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Judd Gregg: Progress in the Senate

Rarely has someone looked at what has been happening in Washington in the last few years and associated the term “progressive” with it.    

For four years, the Senate has been wandering around in a wilderness of stifled activity involving virtually no amendments being allowed on the floor or bills being taken up that might have put members of the Democratic majority at risk of casting controversial votes.  

The effect was a debilitating partisanship in the Congress and the subversion of the Senate’s role as a place of deliberation, amendments and legislative debate on substantive issues.  

{mosads}In the last three months, things have changed.  

Leadership has broken out. Bipartisanship is being tried. Amazingly, the Congress is governing.

There is progress.

Let’s begin by thanking a few people.

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) need to be near the top of the list.  

President Obama made it clear that he did not plan to pursue a bipartisan approach to dealing with one of our most critical international threats: the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. 

In fact, he was definitive. Not only did he not feel he needed bipartisan help, he felt he did not need Congressional involvement in a potential agreement with Iran. He could go it alone on this one, skipping a large part of the Constitution and its allocation of joint responsibility to Congress on issues such as this.

Fortunately, Corker stepped in. He set up a proposal for involving the Congress that, rather then being partisan, was a simple and direct recognition of the appropriate and important role of the Senate, especially in approving a major international agreement.  

His rational and constitutional approach brought in the support and assistance of numerous Democratic senators, most importantly Cardin. 

Cardin explained to the White House that the Congress could not be bypassed and that the Corker proposal was both reasonable and constitutionally appropriate. The White House agreed. The fact was they had no choice. They had no cards. They had overplayed their hand by trying to deal out the Congress on this critical issue of national security.  

The Congress showed it could govern.

Another two that deserve considerable praise for righting the ship of governance are Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). It is not easy to a pass a budget. No Congress has been able to do it for many years.  

It is, however, the responsibility of the Congress to have a budget. This is, after all, an almost $4 trillion activity we call the government of the United States. It is a little difficult to claim it is being managed even at the most elemental level of effectiveness if it has no budget to guide it and to live within.

Now it has one, or is on the verge of having one. It is a feat of considerable importance and reflects the adept leadership of a couple of quiet but relentless legislators in Enzi and Price. Once again, governing is breaking out.

But the biggest share of credit goes to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

He said he was going to bring the Senate back to its origins of being a place where big issues were debated and amendments were allowed; where votes were taken and results produced. And he has.

The list of accomplishments, after just a few months, is considerable. The Keystone pipeline, the Medicare “doc fix,” the trade adjustment authority, the Clay Hunt veterans’ bill and others have passed or are about to pass — all with strong bipartisan support.  

Over 100 amendments have been voted on in the first 100 days, which is about six times more than all the amendments voted on in the entirety of last year.

The most telling exercise of McConnell’s leadership was his ability to pass the human trafficking bill when it was confronted with political grandstanding and stalling by the minority.  

The episode was telling because the tactics used by the Democratic leadership to try and stop this bill were the same ones they used during their time in power. 

It was an attempt to stop the Senate from proceeding to legislate, to run out the clock and relegate the Senate to the status of a do-nothing bystander in the realm of legislative action. 

But this new Senate, which is returning to being the real Senate under McConnell’s leadership, did not allow that to happen. It was an elegant display of the art of governing by McConnell.

These actions are progress.

Together, their effect is truly refreshing. 

One can only hope that it continues, as there are certainly a great many opportunities for this Congress to get back into the game of making American government work.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.

Tags Ben Cardin Bob Corker Harry Reid Mike Enzi Mitch McConnell Senate Tom Price

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