- - Tuesday, December 9, 2014


A quiet revolution is overtaking the U.S. Congress and only partly because of Republican gains in the midterm elections.

The change is this: Legislating has come back into fashion.

The job of Congress, of course, is to write laws. As everyone knows, lawmakers haven’t been doing much of that lately due to partisan divisiveness and an aversion to compromise.

On its face, the Republican takeover of the Senate and the larger GOP majority in the House next year should lead to more gridlock. After all, an ideologically driven Democrat still sits in the White House.

But that’s only part of the story. I’ve written here before that divided government often leads to competition between the parties and increased — not decreased — productivity. Tax and welfare reforms were enacted in the past when different parties controlled the branches of government.

This time around there’s another reason to hope that stalemate is ending. Congressional Democrats, especially those in the Senate, have decided to turn their backs on President Obama and his policies and are striking out on their own.

The liberation is cause for celebration for people who think Congress should legislate for a living.

During the last two years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has all but shut down his chamber because he didn’t want vulnerable Democrats up for reelection to take controversial votes. He also slavishly protected the president and his programs.

That’s ended now. Mr. Reid’s top aide and many other senior Democrats have made clear since the Democratic rout in November that working with the president isn’t a priority anymore. In fact, the more Mr. Obama wants something, the less inclined at least some Senate Democrats are to back him.

Such has been the fate of many presidents at the ends of their terms. The members of their own party turn on them along with a frustrated and impatient public.

But this is an even more emphatic rejection than usual. Mr. Obama is widely seen by members of his own party as the primary cause of their defeat during the midterm elections. His marginalization is a direct result of this transgression.

The silver lining is that the system might actually start to work again for a change. If Senate Democrats feel empowered to take positions that have nothing to do with partisanship or loyalty to the White House, all manner of legislation can move forward.

This has actually started to happen. Proof comes in the form of a massive spending bill now pending in Congress that does a lot more than just extend existing federal programs.

The so-called omnibus appropriations bill that Congress is poised to pass as early as this week is a throw back to the old days when lawmakers talked to each other about policy rather than at each other about politics.

Tiny improvements — or alterations — in hundreds of federal programs are sprinkled into the bill. No doubt a lot of the changes are parochial and self-serving. Newspapers will surely mine the bill for “special interest” provisions and hold them up for ridicule.

But politics is local. Politicians are supposed to try to help their constituents. The greater shortcoming in Congress in recent years was that no one was helping anyone from Washington. Large parts of the federal government were temporarily shut down because of this paralysis.

A shuttering of the federal government is no longer a tangible threat. Why? Because partisanship has diminished since President Obama’s views have become less of a factor in congressional debates. More lawmakers now think for themselves — and on behalf their constituents — and fealty to party is less important, as it should be.

The lame-duck session of Congress, which will soon conclude, will be a lot less dramatic than we’ve gotten used to, but it will also be more consequential. This ought to presage a more freewheeling and more productive 114th Congress starting next year.

Who knows, Congress might actually get back to work for a change.

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.

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