Congress Is Suddenly Doing Meaningful Stuff

Seriously, what’s happened to our government?

Snow begins to gather on statues at the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial by the Capitol Reflecting Pool on December 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Matt Berman
Dec. 11, 2013, 5 a.m.

On Tues­day, the Sen­ate con­firmed a ju­di­cial nom­in­ee and an ex­ec­ut­ive nom­in­ee. Later, the lead­ers of a con­gres­sion­al ne­go­ti­at­ing team an­nounced that a bi­par­tis­an budget deal has been reached.

This is 2013 and this is hap­pen­ing.

Maybe it was all of that snow. But all of a sud­den, Con­gress is ac­tu­ally get­ting some mean­ing­ful stuff done. Hell, mem­bers of Con­gress even seemed to be hav­ing some fun at a hear­ing on on­line poker. This didn’t come eas­ily. “This is the first di­vided-gov­ern­ment budget agree­ment since 1986,” Rep. Paul Ry­an said Tues­day night, in some ob­vi­ous dis­be­lief. But, all the same, he says he has “every reas­on to ex­pect great sup­port” from the House GOP con­fer­ence.

Sen. Patty Mur­ray, Ry­an’s Demo­crat­ic ne­go­ti­at­ing coun­ter­part, however, said she’s “con­fid­ent that we won’t have 100 per­cent of the Sen­ate of 100 per­cent of the House,” so it’s not like there’s something com­pletely crazy go­ing on.

Con­gress doesn’t have a his­tory of get­ting so in­to the Christ­mas spir­it. It was just last year that Con­gress nearly took the coun­try over the “fisc­al cliff.” And ex­actly a year ago, op­tim­ism that Con­gress would be able to come to an agree­ment was be­gin­ning to tank, bring­ing hol­i­day spend­ing down with it.

Not every­one is su­per-thrilled with how Con­gress has em­braced its new­found pro­ductiv­ity. After all, the nom­in­ee con­firm­a­tions are only hap­pen­ing be­cause of a his­tor­ic, nuc­le­ar change to Sen­ate rules that al­low for a simple ma­jor­ity to ap­prove of most ex­ec­ut­ive and ju­di­cial nom­in­ees. “There’s a price that has to be paid when people ab­use the rules,” Sen. Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah, said Tues­day, when Pa­tri­cia Mil­lett was con­firmed for the D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals and Mel Watt was con­firmed to lead the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Fin­ance Agency. “And, let’s face it. These guys have com­pletely ob­lit­er­ated the rules.”

That price, doled out by Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, is that everything in the Sen­ate will now take a bit more time to ac­tu­ally get ac­com­plished. We saw the be­gin­nings of this on Tues­day when Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., burned le­gis­lat­ive minutes by ap­peal­ing the new simple-ma­jor­ity pre­ced­ent.

The budget deal won’t leave every­one thrilled either. Pres­id­ent Obama, for his part, called it a “good first step,” but made it clear he will con­tin­ue to push for the ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and oth­er meas­ures to help strengthen the still fra­gile eco­nomy. Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic mem­bers of Con­gress are already ex­press­ing dis­ap­point­ment with the deal on Twit­ter. Sen. Rand Paul put out a state­ment Wed­nes­day morn­ing call­ing the deal “shame­ful.”

It hasn’t been a ban­ner year for Con­gress by any means, and its single-di­git ap­prov­al rat­ing re­flects that. But for the first time in a long while, the le­gis­lature may ac­tu­ally be ac­com­plish­ing something — as­sum­ing, of course, that the House and the Sen­ate can ac­tu­ally get this deal passed.

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