Cooler Heads Prevail in Filibuster Fight

Members of Congress know they can’t afford more dysfunction.

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(Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Leaders have already decided that separating food stamps and farm commodity programs into two different bills would give the legislation a better chance to become law.

Yesterday, the Senate backed away from exercising the "nuclear option." Republicans agreed to remove their filibuster threats on a handful of President Obama's executive branch nominees and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to not procedurally alter the Senate's filibuster rules. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein pointed out, "This [not filibustering executive branch nominees] will be the new normal."

A new normal? Seriously? Seriously.

While Frank James is spot on in arguing that senators fear their chamber "becoming the House" and Congress becoming more "dysfunctional," there's more to each side's electoral calculation than experience with the vicissitudes of majority control.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

The "all hands on deck" meeting of senators to avert the "nuclear" option, the public querying on the best strategy for the bipartisan House group to present its comprehensive immigration reform proposal and the comments last week by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., "urging" Republicans to pass immigration reform suggest one thing: members of Congress know they're on thin ice with the public.

They get it. Americans aren't happy with either congressional party, the president or the ways in which the government is handling most of its duties. No one's hands are clean and most Americans are simply disgusted.

What they also get is that how the 2016 presidential race plays out has something to do with their behavior now. Both sides know that they need to rebuild trust with the voters after years of slash-and-burn partisanship.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should The Filibuster Be Overhauled?]

For while House Republicans are confident of retaining the majority in the 2014 midterm, they also know that since the House is the only branch currently under Republican control, they're the public face of the Republican Party. Said another way, they know that if they don't proceed thoughtfully, they could foster another Akin-type destruction of the party's brand and ruin a Republican's chances to take the White House in 2016.  

Across the Capitol and the aisle, Senate Democrats know that they only have a fifty-fifty chance of retaining the majority in 2014. They know that if they manage to do so, it'll not only be a huge boost for the party, but it will also allow them to credibly argue that 2016 is going to be another Democratic year.

Is partisan gridlock and fierce polarization gone for good? Not a chance. Still, Washington's latest heat wave has inspired cooler heads inside the Beltway than we've seen in a long time.

  • Read Penny Lee: House Republicans Fumble Food Stamps and the Farm Bill
  • Read Jamie Chandler: Trayvon Martin, Richard Cohen and How Racial Stereotypes Damage Democracy
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