What Congressional Bipartisanship Wrought

Compromise stopped being a dirty word on Capitol Hill as Congress produced a bipartisan-backed budget, which may create momentum for additional legislative action.Fallout from the government shutdown last October is having wide ranging impact on the mood and actions of federal legislators in Washington, DC. The term compromise, a dirty word since 2010, has reemerged in the lexicon of American politics as both parties try to avoid lurching from crisis to crisis.

Washington DC, after all, is a town of self-interest and even the most novice political observer could see a continuance of governance by shutdown and showdown could jeopardize the GOP's control of the House and prevent a takeover of the Senate, which now is a distinct possibility in November elections.  

Thus, the GOP had every incentive to work with Democrats to craft a bipartisan compromise on the largest spending bill approved in years. Democrats also wanted government working again," as President Obama and the Democratic Senate seek to put forward a record of accomplishment before the 2014 election.

The second term off-year election is historically bad for the party controlling the White House. Democrats fear they could lose their slim five-seat majority in the Senate and even lose seats in the House. The prospect of a united Republican Congress in 2015 has plenty of Democrats losing sleep.

With these dynamics in the background, Congress cleared and the President signed last week the massive $1 trillion omnibus appropriations package that funds all aspects of the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year. The bill combines 12 appropriations measures that fund every domestic and defense discretionary department, program and function of the federal government.

While the measure is large, it continues the trend of reducing overall discretionary spending for the fourth year in a row and the longest streak of cuts since the Korean War.

Each agency receives fresh legislative language and direction from the Congress. This is the first time since 2009 that the government won't be running on autopilot. Passage of the bill represents a temporary return to "normalcy" that has been sorely missed. The wide-ranging bill is the culmination of the bipartisan compromise reached in December that reduced the impact of sequestration cuts for two years. 

The overwhelming broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate on the omnibus bill buoys hope that momentum will spill over into some other legislative initiatives that stalled in 2013. Some bills that could benefit from bipartisan goodwill include two that are stuck in conference – the Farm Bill and Water Resources Development Act (Water Infrastructure).

Congress also must deal with an expiring transportation reauthorization bill and a host of looming tax measures called the "tax extenders package," which expired at the end of 2013. There is even a remote chance that immigration and tax reform could gain momentum in the more compromise-friendly Congress.  However, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. 

With every huge bill that passes in DC, there are typically goodies and funding provisions tucked away for certain members of Congress and interest groups. While for the most part the bill doesn't contain many surprises and seems to be relatively clean, there are some noteworthy items in the $1 trillion omnibus appropriations package:  

Columbia River Crossing – Washington Senator Patty Murray secured $65 million in FTA New Starts funding, which the project would need to get underway should Oregon proceed with a plan to lead bridge replacement.  

Light Bulb Delay – Republicans included language to delay implementation of the ban on most incandescent light bulbs, which faced a final phase-out this year. The Republican-led provision will allow manufacturers to keep making the energy-inefficient but consumer-friendly products.

Congress Continues to Cut Its Own Budget – Despite the relaxing of sequestration cuts, Congress will reduce its personal office budget allotments in 2014. 

Transportation Infrastructure – The omnibus bill provides a $125 million increase to the TIGER transportation program.  TIGER is designed to fund transportation projects that have significant impact on the regional and national economy. This was a win for Democrats as Republicans have been trying to kill this stimulus program since its inception in 2009.

Modest Gun Control Provisions – Gun control advocates are pointing to increased funding for background checks and resources to states to train local police to respond to active shooter situations. The measure also includes $75 million in new funding for a "Comprehensive School Safety Initiative" that would be developed by the National Institute of Justice.  The FBI and CDC also have increased funding to deal with ways to prevent future school shootings.