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Farm Bill Slog Mirrors Transportation Fight

But the House, led by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), refused to find anything in common across parties or chambers, leading to a long and embarrassing deadlock that finally ended with the jury-rigged conference, albeit for a shorter term than the usual authorization.

So we have two major bills that found broad bipartisan coalitions in the Senate and foundered in the House.

The Senate, to be sure, remains a body far more characterized by partisan obstruction and routine filibusters on bills and holds on nominations than it is a legislative model.

But on some issues, where the need is clear, where traditional Republican interests want action and where the political damage from inaction is real, the Senate has shown it can still act as it once routinely did.

There is a problem-solving center in the Senate. Next year, especially if President Barack Obama wins a second term, it would emerge somewhat more frequently, even if Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decided to continue in large part the pattern of strategic obstruction.

There are several Republican Senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mike Crapo of Idaho (and, I hope, John McCain of Arizona) who are tired of voting “no” and yearn to solve major problems.

But the House is a different matter. The transportation and farm bills show that even the pressure that comes with agreement between parties in the Senate and between the Senate and the White House will not faze House conservatives and their patrons in the leadership.

That Boehner is leading the charge to use the debt limit as leverage to cut spending yet again — after pleading with his colleagues to be grown-ups the first time around — shows how limited his power is to change the pattern.

If anything, House Republicans in the 113th Congress will be even more conservative than they are in the 112th, while Democrats will be more liberal. The challenge for governance in the American system of separation of powers will be centered in the House, whether it is a President Mitt Romney or a President Obama, and whether the farm bill gets resolved satisfactorily or not.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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