How Congress Could Fail Its Annual Budget Test

Last year, GOP Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., celebrated their accomplishments, including the first budget resolution in six years. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

They completed just one time the biggest, and supposedly easiest, test of governing competence they’d set for themselves. Now the Republicans in charge of the Capitol are on the cusp of not even attempting a repeat performance.  

Their tacit decision to walk away from the normal budget process, even before it has started, became clear this week. It’s the strongest evidence yet of the fundamental challenge facing the GOP as it campaigns for continued control of Congress: The party’s internal ideological frictions remain stronger than its yearning to calm an angry electorate by restoring functionality to the legislative gears.  

No Role in Court Vote, But House Still Has Plenty to Say

Meadows, R-N.C., is one of many House members who have expressed support for Senate Republicans' approach to the Supreme Court vacancy. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

What if a single story dominated Congress for an entire election year, and four out of every five members had no formal avenue for getting involved?  

That’s not a rhetorical question now. With the Great Supreme Court Standoff entering its third week, one of the most politicized balance-of-powers showdowns of modern times is still supposed to remain entirely between the president and the Senate. As anyone with a passing grade in civics understands, the House of Representatives has no official role in the “advice and consent” part of the confirmation process.  

With Cancer Diagnosis, Senate’s Newest Work-Life Balance

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., will stay on the job during her treatment for breast cancer. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

During a decade in national politics, Claire McCaskill has been a trailblazer several times. In 2006, she was the first woman elected to the Senate from Missouri. In 2008, the first senator to back Barack Obama for president. In 2012, the biggest upset winner among the many Democratic incumbents challenged by tea party Republicans. And almost three years ago, the first in Congress to endorse Hillary Clinton well before she started this presidential campaign.  

This week McCaskill stood apart again, becoming the first senator to announce she has breast cancer.  

Unnoticed, Grassley Sets Record for Most Time Without a Missed Senate Vote

Grassley, center, has set a Senate record.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When you talk in political circles about an Iowa endurance test, a reference to the presidential caucuses looming in a dozen days is unmistakable. Use the phrase at the Capitol, though, and the meaning may point elsewhere.  

Obama Preps Last Prime Time Address to Congress

Once more with feeling. Obama is preparing his last State of the Union Address. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Perhaps the surest prediction about the next State of the Union Address is that it’s going to be the last speech afforded that lofty title for fully two years.  

The second reliable forecast is that on the night of Jan. 12, President Barack Obama will take a non-traditional approach to his final annual appearance before a joint session of Congress. The first of those expectations is borne of modern precedent; the second comes from the White House itself.  

The Tall (and Expensive) Tale of the Capitol Christmas Tree

The Capitol Christmas will light up on Wednesday. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

It may be an unstoppably powerful combination: The seemingly unbridled expansion of everything about “the holidays,” and the perception that even the most modest and benign government program will eventually spiral out of control.  

This is in no way a “bah, humbug” screed; the family has been making an annual pilgrimage to the West Lawn since the 1980s, and we’re eager to repeat the ritual again in the coming weeks. But just maybe there’s a cautionary tale woven into the history of the Capitol Christmas Tree. This year’s conifer is in place and ready for the traditional lighting ceremony, scheduled to begin 15 minutes after sunset Wednesday. The festivities are probably going to get more press coverage than normal, mainly because camera crews are eager to record Paul D. Ryan as master of ceremonies during one of his first iconic Washington set pieces since becoming speaker of the House.  

Bill Shuster Wants 'Like Father, Like Son' Moment

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When negotiators on the highway and mass transit bill formally convened Wednesday, it took only a few minutes for them to cut their first deal: Rep. Bill Shuster was named chairman of the conference committee.  

The decision further cements the Pennsylvania Republican’s standing as one of the most prominent legislators of the year — and it raises the stakes for his performance in the next few weeks.  

House Conservative Favorite Eyes Unusual Career Switch

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The path from the legislative to the executive branch is as well-worn as usual, with five senators and a former senator now hoping to succeed another onetime senator as president and 15 former members joining the Cabinets of the Obama and George Bush administrations.  

The route between the legislative and judicial branches, by contrast, is as weeded-over as it’s ever been. No one has gone from Congress to the federal bench in 30 years, and the last Supreme Court justice with any congressional experience retired in 1971.  

What the 2016 Calendar Says About Congress

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agree on at least one thing: a long August recess. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Decades of waiting on the arrival of the annual congressional calendar and then poring over the details affords Hill long-timers a nuanced appreciation of the myriad political calculations and logistical limitations that go in to setting the Capitol’s timetable for an entire year.  

Inside the stretches of legislating followed by the bursts of recess, the schedules for 2016  announced this week by the Republican top brass in the House and Senate offer some quirky rhythms and unexpected sequences that give insight into the hectic election year ahead. Here are five messages delivered by the new diary. Republicans aren’t anxious . In some election years, the majority sets a death-march timetable in hopes of showing voters just how doggedly lawmakers are working on the nation’s problems. Other times, Hill bosses adopt an opposing theory: The electorate isn’t expecting much from Congress, so the rank and file should be given as much time as possible to sell their singular worth in a broken institution.