Very knowledgeable politicians speaking in Boston last Monday expressed qualified hopes that Congress could actually get something done. They pointed to the recent “doc fix,” a remedy for the unrealistic curtailment of Medicare payments to providers. The bill passed by the House and awaiting Senate action even reauthorized CHIP (the children’s health plan) and provided some funding for community health centers. The House also reached agreement on funding Homeland Security, eliminating extreme anti-abortion riders.
But what hope does this hold for the future? Former Democratic Congressmen Barney Frank and Bill Delahunt actually agreed with Republican heavyweights John Sununu (father and son) on opportunities for transportation reauthorization, criminal justice reform and even budget resolutions and resulting appropriations. Later in the week, speaking to the same group, Congressman Jim McGovern added modest tax reform and public works to the list where some bipartisan agreement could be reached.
Are there people of good will on both sides of the aisle? Perhaps. Does it matter? Perhaps not. Speaker John Boehner is obviously key to the process, especially his willingness to require a simple majority of the House rather than a majority of the Republican majority for passage. Sununu the elder (former Governor of New Hampshire and chief of staff to President George Herbert Walker Bush) told The New England Council that executive leadership is essential to legislative success and that “the President has to spend some of his political capital.” Son John said that House Republicans have to learn from their success of getting something done, even if it’s not perfect.
The cloud on the legislative horizon, however, is the emerging Presidential race. The window of opportunity for dramatically reducing Congressional dysfunction is closing. By June, everything will be seen through the prism of the 2016 election, and you can probably write off the next year and a half. Wait a minute. Hasn’t this been the script all along? Moderate Republicans who were willing to support Boehner on Homeland Security have already been warned by the Tea Party to expect primary challenges. As Jim McGovern put it, those moderates “will have to decide whether it’s worth it to stay in Congress that can’t get anything done.” Or will they risk reelection by standing up for principle and agreeing to stop our bridges from falling down or sustain the elderly poor or support life-saving medical research? I can tell you where my money is going.
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