Glimmers of Hope on the Hill

After years of dysfunction, there are signs that Congress is starting to work again.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks while flanked by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) (L) on January 29, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. The US Senate is holding a cloture vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline. 
National Journal
Charlie Cook
Add to Briefcase
Charlie Cook
April 20, 2015, 4 p.m.

The term “green shoots” is in­creas­ingly be­ing used to de­scribe the first pos­it­ive signs of growth after an eco­nom­ic down­turn. It is now pos­sible to say that we are see­ing green shoots on Cap­it­ol Hill, signs that the in­sti­tu­tion of Con­gress may be be­com­ing a bit less dys­func­tion­al than it has been in re­cent years.

It has a long way to go be­fore it gets back to where it was 30 or more years ago, when it did func­tion reas­on­ably well. Still, as vet­er­an Con­gress-watch­er Billy Moore puts it, “For years, no one in Wash­ing­ton lost money bet­ting against Con­gress, but this time they might.”

The first sign that things might be chan­ging was just after last Novem­ber’s elec­tion, when a gov­ern­ment shut­down was avoided without the pyro­tech­nics seen in the re­cent past. More re­cently, with the deal on the Medi­care “doc fix” and ex­ten­sion of the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram, the House and Sen­ate passing budget res­ol­u­tions and the con­firm­a­tion of a fed­er­al judge, things seem like they are start­ing to move.

(RE­LATED: How Wash­ing­ton De­railed Amtrak)

Moore—a Demo­crat who spent more than two dec­ades on the Hill, work­ing on both the Sen­ate and House sides, and is now a highly-re­garded lob­by­ist—cred­its three things for chan­ging the zeit­geist of Con­gress in re­cent months.

First, Speak­er John Boehner has built a suf­fi­ciently strong net­work of House Re­pub­lic­ans to ef­fect­ively isol­ate those in his con­fer­ence who seek to de­pose him, and, when ne­ces­sary, has sought and re­ceived sup­port from a will­ing Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and Demo­crats in or­der to get things through the cham­ber. The chem­istry in the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence had to change. Boehner pa­tiently waited it out, and then when he could, star­ted mov­ing the le­gis­lat­ive ball for­ward. Pelosi should be cred­ited as well for tak­ing on a con­struct­ive role in craft­ing agree­ments when some in her party pre­ferred her to be more of an ob­struc­tion­ist.

Second, Moore says Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s open­ing up the amend­ment pro­cess has made a huge dif­fer­ence. It hasn’t al­ways suc­ceeded, but this is the way the Sen­ate was in­ten­ded to func­tion; this change en­abled the pro­cess to be­gin work­ing again.

Third, even in the last Con­gress when the Sen­ate floor was still bottled up, Sen­ate com­mit­tee chair­men (at the time, Demo­crats) and the rank­ing mem­bers (Re­pub­lic­ans) began quietly talk­ing about what they would like to do if things star­ted be­com­ing move­able on the floor. The chair­man and rank­ing roles re­versed after the elec­tion, but the dia­logue con­tin­ued, and when the door to the Sen­ate floor opened, they rushed through it.

(RE­LATED: 2016 Hope­fuls Split as Sen­ate Sends Doc-Fix Bill to Obama)

Wheth­er it was Fin­ance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Or­rin Hatch and rank­ing mem­ber Ron Wyden on tax and trade, or even En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Chair­man James In­hofe and rank­ing mem­ber Bar­bara Box­er, hon­est ef­forts to move le­gis­la­tion for­ward have be­gun. We star­ted see­ing some real lead­er­ship and will­ing­ness to make com­prom­ises at the com­mit­tee level, es­sen­tial for the pro­cess to work. There is hope that the chem­istry will be bet­ter between Mc­Con­nell and Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, who is slated to take over as the Demo­crat­ic lead­er after the 2016 elec­tion, than it has been with re­tir­ing Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id.

Moore ar­gues that as the budget pro­cess con­tin­ues to the con­fer­ence and re­con­cili­ation stages—nor­mally the most par­tis­an as ma­jor­ity parties “cut out the minor­ity be­cause they can”— we may now see a change, move­ment on meas­ures through the re­con­cili­ation pro­cess that were un­able to move for­ward on their own, such as a high­way bill and cor­por­ate tax re­form.

