Washington will be back in full swing next week when President Barack Obama and the Congress return. However, a large portion of their constituents is highly skeptical of our elected officials’ ability to govern. A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that around half the respondents thought that the government needs major modifications or a total reformation. Only five percent thought that government is fine as is. By comparison, 45 percent expressed confidence in state government and 54 percent said the same for local government. About half of the respondents said the government should do less, while 48 percent said it should do more.
There is no shortage of explanations for why Washington is unable to govern effectively, and Jonah Goldberg of the conservative flagship publication National Review has offered his own explanations for polarization. Both conservatives and liberals, he argues, have created myths for themselves that make governing in a society with very different ideas all the more difficult. Liberals, he says, should rethink their idea that they are brave flouters of convention. On the other hand, conservatives should not be “too quick to assume everyone thinks like them”.
Although the parties might not trust each other and the people might distrust both, one man might fare reasonably well in the new year: Speaker of the House John Boehner. National Journal’s Tim Alberta recently published an article examining the Speaker’s growth in power during 2013. Last year started with the Speaker being challenged in an attempt to ouster him as leader, but by December, he had, to a large degree, won the respect and admiration of those who had opposed him. Through a shrewd plan of reaching out to rebel Republicans; keeping his word to his party members; and standing by them in trying to achieve their priorities, but also knowing how to legislate with a Democratic Senate and White House, Boehner showed that he is still the man of the House.
As always, the new year will be busy, but since the midterm elections are coming up, Members of Congress will have additional activities to worry about. It is probable that the Republicans will keep the House and possible that they will win a majority in the Senate. It’s hard to predict the outcome with any certainty, but as we draw closer to Election Day, a number of events along the way will help. Politico has a list of dates to watch.
One of the most consequential stories of last year was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to use the nuclear option to change the rules and lower the threshold for a successful cloture vote to cut off debate on most nominations for the courts and the Executive Branch. That gambit was newsworthy in and of itself, but it also made it easier for the Senate to break the record for the highest number of cloture votes in a Congress. They haven’t done it yet, but they have already surpassed the halfway mark halfway through this Congress. The current record is 112 cloture votes, which took place during the 110th Congress, and there have been 64 cloture votes during this Congress, the 113th. Cloture votes are used to end filibusters, but, as Roll Call Senate rules guru points out, “the filibuster is in the eye of the beholder”.
And for our latest blog post: Flattening the Rules: The Implications of the Senate’s Nuclear Option