Does Washington Have Anywhere to Go But Up?

Could things in Washington actually get dire enough to force politicians to work together?

Capitol Hill veteran G. William Hoagland thinks so. When I talked with him for the AARP Bulletin, he made the case that with so many crucial deadlines coming up, lawmakers will need to find a new/old way of doing business - namely, putting their partisan differences aside and working together to get things done. Hoagland, a senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, sees a deal-making possibility in the confluence of yet more deadlines. The nation's temporary budget runs out in March. The debt ceiling will need to be raised again in a few months. And now across-the-board spending cuts that took us to the edge of the fiscal cliff are on hold for less time than the cherry blossom buds.

Hoagland sees parallels to the Clinton-era bipartisan budget deal of 1997, which led directly to balanced budgets from 1998 to 2001. A second-term president is leading the way without worrying about running for reelection, the nation is fed up after the impasse of a year ago and the two parties have outside pressures to make a deal.

"They're all thinking we have to do something," Hoagland says.

Of course, getting more done than the last Congress shouldn't be all that difficult, judging from statistics parsed by the Washington Post's Ezra Klein .

The number of laws passed by the 112th Congress that finished up this week - 2002 - was the lowest in recorded history.

"What's the record of the 112th Congress?" Klein asks. "Well, it almost shut down the government and almost breached the debt ceiling. It almost went over the fiscal cliff (which it had designed in the first place). It cut a trillion dollars of discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act and scheduled another trillion in spending cuts through an automatic sequester, which everyone agrees is terrible policy. It achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything. It's hard to identify a single significant problem that existed prior to the 112th Congress that was in any way improved by its two years of rule."

But, hey, it got members of both parties to agree on something. The session ended this week amid rancorous bipartisan criticism from lawmakers in Northeastern states about what Congress didn't do: pass relief for Hurricane Sandy victims.

That's not exactly the kind of bipartisan accord Hoagland has in mind.

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