Michael Woeste, woestemf@gmail.com

Congress began looking like Congress again these past few weeks, despite its pitfalls. Regardless, major progress could be seen not only on the gun debate, but on immigration and a budget. It was a style of legislating that has not been seen in some time within the halls of Congress. Something that was even more of a rarity, a sign of bipartisanship from Senators Joe Manchin (D- W. Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Furthermore, an observer of Congress can see movement with these policy initiatives going through the steps of putting these measures to a vote.

It has been a long winter for members of both Houses of Congress. It started with a hotly contested debate on the fiscal cliff in December, then came sequester and a filibuster in early March. Needless to say, such events did nothing to thaw relations between either house or its members. Perhaps the arrival of spring will bring upon the thaw needed to pass bipartisan versions of each major bill on the legislative agenda.

This spring has brought upon a broad set of legislative issues that members of Congress will have to make a choice on, and that choice will have a consequence. For now, the focus has been on the Senate’s vote on the Toomey-Manchin gun bill. The bill itself is a broad solution to strengthen background checks and overall purchasing of guns in this country. The broad bill opened the door for senators to take a stance on the issue and not lose bipartisan support for the bill on its face. 

Sadly, that was not the case. While many commentators chastise the United States Senate for their shortcomings on the gun bill vote, it was an uphill battle to begin with. The Toomey-Manchin bill was the equivalent of a political buffet, a lone plate waiting to be filled with many amendments provided by other members. Such a weak construction could not pass the Senate and was sure to meet its demise in the House. Despite the failure of the bill, its character of bipartisan support is what the country is looking for when pitching a domestic agenda. 

The same story can be said for the upcoming immigration bill being brought forth by the Senate’s Gang of 8. Bipartisan support for a broad policy initiative mirrors the same process as seen with the gun bill also originating in the Senate. A diverse company of legislators from different parties and demographics has the ability to push the smaller pockets of partisanship that may be apprehensive about passing immigration reform.  

These are promising signs of hope for movement on the legislation, but its passage through the Senate is a different story. Even more foreboding for the Toomey-Manchin bill is its ability to move through the House of Representatives. The amendment process in the Senate will only do more to make the bill more contentious than it already is. The more the bill is amended to make restrictions more specific, the harder it will be to at least pass the Senate. The same can be said of any controversial bill that is put forth to a chamber of Congress.

A bill in the House of Representatives is a very different conundrum. The opinions are more plural, and more partisan. There is also the issue of special interest and the consequences associated with a vote for or against the gun bill in the House. Voters and special interest have a much shorter interval to remember how a member of Congress voted on the bill, and therefore a shorter interval to amass forces against a member who voted against the interests of the status quo in the member’s district.

The Toomey-Manchin bill has an uphill battle against the parliamentary procedure of Congress. Even with President Obama climbing the Hill, and parents of Newtown victims lobbying members of the House and Senate. The political and emotional strength behind this initiative may be strongest that any piece of legislation has seen President Obama pushed Obamacare through a democratically controlled Congress. As President Obama will soon remember, Congress is designed to stop legislation.

Something that is worth noting is that the age of the domestic agenda has returned to the forefront of American politics. In the past decade, American politics has been focused on our view on the global stage, dealing with the defense of the country. Slowly the country has moved toward nation building at home as President Obama had promised during his most recent state of the union address. It is encouraging that the American people are pushing lawmakers to make the country better and safer than it was a decade ago.

This spring is the awakening for a legislative agenda that has been dormant through the log-jammed winter of economic partisanship. The time is upon the U.S. Congress to take control of a domestic agenda that can respect the process and opinion of democracy, while accomplishing goals that are paramount to the improvement of this country.