Washington's Functionality to Be Tested in 2016

December 27,2015

WASHINGTON— Americans witnessed a rarity at the end of 2015: a functioning Congress that enacted major legislation with bipartisan support. For 2016, Republican leaders in both chambers are promising a return to the traditional legislative procedures under which Congress operated decades ago – an intention that will be tested in an election year.

From funding the U.S. government to upgrading America’s overburdened highways to boosting the nation’s cyber security, the Republican-led Congress passed a flurry of bills that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, enthusiastically signed into law.

“I feel good about what we’ve been able to accomplish in just a few short weeks,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan before Congress adjourned for the remainder of the year. “And I feel very good about where we are going in the next year.”

Seeking compromise

FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.
FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

“When the American people elect divided government, they are not saying ‘don’t do anything.’ They are saying, ‘look for the things you can agree on,’” McConnell said.

Democrats, who lost their Senate majority in 2014, claimed some of the credit.

“When Republicans were in the minority, their goal was obstruction,” said Democratic Senator Patty Murray. “Now that Democrats are in the minority, our goal is helping the middle class, and we are willing to work with Republicans to achieve that.”

For some Republican presidential contenders, a Washington that works is a Washington up to no good.

“If you see a candidate who Washington embraces, run and hide,” said Senator Ted Cruz at a recent campaign event in Alabama. “If you think Washington is fundamentally broken, that there is a bipartisan corruption of career politicians in both parties that get in bed with the lobbyists and special interests and grow and grow and grow Washington… that is what this campaign is all about!”

Return to old norms

The congressional leaders are on the turn.

“As Congress works in the new year, I want to make sure that we get back to what is called ‘regular order’ so that we have a system that operates like the founders intended,” Speaker Ryan said.

“The speaker and I had a number of conversations,” said the Senate’s minority leader, Democrat Harry Reid. “He wants to do appropriation bills; I want to do appropriation bills. And there is no reason we can’t.”

Congress has not funded the governments through committee by committee spending bills since Bill Clinton was president.

“This big bill we just passed was $1.1 trillion (of spending) in one bill. That’s not the way to do business. And so we are going to try our best not to end up in that situation again,” he said.

McConnell will need help from Democrats, who have designs of their own for next year.

“We can only hope that our Republican colleagues will be as cooperative a minority as we were this year when Democrats take back the Senate in 2016,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.

Republican leaders aim to keep that prediction from coming true, and see a functional Congress as key to that goal.