For some time, the House has been called "dysfunctional" by critics on the right and the left. House hard-liners were largely responsible for the government shutdown. The speaker has undergone a series of ordeals, including the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the "fiscal cliff," because a significant segment of his caucus is unrealistic. But now the House is at least doing its job professionally.
To the dismay of liberals and right-wing immigration reform opponents, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promised that immigration reform was coming. The House already passed Iran sanctions, intelligence reauthorization and a variety of economic and energy bills, as Boehner's staff was delighted to point out. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is reportedly narrowing in on a budget deal with modest spending cuts and discrete trades for sequestration relief (allowing much-needed defense spending but no tax hikes). The back-benchers seem to have been tamed, if not charmed.
In fact, Boehner somehow managed to come through the shutdown fight in better standing with his caucus than when he went in. Intentional or not, his loose reins allowed the back-benchers to blow off steam and, frankly, embarrass themselves. Most of the caucus now seems ready for business.
The Senate, meanwhile, is a mess. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nev., pulled the trigger on the "nuclear option," which many liberals are already regretting and which will make it hard to do anything of note in that body. He has potentially transformed the political landscape, which probably will result in even rockier and more partisan politics in the year ahead. The Senate has yet to pass a defense reauthorization act. Iran sanctions will have to wait until December. The Senate's sole achievement is an immigration reform bill so large and cumbersome that even the president is amenable to breaking it up and following the House's demand for a series of separate bills.
And worst of all, Reid has bottled up Obamacare "fix" legislation, desperately needed by imperiled red-state Democrats trying to shield themselves from the health-care debacle. As seen in falling poll numbers for a number of Democrats up for reelection in 2014, Reid may be a year away from turning over the gavel to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and a band of aggrieved Republicans with every intention of using new filibuster rules to their advantage.
I have wondered for several months: What are the Democrats supposed to run on in 2014? Allowing entitlements to balloon? Blocking the Keystone pipeline? Obamacare?
Reid has helped make an excellent case for why the country would be better served by a GOP majority in the Senate.