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.