We are so accustomed to seeing Senate Republicans filibuster and House Republicans bury legislation that is easy to be pessimistic, and easy to accept pessimistic predictions. But as I write today in The Week, I would urge you not to quickly embrace the early congressional obituaries that proclaim legislating to be over for 2014.
There are a number of live issues — including minimum wage, unemployment insurance, transportation infrastructure investment and immigration reform — that may need grassroots pressure to push Congress into action. That won’t happen if everyone thinks Congress is already closed for the season.
While it’s true that heavy legislating is not typical in election years, neither is it unprecedented.
Sometimes one party strategically retreats on an issue in order to prevent the other from using it as an electoral weapon; such as in 1996, when the Republican-controlled Congress helped clear a minimum wage increase, or in 2006 when Senate Democrats joined Republicans to fund an anti-immigrant border fence. It is not inconceivable Republicans could be pressured to do the same this year on the minimum wage or unemployment insurance.
Sometimes both parties spend a lot of time on a complicated issue that they know can only pass with bipartisan political cover, such as in 1986 when a tax reform compromise was enacted not too far from Election Day. Similar logic could propel immigration reform this year, once Republican incumbents get past any Tea Party primary challenges in the spring.
And some issues just have hard deadlines: the Highway Trust Fund is going to run out around September. Something will have to be done for incumbents in both parties to avoid any scorn for allowing unfinished road and bridge projects to halt right before Election Day.
There are a lot of opportunities still on the table this year. Succumbing to pessimism only ensures we will miss them.