Headline English: A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

Peaceful_ResolutionLet’s talk about a business headline today. This one comes from a recent issue of Bloomberg Magazine, one of the largest business magazines in the United States. Here’s the headline:

A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

The news story is about the president of the United States trying to negotiate (work out; come to an agreement over) a deal (agreement) with Congress. In the U.S. political system, as you probably know, Congress is a group of elected representatives in charge of (responsible for) passing or approving laws. After Congress approves a new law, the president has to sign or agree to the law. (It doesn’t always work exactly that way, but that’s the normal process.)

Now, one of the problems that we have in our modern American economy is the same as in many economies: how much should people pay in taxes? That is, how much money should businesses and individuals have to pay the government for the government to do its job?

The headline is about negotiations between the president and Congress. It begins with the words “a modest step.” The adjective modest usually refers to a person who is humble, a person who doesn’t brag, a person who doesn’t like to talk about himself or herself. If someone compliments (says something nice about) a modest person, that person might say, “Oh no, that’s not really true. I’m not very good at that.”

In the headline, “modest” is used to mean something slightly different. It means a very small amount of something. In this case, we’re talking about how much progress is being made toward a certain goal. A step is normally a movement of your feet, moving one leg in front of the other to walk. You have to take steps in order to walk, but we also use that expression, “to take steps,” to mean to make progress, to do things.

So, a modest step is a small amount of progress toward some destination, some goal. The goal in this case is a grand bargain. The word bargain can have a couple of different meanings. One meaning for bargain is a good deal, a cheap price for something that you’re buying. But a bargain can also be an agreement. To make a bargain is to agree to do something. That’s the meaning that is used in the headline.

Finally, we come to the word grand. “Grand,” like modest and bargain, has a couple of different meanings. Here, it means something important, something large, something that is very complex and complicated that is going to solve a lot of different problems at once.

This phrase, “a grand bargain,” is actually quite common in American politics. You will see it in reading about American history, usually to describe how different political groups come to some agreement that solves a lot of  important problems.

In our story, the president and Congress are trying to come to a grand bargain about how much people should pay in taxes. I’m not sure how exactly it will all work out (what the specific result will be), but I’m guessing that whatever they agree to, it won’t be a bargain (good deal) for American taxpayers.


Photo credit: Peaceful Resolution by Nomadic Lass, Flickr CC

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20 Responses to Headline English: A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

  1. Dan says:

    Hi everyone,

    Haha.. Jeff you made me giggle at the end of your post. A really thorny issue the one about taxes.

    No matter how much you pay, it always seems too much.

    I am not really aware how much you pay over there guys, but here in Europe we pay a huge amount in taxes.

    Just to give you an example, here in Italy sale tax is 21% for everything you buy. From milk and bread to a car.

    I like the idea of explaining headlines, especially the ones about business/economy.


  2. Adriana Chacon says:

    Great text!
    After read your post, the headline that at first time looked a little bit confusing, became so simple and understandable!
    About taxes, I’m not the most optimist person to talk about that. I live in Brazil, a country where we pay a lot and don’t get any benefits. The education is poor, the health care is even worst… The congressmen’s here are “famous” for corruption.
    I lost the hopes of a better country..

  3. Dan says:

    Me again,

    According to an article published July 25 this year, on Italy’s most important financial paper, we pay the highest tax rates between the most developed economies.

    So, in Italy that is 54% related to the GDP (gross domestic product).

    U.S. 27,9%

    Wee…whoa…We are the first! I am so proud….

  4. Lassana says:

    Hi Everyone,

    I am quite agree with you Jeff. There is one things that we know, it’s that all bill about citizens taxes leads to bad news for people, I mean we’ll pay increasingly taxes !

    Here in France taxes have increase too, officials say that it is one of the only choices, with reduction of gouvernement’s spending cuts which will save our economy.

    I think there is an other way, it is the innovation and R & D, in order to create wealth.
    That also allows to sells goods in overseas (Here inFrance, we are bad for sell to overseas, we have to enhance in this area ).

    Besides, Jeff, I like this kind of learning that allows to understand and know english’s words from a topic.

    Thanks Jeff.

    See you soon.


  5. emiliano says:

    Sorry, the captcha code delete everything.
    I can´t recover it, it is so frustrating.

    I select it and copy, but nothing.

    What is happening now?

    My thoughts go off for now.


  6. Ben says:

    How are you doing,everyone.
    Hi,Jeff.I am pretty appreciated the way you teach English to us,explaining a headline English to us.
    You explain these words so clearly and easily that I really enjoy the reading.And I guess I totally understand
    the usage of the words due to your understandable explaining.
    And Hi Dan,it seems to be me that the taxes are more or less lower in Europe than in China.
    You know,you can find many of news from Internet about Chinese travelling to Europe buy loads of luxuries,like louisvuitton.
    The prices of those stuff seem much lower in Europe comparing with China.

