Monday, July 29, 2013

the slow return of Congress to normal politics

Whether the political fever has broken, or the single digit public approval numbers have forced members of Congress to change their behavior, the end result is an evident improvement in the healthy functioning of the legislative branch.

  • The Senate backed away from the "nuclear option" of reforming the rules by majority vote in a welcome bipartisan compromise. Why? First because a small group of Senators reached across the aisle and found areas of agreement. Second, as Sarah Binder persuasively argues, because the Democratic majority had the votes and the Republican minority was divided. She also lays out conditions when a threat to use that option might work again in the future: when it is narrowly targeted, when the minority has been overreaching, and when the issue is central to the majority's core interests. I'm happy with the outcome, since I think  filibusters should be safe, legal, and rare, but I'm also pleased with the bipartisan process that led to that result.
  • The Senate has been acting responsibly -- that is, actually passing important legislation -- again by bipartisan cooperation. It passed immigration reform, a farm bill, and even a budget resolution.
  • There are signs of bipartisanship in the House of Representatives, too. While I'm skeptical of revising NSA surveillance by floor amendments on appropriations bills, I'm heartened by the bipartisan efforts on that issue and related ones that have surfaced in recent weeks.
On the other hand, the prospects for sensible agreements on this year's spending bills, and the debt limit, and immigration reform are still gloomy. But maybe members will discover that actually passing legislation and getting it signed into law is worth the effort.

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