hill-dysfunction

Haley Prompts Ryan to Take Sides in the Fight for GOP's Soul

UNITED STATES - September 2: South Carolina Gov. Nikki R.  Haley's State of the Union address drew praise from Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The passions of the Republican civil war that surfaced because of Gov. Nikki R. Haley’s comments Tuesday night have been trumped by something that for Congress might be even more important:  

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who won the House gavel last fall as the consensus choice of both the combative insurgent conservatives and the cooler-headed establishment mainstream, left no doubt which side he stands with now.  

Corporate Conservatives Strike Back with Ex-Im Win

Ryan let the House work its will when it came to the Export-Import Bank. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe the lopsided votes clearing what’s colloquially dubbed “the highway bill” didn’t put a sufficient drumroll under the potentially historic nature of the occasion.  

The new law does more than set surface transportation policies and spending levels for five years, the first time since 2009 that road and mass transit improvements have enjoyed an extended lease on life.  

Gridlock Greets Mondale on Return to D.C.

Mondale visited the Capitol in January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Tuesday’s symposium on the legacy of Walter Mondale, the former vice president and power-player senator, offers a fresh rationale for considering a smartly argued report that’s gone largely overlooked in all this fall’s congressional news.  

The white paper, released last month by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, concludes that congressional polarization has spread gridlock so widely and deeply beyond the Capitol that it’s gummed up the works significantly for the executive branch as well. Few people could testify to all this with more authority than Mondale, who in the 1970s elevated the vice presidency from decades of sinecure status, and before that spent a dozen years working in a highly functional Senate as a peripatetic policy maven with a strong hand in executive branch oversight without regard to party.  

One Day in, Climactic Month Slips Into Pope-Inspired Procrastination

Harry Reid and other congressional leaders are looking at a number of deadlines this month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

How easy it is to procrastinate during the first month of a new semester, knowing none of the difficult assignments are really due before the end of the term — and especially when there are so many tempting distractions on campus.  

So it is again this fall, at the Capitol as much as in college. Which is why Congress, back in town only one day, is already looking ahead to a shortened September that’s long on theatrics but almost bereft of nose-to-the-grindstone legislative work.  

GOP Eyes Audacious Escape Plan From Policy Gridlock This Fall

A stormy fall is assured for Congress. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call)

Even by the standards of today’s Capitol, where doing important business at or after the last possible moment is the default setting, an exceptionally long and disparate roster of battles and deadlines lies ahead this fall.  

Far from conceding they’ll be strategically paralyzed by the welter of polarizing conflict, however, senior Republicans increasingly boast how the situation after Labor Day creates an ideal venue for a big accomplishment by Christmas.  

Signs of Life, but Don't Expect Bipartisan Bloom

Don't expect this to happen much this year. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

If there was ever a sound reason for a congressional leader from one party to plant a kiss on the cheek of a leader from the other side, it was in the Rose Garden last week.  

Solving a multibillion-dollar problem that bedeviled Congress for a dozen years (inadequate Medicare reimbursements to physicians) is the only genuinely important bipartisan achievement of the 114th Congress to date. When Speaker John A. Boehner smooched a beaming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a celebratory reception hosted by President Barack Obama, it was a visual cue about the extraordinary nature of the moment, for which the two frequent partisan antagonists shared principal credit .  

Why the 'Doc Fix' Deal Has Senate in Something of a Fix

Boehner seemed pleased Tuesday that he's worked out a deal with Pelosi on the "doc fix." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The odds have crested the 50-50 threshold for what would surely become one of the year’s biggest legislative achievements — an overhaul of how doctors and other Medicare providers get paid. And the usual encrusted ideological positioning, at both ends of the political spectrum, is no longer the biggest obstacle.  

Instead, what’s standing in the way is a springtime functionality gap between the Capitol’s two wings. The House is on course Thursday to embrace something resembling a legislative unicorn: A bipartisan plan to restrain entitlement spending . Both Speaker John A. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claim pride of authorship in this modest breakthrough of a bill, and they’re basking in the expectation it will pass with the votes of most Republicans and most Democrats.  

Lessons for This Year in Voting Patterns of Last Year

McConnell's Senate Republicans rarely side with Obama's agenda, CQ vote studies reveal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Given that old adage, “You can’t tell where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been,” casting a close eye over last year’s congressional voting patterns is in order.  

Sure, that was an election year for a divided Capitol, while Republicans now run the whole show and their performance isn’t subject to formal assessment by the voters until next year. But still, members behaved in the second half of the 113th Congress in ways distinctive enough to create several storylines to watch throughout the 114th.  

Republican Opposition to Lynch Might Make History

How many Republican votes will Lynch get? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The most amazing thing about the Loretta Lynch story is that the congressional community no longer views it as amazing.  

Lynch is on course to be confirmed this month after the longest wait ever for a nominee to be attorney general — and very likely by the closest vote ever to put a new person in charge of the Justice Department. When Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that the Senate debate on the nomination would begin next week, it marked 17 weeks and three days since President Barack Obama announced his choice for one of the most prestigious and pivotal positions in his Cabinet. At the time, Lynch was assured the bare minimum level of public support required for victory. Only four Republicans have announced they’ll join the 46 members of the Democratic Caucus in voting for her, meaning that at least for the time being Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had best keep his March travel schedule a bit flexible.  

Mikulski Legacy Is Beyond Longevity

Mikulski, left, mentored new female senators such as Mary L Landrieu, seen here in the Capitol in 1996. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The most obvious distinction Barbara A. Mikulski will take into retirement is that she’s spent more time in Congress than any other woman, and that’s a record worthy of significant recognition. But, especially at a Capitol so deeply mired in dysfunction and partisanship, the meaning of her service is deeper than mere longevity.