  7. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Adriana, it is nice to meet you here talking about the taxes in Brazil. I am a Brazilian too and I feel inside the soul all the burden of taxes we pay for nothing. As you said, the schools are poor, the health is worst, politicians involved in big schemes, most of the money running inside the sewer and the people … poor people. But there is a solution for the problem. When the electors are to put a ballot into the ballot-box, think twice or more then twice. No ballot for corrupt politicians, no parties are good, forget about them, don’t trust anyone. Since ancient civilizations, politics work agains people. Remember Phraohs from Egypt? Were they good hearted? No, they werent at all. Today is no different. Things have not changed for the poor.
    Aecio from beautiful green and yellow Brazil.

  8. Jorge says:

    Hi everyone.

    Reading this I remembered a film: Meet Joe Black. Nothing is certain but taxes and death.
    Aécio, I am from Colombia and I have heard that things in Brazil are getting bad, however a few years ago we had a very good impression about Lula’s government. Is Dilma doing a good job?


  9. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Jorge, you made a mistake by judging Lula as a good leader. He is a great lier, maybe the greatest in the world. Everything he said to hate was the things that he did in the chair in Brasilia. Thanks God he is not going to be back. Dilma is Lula1s follower, doing everything Lula says to do. I don’t understand why Brazilian peolple saw in Lula. Maybe the beard! You could say what is Colombia like. Is Colombia’s president a good guy? Do peolple pay too much tax? Take care when you are to put the ballot into the ballot box. Don’t trust nobody. They promise the world and afterwards you have the hell.
    Best wishes.
    Aecio from beautiful green and yellow Brazil

  10. emiliano says:

    Thanks Aecio, thanks Jorge, I like to read both of you and have some news and different points of
    view about your country and some other countries of South America.

    Some times in Europe, the old continet, it seems South America doen´t exist what is a big big

    Thanks again dear.

    Hope there could be more opinions from people from South America, please.


  11. Tania says:

    Hi! Very nice the English Cafe 415. I can’t keep in my mind all the American Presidents, but I like to listen to about their life and works.
    Especially when I hear something new for the first time.
    You explained us very well the Monroe Doctrine introduced on Decmber, 1823, a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States.
    U.S. President James Monroe first stated the doctrine but the Secretary of State John Quincy Adams is the author of the Monroe Doctrine.

    Thank you.

  12. Tania says:

    Hi! The Monroe Doctrine was viewed as a precursor to the “Special Relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom,
    which accepted this doctrine.
    I have always known about this “Special Relationship” , but not and its reason.
    I like to read newspapers with news focusing on th foreign policy of all countries.
    So, a new information is welcome to me.

  13. Tania says:

    Hi! During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was applied to Latin America and to the Communist threat.
    Reading on Wikipeadia , in practice the Monroe Doctrine has functioned as a declaration of “to leave America for the Americans”.

  14. Tania says:

    Hi! We use similar words: politica, familia, ministru, secretar, stat, diplomat, national, abolire, agresiune, electoral.

    Very interesting the explanation of the difference between “base” and “basis”.
    The same “so far so good”.

  15. Tania says:

    Hi! I think in this way I can say about my English: so far so good.
    Of course, thanks to the ESL Podcast team.

    All the best to you all,


  16. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Jeff, you mentioned the movie “Amistad”, a 1997 historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg
    based on a true story in 1839, which became a U.S. Supreme Court case of 1841.
    I have seen its trailer on You Tube.
    The film begins in the depths of the ship La Amistad, a ship carrying Africans captured and sold in Cuba into slavery.
    La Amistad is found by a U.S. military vessel, and the Africans are imprisoned.
    The film shifts to Washington, D.C., introducing John Quincy Adams, former President (1825 – 1829), who decides to assist the case,
    and the current President of the U.S., Martin Van Buren.
    You told us about Martin Van Buren in the English Cafe 355/2012, the eighth President of the U.S. (1837 – 1841).

    I have not known about this movie. A true story and Steven Spielberg…a great movie.

  17. Tania says:

    Hi! The movie starts with a motto:

    “Freedom is not given, it is our right, at birth.
    But there are moments in history when it must be taken.”

  18. Tania says:

    Hi! May I practice my English with some Amistad movie quotes?

    John Quincy Adams: [to the Court]
    We desperately need your strength and wisdom to triumph over our fears, our prejudices, ourselves.
    Give us the courage to do what is right. And if it means civil war?
    Then let it come. And when it does, may be it, finally, the last battle of the American Revolution.”

  19. Tania says:


    John Quincy Adams: [to the Court]
    “…the natural state of mankind is instead – and I know this is a controversial idea – is freedom.
    IS FREEDOM. And the proof is length to which a man , woman or a child will go to regain it once taken.
    He will try and try and try, against all odds, against all prejudices, to get home.”

  20. Tania says:


    John Quincy Adams:
    “This is the most important case ever to come before this court.
    Because what it in fact concerns is the very nature of man.”

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