On April 11 of this very year, Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal offered a very upbeat assessment of the political climate in Washington under the headline, “Bipartisan Breezes Waft Through Congress.”
Lawmakers in Congress, long locked in stalemate and saddled with a “do-nothing” label, are now working across party lines on major legislation including immigration, guns and other perennially stalled issues.
A big bipartisan majority in the Senate voted Thursday to open the first wide-ranging gun-control debate in years. Bipartisan proposals to overhaul immigration laws are being hatched in the Senate and House. President Barack Obama has been wining and dining Republicans in search of partners for a budget deal. The House and Senate Budget Committee chairmen are preparing to negotiate for the first time in years.
While these initiatives may not all reach fruition, some congressional veterans sense a new tone. “My goodness, these guys are actually starting to govern,” marveled former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.
I don’t mean to pick on Hook (whoever wrote that headline, however, did her no good, as I noted dyspeptically at the time); this sort of talk was very common. The Great Big Adults of Washington, having been unaccountably absent for a few years, were back in charge, the mood seemed to suggest, and we might well expect a burst of congressional productivity.
Less than two months later, it’s sure not looking that way. The Great Gun Convergence of 2013 didn’t happen, of course; it didn’t even survive the Senate. Comprehensive immigration reform is now in very deep trouble, as its poster-boy, Marco Rubio, is openly working with Senate opponents of the Gang of Eight bill to make it “acceptable” to people who reject the very idea of comprehensive reform (meanwhile, the House Gang of Eight has lost its Rubio counterpart, Rep. Raul Labrador).
The President’s Dinner Series with Senate Republicans did not, after all, produce any progress on budget discussions, which aren’t hanging fire only because rapidly declining debt and deficit numbers have delayed a debt limit confrontation.
So all the promising prospects that were going to make this a Year of Miracles in Washington are dead or dying or irrelevant. And instead we’ve got a multi-pronged IRS investigation, never-ending Benghazi! hearings, rhetorical Molotov Cocktails being hurled into the White House by journalists over its efforts to fight leaks, and on tap for July, a good, vicious fight over Senate rules.
This last item is quite momentous, and could, if Harry Reid hangs tough, produce a breakthrough down the road. But for now, it will look to most regular people outside Washington like the politicians have completely lost their minds and forgotten what they were elected to do. This ought to mainly affect a congressional Republican Party that’s totally in thrall to a conservative movement determined to take the country back to the 1950s or maybe the 1920s, and won’t settle for much less. But it’s not clear that’s how it will ultimately go down politically. Democrats better hope the economy continues to improve and that Obamacare implementation is smoother than we have any reason to expect given the many forces conspiring to screw it up. It’s unlikely there will be any “bipartisan accomplishments” for the White House and its allies to talk about come next year. And this summer will almost certainly be a buzzkill for the ages.
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