If you want to look at it from the dark side, there are things not to like about the federal budget deal, starting with the process that led to it.

It took the imminent likelihood of a costly and embarrassing government shutdown to get the deal done, and political grandstanding on both sides of the aisle — each with members determined above all else to win the message war — threatened to wreck it until the very last minute.

The same result could have been achieved weeks or even months ago with a fraction of the destructive fighting. And the unnecessary showdown leaves cause for concern, for reaching a deal on the current budget was the easiest of the fiscal challenges facing the president and Congress in the coming months.

Next up: agreements on raising the debt ceiling and long-term deficit reduction in the context of a budget for 2012.

There will be real-world consequences if those debates are disrupted by reckless brinkmanship before the parties decide to engage in serious problem-solving.

But there is always time to look at the dark side, and positive developments from this deal are worth celebrating.

First and foremost, the budget cuts.

Details are still emerging about specific spending reductions, but we know that the shutdown-sparing agreement on a budget for the remainder of 2011 targeted a significant number of programs and services. Republicans didn’t get to take as big a bite out of the federal bureaucracy as they had hoped to, but President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats accepted far greater reductions than they wanted to or intended to when negotiations began.

Clearly, this deal signals a change in tone and content in the fiscal conversation in Washington. The question on the table is no longer, “Will we cut?” The question now is, “How much will we cut?”

Beyond the dollars and cents, the deal suggests that between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, signs of a pragmatic center are forming that could provide the basis for future negotiations.

The budget bill, which Congress will vote on later this week, was stripped of unnecessary policy riders, such as the one that would have cut off federal funds used by Planned Parenthood for non-abortion health services — an issue that could have scuttled the budget talks but had little to do with meaningful deficit reduction.

Democrats, meanwhile, traded deeper cuts than would have seemed likely in return to preserving favorite programs that House Republicans had targeted, including Pell Grants for low-income college students.

The most valuable result of the agreement, then, may not be the deal itself, but the realization that the two sides could come together, fight for what they believe in and, in the end, reach a compromise.

Boehner has shown himself to be a negotiator who is empowered to make a deal and who is not held hostage by the more extreme members of the tea party wing of his caucus. Obama showed a willingness to get in the middle of a fight that in the past he seemed content to watch from the sidelines.

With both sides plausibly claiming victory, they are more likely to come back to the table again for future talks.

If you believe that Americans are less interested in partisan causes than in seeing their elected representatives work together to get things done, then this budget deal is good news, indeed.

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