Much like a college student facing the deadline of exams, lawmakers in Congress are trying to stitch together a bipartisan end to what has been a rather partisan year of work in the House and Senate, as leaders look for deals on everything from the budget to a farm bill and a major defense policy measure.
For all the talk that hardly anything gets done in the Congress anymore, there was a little evidence to the contrary on Monday, as the Senate approved – without even taking a vote – a plan that extended a ban on plastic firearms for ten years.
“Weapons like this pose a threat to our security and personal safety,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).
About 90 minutes earlier, lawmakers from both parties gathered to announce a House-Senate deal on a major defense policy bill – legislation that hasn’t even made it through the U.S. Senate this year.
“We have a good bill here,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who has tangled with Senate Democrats over limits they have tried to place on floor amendments to the measure.
Instead of waiting until the Senate finally approves its version of the defense bill to start House-Senate talks, leaders of the defense committees in each chamber decided to pre-negotiate a “final” deal – hoping that the House and Senate will approve that in coming days.
In other words, the Congress can still get things done.
Behind the scenes, other work was seemingly moving forward on a major farm bill, that would include some savings in the food stamps program, despite opposition to that among Democrats.
It’s not clear a farm bill can get through the Congress this week, but leaders in both parties still hope to have a deal in hand when the House leaves town – or at least by the time lawmakers return in early January.
“Nothing is ever done until all the parts are in place and complete,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Also still in the works is a bipartisan deal on the budget; if the House is to vote on that by Friday, then that agreement will have to be made public in the next few days, though the details could well cause heartburn in both parties.
But even with some bipartisan opposition, there could be bipartisan support for a budget agreement, in part as a way to avoid a government shutdown in January.
On the other side of the coin, there were plenty of examples of the two parties going at each other tooth and nail as the House and Senate returned for a short pre-Christmas session, as tough talk boiled over the edge of the Congressional saucepan on nominations, the budget and much more.
Whether lawmakers can keep that part of their political psyche at bay long enough to shake hands on some bipartisan deals to wrap up 2013 – we should know in coming days.
What do they say about legislation and making sausage?