Last week was an odd one in Washington, D.C. I don’t mean the weather. We’ve become accustomed to the wild mood swings of Mother Nature that have us eating al fresco one day and donning hats, gloves and overcoats the next. The weirdness in the air was thanks to an uncharacteristic spirit of bipartisanship in Congress.
It’s been six weeks since Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and retreated, forecasting a prolonged winter. And it has been practically six years since the Republicans and Democrats elected to Congress and the White House have come out of their holes to work constructively together in addressing significant issues of our day.
Conversations around critical issues such as immigration and tax reform get a little steam, only to come to a screeching halt with little to no progress and everyone back at square one. Extremely few major issues have been effectively dealt with. And the few that have, such as the farm bill reauthorization, have been bloody, protracted battles. It’s like the classic movie “Groundhog Day” — Washington style.
But last week, Senate Democrats and Republicans came together to reauthorize a law that channels funds to help working families pay for child care. Sixteen years overdue for a refresh, and ripe with the potential to be yet another political football, the bill drafted by two Republicans and two Democrats passed 97-1. What gives?
A Senate aide shared with me over dinner that members from both parties were invited — or more accurately begged — to offer “reasonable” amendments in an effort to show a chamber capable of having meaningful and productive debate on something other than naming a post office.
Facing extremely dissatisfied voters and tough party primaries at home, senators were eager to change the script. In this movie, moderate Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is up for the Oscar for “Best Choreography” in what could become a trilogy with several other significant bills in the queue.
This week there is a hint of budding cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. We’ll see if the spring thaw will truly begin when the Senate returns and takes up a plan crafted by 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats to extend unemployment benefits, a measure considered a show stopper just a few weeks ago.
Let’s hope one more snow day doesn’t set back the clock again, and again, and again.
Ann Davison is managing director of VOX Global, a D.C.-based public affairs firm and subsidiary of Omnicom, one of the world’s largest communication firms. She previously worked in senior roles on Capitol Hill and at the EPA.