After last night’s failure in the House on a continuing resolution, Congress is eight days from a government shutdown with no clear avenue on how to resolve the impasse. It led one senator to share an interesting perspective with Ezra Klein.
Last night, during an interview with a senator on another topic, the news of the stopgap’s failure came over the transom. “This is what it’s like now,” said the suddenly tired-sounding legislator. “The new definition of success around here is just keeping the lights on.”
That’s a good line. It’s also true.
After the 2010 midterms, a handful of exceedingly optimistic pundits thought congressional Republicans would work constructively on actual policymaking in this Congress. For all the disagreements between the parties, these optimists imagined possible deals on issues like immigration and energy policy.
But nearly nine months into this Congress, those optimists look pretty silly. We’ve reached the point where everyone is quite impressed when Washington manages, after painful disputes that seem to drag on endlessly, to somehow keep the lights on. Passing meaningful legislation is a pipe dream, if not literally laughable.
At this point, the political world is relieved when federal policymakers struggle to just barely complete the most basic tasks. We’ve set the bar for success so low, avoiding shutdowns is somehow deemed an accomplishment.
Also note, this isn’t going to get better — as the election season draws closer, it’s going to get worse. And so long as congressional Republicans remain radicalized, there’s no reason to think conditions will improve after this Congress, either.
The public didn’t recognize or appreciate it, but 2009 and 2010 were pretty extraordinary for getting stuff done in Washington, despite Republican efforts to break the Senate. We won’t see a period of productivity like that again for a very long time.
Worst of all, this is what Americans said they wanted when they voted last year.