Ideas. Action. Results.

Glimmers of Hope on the Hill

National Journal

Monday, April 20, 2015

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…

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.

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.”

KEYWORDS: 114TH CONGRESS, CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE PROGRAM, CHUCK SCHUMER, HARRY REID, HEALTHY CONGRESS INDEX, JAMES INHOFE, JOHN BOEHNER, MEDICARE, NANCY PELOSI, ORRIN HATCH, RON WYDEN, SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE