Much of the commentary on Washington lately has been about the contrast between the functional Senate and the hopeless House.
There is good reason for this, of course. The Senate is on its way to passing a sweeping immigration bill with a generous supermajority supporting it. The "Gang of Eight" has performed in an exemplary fashion, despite the understandably strong views and different motives of its members; whenever an impasse occurred, other problem-solving senators stepped up to find a solution. Senators of both parties -- all the Democrats, and a number of the Republicans -- have decided not to make the perfect, if there is such a thing, the enemy of the good.
Meantime, the House has careened from one disastrous embarrassment to another, including a rare trifecta of dysfunction in the space of barely more than a week: the excruciating meltdown of comity and the regular order on the Homeland Security appropriations bill; the illegal and extreme antiabortion bill that passed the House, punctuated by cringe-worthy statements from the likes of Republican Reps. Trent Franks and Michael Burgess; and the farm-bill disaster.
When I wrote about the 112th Congress in Foreign Policy, the editors entitled the piece "Worst. Congress. Ever." I got a lot of feedback from people saying things like, "C'mon, the worst ever? What about the period right before the Civil War?" I responded, "You are right. Isn't it comforting to be compared to the period right before the Civil War?" If things keep going this way in the House, the 113th Congress will make the 112th look productive by comparison.
If it avoids that ignominy, it will be because of the functionality we see in the Senate. But let's be realistic about that; things looked really promising after the 2012 elections. The Senate acted in a broadly bipartisan way at the 11th hour to avoid a fiscal-cliff disaster; provided huge supermajorities for aid for Hurricane Sandy and the Violence Against Women Act; and showed signs, after the ballyhooed dinners President Obama had with groups of senators, of finding common ground on a broader fiscal package.
But then came the failure to garner 60 votes on a commendable and restrained bill to tighten background checks on gun purchases, with cosponsor Pat Toomey, R-Pa., acknowledging that several of his GOP colleagues couldn't bring themselves to back something supported by the president, showing tribalism is still alive and kicking in the Senate. The continuing misuse of holds, filibusters, and filibuster threats across an array of executive and judicial nominations show that mass obstruction remained the modus operandi of the Senate minority. And after Obama took the first, second, and third steps to move the Senate toward that bipartisan fiscal bargain, putting Social Security and Medicare changes on the table that are deeply unpopular with the Democratic base, the response from his Republican interlocutors has been all take and no give, doing nothing except demanding more give on the president's part.