscal restraint won’t be easy.

It’s more likely that Republicans can rally around the idea of sending the deal back to the House without a provision that renders the Senate minority irrelevant. National Review discovered a clever rule change that could make it possible for a bare Senate majority to raise taxes by eliminating the ability of the minority to raise objections that would require a 60-vote majority to overcome. It’s a technical and complicated procedure likely to set parliamentarians arguing for hours over its meaning and effect. Both Mr. Ryan and Mrs. Murray have discounted the likelihood that the new rule would be misused; all the more reason to eliminate it. It should never have been part of the deal in the first place.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, didn’t get even the courtesy of advance word of the proposal to change the rule. Mr. Sessions wants the proposed change dropped. There are other parts of the agreement that we and many conservatives don’t like, but this rule change is one that ought to alarm everyone.

Mr. Ryan never should have agreed to it, but he did, and now the Senate Republicans must stand together to fix it.

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