As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote, we’ve seen the confirmation of Loretta Lynch (we’re not discussing whether it was a good or bad thing), the passage of a Medicare doc fix, a human trafficking bill, and fast-track authority on the Trans-Pacific trade deal, which has President Obama fighting among his fellow Democrats.
Congress is working somewhat again–and the reason seems to be because Harry Reid was toppled as Senate Majority Leader or at least that’s what Republicans on Capitol Hill told Cillizza:
I also asked a handful of longtime Republican congressional hands to explain the sudden unfreezing. The name that kept coming up in those conversations was Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
"I think there was a significant pent-up desire on both sides to return to legislating," said Billy Piper, a former top aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell and now a GOP lobbyist. "These guys don't work so hard to win elections to just come up here and be potted plants. They want to accomplish things, and the last several years they have been prevented by Leader Reid from even trying."
Added another smart Republican mind: "Following the collapse of the Grand Bargain talks in the summer of 2011, Reid essentially shut down the Senate (presumably at President Obama’s request) until after the presidential election. . . . Now, McConnell is making the Senate work again, and President Obama (in the final quarter of his presidency) would like some sort of second-term legacy. So things are moving."
It's not just Republicans who are blaming Reid. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who announced this week that he will seek reelection in 2016 rather than run for governor, took a shot at Reid's tenure as leader, too. “His leadership and the things he thought would work did not," Manchin said on "Morning Joe." "So with that, you just move on.”
For the record, not all Democrats -- or even most -- blame Reid. Democrats generally insist that the reason things have begun to work better is because their side isn't willing to block legislation the same way Republicans did when they served in the Senate minority.
My sense is that it's a combination of these factors. Yes, it is true that McConnell has opened up the amendment process in the Senate, allowing more voices to be heard and members -- Republicans and Democrats -- to feel as though they are a bigger part of the process.
Vox’s Jonathan Allen, formerly of Bloomberg, wrote that there could be a “bipartisan consensus” on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind and a bill that taxes foreign earnings of corporations to finance a new infrastructure bill. Yet, Allen also noted that the thaw in the Senate since Reid was booted from the Majority Leader slot:
The biggest change is in the Senate, where McConnell's intransigence and Harry Reid’s hammerlock on the floor schedule over the past four years frustrated lawmakers in both parties. Reid didn't want Republicans to force Democrats into tough votes before the last election. The amendment process was cut off. Nothing moved. Now McConnell has opened up the floor, and that’s encouraging Republicans and Democrats to cobble together coalitions both in committee and on floor amendments.
"One of the side benefits of all the floor time is that members have more time to talk while they’re down there, and so things just start happening," said a senior GOP aide. "Budget votes ran into 4 am a few Thursdays back. McConnell fed both sides and their staffs out of his office. Stuff like that just leads to more things happening legislatively."
Yet, this can always change in a heartbeat. Case in point, the overwhelmingly bipartisan human trafficking bill that just passed hit a nasty partisan bump when Democrats pathetically tried to accuse Republicans of sneaking in Hyde Amendment language. This led to Republicans tying the passage of the trafficking bill to the Loretta Lynch Attorney General confirmation vote. Now, both cases have been resolved, but it gridlock could happen again.
At the same time, gridlock isn’t universally bad. As George Will has said repeatedly, gridlock isn’t an American problem; gridlock is an American achievement” to which he then lists the mechanisms of government (veto, veto override, supermajorities, and judicial review) that are meant to slow the pace of government.
Yet, I think we can all agree that Harry Reid not being Senate Majority Leader is quite refreshing.