“Describing Congress as dysfunctional seems unobjectionable, even clichéd. I’ve done it myself this summer. Yet as the current session enters its final months, the description feels off. The 117th Congress has been strikingly functional.
On a bipartisan basis, it has passed bills to build roads and other infrastructure; tighten gun safety; expand health care for veterans; protect victims of sexual misconduct; overhaul the Postal Service; support Ukraine’s war effort; and respond to China’s growing aggressiveness.
Just as important, the majority party (the Democrats) didn’t give a complete veto to the minority party. On a few major issues, Democrats decided that taking action was too important. They passed the most significant response to climate change in the country’s history. They also increased access to medical care for middle- and lower-income Americans and enacted programs that softened the blow from the pandemic.
Congress still has plenty of problems. It remains polarized on many issues. It has not figured out how to respond to the growing threats to American democracy. The House suffers from gerrymandering, and the Senate has a growing bias against residents of large states, who are disproportionately Black, Latino, Asian and young. The Senate can also struggle at the basic function of approving presidential nominees.
The current Congress has also passed at least one law that seems clearly flawed in retrospect: It appears to have spent too much money on pandemic stimulus last year, exacerbating inflation.
As regular readers know, though, this newsletter tries to avoid bad-news bias and cover both accomplishments and failures. Today, I want to focus on how Congress — a reliably unpopular institution — has managed to be more productive than almost anybody expected.
I’ll focus on four groups: Democratic congressional leaders; Republican lawmakers; progressive Democrats; and President Biden and his aides.”