Congress went home for the holidays crowing about its year-end show of bipartisanship. That’s how dysfunctional our federal government has become. Simply doing one’s job is hailed with hosannas.
That’s not to say the accomplishments were not significant. Congress passed spending and tax bills that keep the government funded through September, agreed on a five-year transportation bill after seven years of failure, and approved an education bill that reduces federal involvement in schooling. Each measure required bipartisan cooperation that sadly has become the exception, not the norm. Democrats and Republicans alike praised legislative victories at the cost of elements they deplored. That’s called compromise, which used to be an honorable process. We hope that tone continues into the new year, and does not turn out to be merely an aberration created by the honeymoon period granted new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. But there are ominous signs the mood will not last.
Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Barack Obama are tamping down expectations for 2016, an election year. McConnell says his agenda will be driven by what’s good for party candidates in key states. Ryan says 2016 will be “one heck of a contrast,” and already has taken comprehensive tax reform off the table until 2017. The parties might find common ground on overhauling the criminal justice system and reforming the nation’s mental health care system. But they can do better. The bar on bipartisanship needs to be raised, permanently, so that we don’t feel like celebrating just because Congress has not shut down the government.