Despite a contentious partisan debate Tuesday that saw discussions over the U.S. visa waiver program lurch awkwardly toward the issue of gun rights, there’s reason for optimism on Capitol Hill ahead of a looming deadline to pass a trillion-dollar omnibus funding measure.
What’s behind it? After years of partisan gridlock, Congress has seemingly regained its ability to get things done.
In recent weeks, lawmakers pushed several long-stalled pieces of legislation across the finish line, reaching a spending agreement that has the approval of the Republican leadership and President Barack Obama after five years of intense fiscal disagreements that saw a government shutdown and the implementation of “sequester” budget cuts considered so draconian they were only passed as an incentive for a bipartisan compromise that never materialized…
Even some potential political pratfalls ended well, with cooler heads prevailing to prevent a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security in late winter after GOP members backed away from a plan to tie a measure funding the agency to efforts to undo Obama’s actions on immigration that offered deportation relief for those in the U.S. unlawfully.
And while a cadre of conservatives spearheaded an effort to shut down the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which provides financing for U.S. businesses exporting goods and services overseas, a groundswell of moderate lawmakers from both parties pushed to revive the bank’s charter. The legislation passed as part of the transportation funding bill, which, like the education bill, saw broad bipartisan approval.
“With those bills, you have an interesting coalition of both sides having a part of the party who are interested in reform,” says John Fortier, a political scientist with the Bipartisan Policy Center. The center, which this year debuted its Healthy Congress Index to offer Americans a metric for measuring the performance of their lawmakers, said in its third quarterly report in October that the legislative body has plenty of areas in which it can improve but that Congress “continues to demonstrate some elements of an improved legislative process.”