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.
In other words, outside of immigration -- and despite an election Obama won handily, with Republicans suffering unexpected Senate setbacks -- it has been more tribal than cooperative. It is pretty obvious why immigration has been different. Lindsey Graham said bluntly what many other party-minded Senate Republicans feel: that the failure to pass immigration reform will send the GOP into a demographic death spiral. But it is also true that some Senate Republicans are focusing on solving problems. If they can't convince more of their colleagues to mend their ways, or at least calibrate better, the Senate may melt down in July over the filibuster rule, damaging deeply its post-immigration role.
As for the House, the farm-bill vote was particularly sobering. Despite commendable bipartisanship in the Agriculture Committee, the driving need to pass a farm bill, and the passionate pleas of Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, seven current and former committee chairs spurned him, as did two Appropriations subcommittee chairs with their own bills to manage, and voted against the bill, Politico reported. They joined 53 other Republicans who gave the finger to their collective leadership.