A New Republican Congress? Not Quite Yet

The current Congress still has some work left. 

With the Republicans' resounding victory yesterday, Washington is naturally turning its attention to the next Congress. Not so fast: The current one still has some work to do. There is a chance, in fact, that the last two months of the 113th Congress could be more productive than the first 22. They certainly can't be less.

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spent most of the year holding votes on bills and constitutional amendments that helped Democrats make headlines but had no chance of being adopted. Virtually anything that put party members in a difficult political position was tabled until after the election, including authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a Defense Department spending bill, authorization of military strikes in Syria, and the Marketplace Fairness Act, which allows states to collect sales taxes from online retailers that have no physical presence within the state. Each measure has bipartisan support and deserves passage this year.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders have spent the year throwing up roadblocks and playing a waiting game, betting that the election would enhance their power. They bet right. Yet there are some issues that Republican leaders would like to clear from their agenda before January -- and the federal budget may be one of them.

The government is funded only through mid-December, which means that Congress is almost certain to pass a budget extension before then. How long the extension should last is a matter of debate. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and the Tea Party caucus are seeking a short-term extension, which would allow them to begin cutting the budget in the spring. But Republican leaders, who remember the disastrous government shutdown that Cruz and his cohorts orchestrated a year ago, may be more inclined to pass a budget that runs through the remainder of the current fiscal year. Imagine that.

The last thing that Republicans should want is an immediate standoff with the White House over the budget. They need to show the American public that they are capable of governing responsibly. Better to pass a budget that runs through September 2015, giving Republicans the time they need to focus on their legislative agenda -- whatever it may be.

--Editors: Francis Barry, Michael Newman.

To contact the editor on this story:
David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net