By their very nature, the endings of legislative sessions rarely are tidy matters. Thus it is easy to cudgel Congress for pushing the government to the brink of shutdown on a day-to-day basis while lawmakers haggled over a budget and tax program. Lumping all 13 appropriation bills into one giant ball of budget wax and string, along with odd appendages like restrictions on smoking in airliners and tinkering with speed limits, is not an efficient or satisfactory way to do the nation's business.
On the whole, however, the 1987 session of Congress was not the dismal affair that some critics rushed to claim. The budget did come late, and only after panicky pleadings from Wall Street following the Oct. 19 market crash to "do something" about the deficit problem--as if that was the sole cause of the financial crisis.
But the final package serves the nation far better fiscally than the alternative: the arbitrary budget cuts of the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law. What the market crash did was to prompt a recalcitrant Republican Administration to deal finally with the Democratic-controlled Congress on fiscal issues.
Until then the Administration and Republicans in Congress sat on their hands and told Democrats, "It's your problem." Intramural differences among Democrats made it difficult for them to achieve action on their own on tough budget choices involving deep philosophical splits--aid to Nicaragua, for instance. Democrats and moderate Republicans had formed a more effective coalition on some fiscal issues, with the White House in opposition, when Republicans controlled the Senate.