Sometimes good news comes quietly, and in ways that point in positive directions. The past couple of weeks have seen some real progress on several important fronts, both foreign and domestic. The national media may be fixated on more controversial stories, but the things that most affect the nation are worth noting.
First, on the national budget, Congress and President Trump avoided a costly and politically divisive fight that might have again shut down the federal government and left it unable to pay its bills. The $1.3 trillion spending agreement isn’t perfect, by any means, but it sets a spending course assuring that basic functions — especially national defense and key domestic programs — are adequately funded for another year.
No one was entirely happy with the agreement, and that in itself is a sign that it was a viable compromise. The president balked at some of the spending that was added, and the lack of funding for border security, including his promised border wall. Some members of Congress thought it devoted too much funding to social programs, while others claimed that it will spend too little. Meaning that it’s probably just right.
There will continue to be a nagging cloud hanging over the country’s finances, as the federal deficit and national debt are fast approaching unsustainable levels. A bipartisan group of distinguished previous government leaders, including former Secretary of State George Schultz, warned that “the debt crisis is at our doorstep,” driven by burgeoning entitlement costs the baby boomer generation will be imposing on the budget over the next 20 years. But maybe the bipartisanship on the budget deal points to a possible bipartisan deal on the deficit.
On the international front, a little-noticed breakthrough in U.S.-South Korea trade relations could point the way toward agreements with other countries that would help alleviate our nation’s trade imbalances. In response to Trump’s stepped-up pressure on South Korea — including his proposed stiff tariffs on foreign goods like steel and autos dumped into the U.S. market, while American products are kept out of foreign markets — South Korea seems to have blinked and decided to negotiate rather than retaliate.
The result of this emerging U.S.-South Korea trade deal should be good for American steel and auto producers. Under the agreement, South Korea will voluntarily reduce its steel exports to the U.S. by 30 percent. In addition, the deal will open up South Korea to more American auto imports while holding the line on South Korean-made vehicle exports to the U.S.
Does anyone really believe the South Koreans would have come to the negotiating table and struck such a deal without the pressure the Trump administration exerted? The president deserves credit for this accomplishment, which his leadership helped produce. Maybe the South Korean deal will propel good trade deals with China, Europe, Mexico and Canada next.
And this isn’t the only good news emerging from the Korean peninsula. The combination of stepped-up U.S. pressure on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and Trump’s willingness to meet and negotiate with him, point to a possible breakthrough that could only come from Trump’s “peace through strength” approach.
There are definitely many more miles to go on this negotiating path, but Kim’s recent secret trip to Beijing underscored the possibility that the pressure on him is forcing him to prepare for a possible face-to-face meeting with Trump in which the North Korean leadership will have to make a fundamental choice of potentially historic proportions: either give up its spurious nuclear ambitions and join the world community in a peaceful and constructive way, or face an existential threat to the Kim regime.
After this last-ditch American effort to make peace, not war, there will be few excuses for the world community to continue to tolerate North Korea’s dangerous belligerence. After a Trump-Kim summit, expect a major push by the U.S. at the United Nations for a groundbreaking nuclear stand-down by North Korea, or a unified international move against the North Korean regime.
During this Passover-Easter season, when we celebrate the many blessings divine providence brings to us all, let’s pray for the greatest blessings of peace and plenty: a world with less strife and struggle, and more of the good things in life the whole world deserves.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.