A just-re­leased study by the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter quan­ti­fies some of these changes. The group, foun­ded by a group of former Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate lead­ers, re­leased their first “Healthy Con­gress In­dex” show­ing that in the first three months of the 114th Con­gress, “the House and Sen­ate had more work­ing days in the first quarter of 2015 than either did at this point dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two Con­gresses. The House had 36 work­ing days this past quarter and 29 and 34 work­ing days, re­spect­ively, dur­ing the first three months of the pre­vi­ous two Con­gresses. The Sen­ate had 43 work­ing days in Wash­ing­ton last quarter, which com­pares fa­vor­ably with the 30 and 33 days at this point dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two Con­gresses.”

The second thing the BPC study looked at was “reg­u­lar or­der,” the com­mit­tee pro­cess, floor de­bate, and con­fer­ence com­mit­tees. The study found that “the first three months of the 114th Con­gress showed a burst of en­ergy, with con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees re­port­ing bills in high­er num­bers than dur­ing re­cent Con­gresses. The House ordered re­por­ted 31 bills in the first quarter of 2015, which ex­ceeds the eight and 24 bills ordered re­por­ted at this point dur­ing the 112th and the 113th, re­spect­ively. The Sen­ate ordered re­por­ted 15 bills in the first quarter of 2015, which ex­ceeds the eight bills ordered re­por­ted by this point dur­ing each of the 112th and the 113th Con­gresses.”

Fi­nally, the study looked at the ex­tent that the Sen­ate was de­bat­ing le­gis­la­tion and al­low­ing ma­jor­ity- and minor­ity-party amend­ments. “This Sen­ate in its first three months con­sidered 202 amend­ments,” the re­port noted. “This is the second-highest among the Con­gresses re­flec­ted in the in­dex. Of those, the ma­jor­ity offered 97 amend­ments, and the minor­ity offered 105 amend­ments. About three-quar­ters of these amend­ments were to the budget res­ol­u­tion. But even ex­clud­ing budget votes, this Sen­ate has al­lowed more votes on amend­ments than at this point dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two Con­gresses. And it did al­low the most votes on a budget res­ol­u­tion than any re­cent Con­gress the in­dex meas­ures.”

Maybe the green shoots really are com­ing through.

What We're Following See More »
KIM CALLS TRUMP A “DOTARD”
North Korea Threatens H-Bomb Test Over Pacific
9 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"North Korea said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after President Donald Trump vowed to destroy the reclusive country, with leader Kim Jong Un promising to make Trump pay dearly for his threats. Kim did not specify what action he would take against the United States or Trump, whom he called a 'mentally deranged U.S. dotard' in the latest bout of insults the two leaders have traded in recent weeks."

Source:
BRINGS IT BACK TO HILLARY
Trump Says Facebook Story Is Part of “Russia Hoax”
11 minutes ago
THE LATEST
INFORMS CONGRESS RE: EXECUTIVE ORDER
Trump Makes Good on Promise of New North Korea Sanctions
18 hours ago
THE LATEST

President Trump this afternoon announced another round of sanctions on North Korea, calling the regime "a continuing threat." The executive order, which Trump relayed to Congress, bans any ship or plane that has visited North Korea from visiting the United States within 180 days. The order also authorizes sanctions on any financial institution doing business with North Korea, and permits the secretaries of State and the Treasury to sanction any person involved in trading with North Korea, operating a port there, or involved in a variety of industries there.

SOUTH KOREA WILL SEND AID
Trump Promises More Sanctions on North Korea
22 hours ago
THE LATEST

In response to a reporter's question, President Trump said "he’ll be looking to impose further financial penalties on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic tests. ... The U.N. has passed two resolutions recently aimed at squeezing the North Korean economy by cutting off oil, labor and exports to the nation." Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that South Korea's unification ministry is sending an $8m aid package aimed at infants and pregnant women in North Korea. The "humanitarian gesture [is] at odds with calls by Japan and the US for unwavering economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang."

Source:
HIGHLIGHT ISSUES FACING KIDS
FLOTUS to Speak at UN Luncheon
1 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login