Needs more work.

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A Year-End Review for Congress: Nice Start

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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I jab at the majority Republicans in Congress when they don’t do their job, so I should give them credit when they do.

A five-year highway bill has been sent to the president. That’s something Republican Congresses since the 1990s (and the Democratic ones in 2007-2010) have found difficult to do. My View colleague Barry Ritholtz makes a reasonable argument against the way the bill is funded, but I agree with Kevin Drum of Mother Jones on this one: Muddling through is good enough.

Up next is an education bill. Legislators have had revising or replacing No Child Left Behind on their to-do list for years. This Congress is getting it done, with just a final Senate vote remaining.

In both cases, Republicans in the House and Senate demonstrated the ability to compromise and cut deals to get much of what they wanted, even if it wasn’t everything they hoped for.

There was also the agreement reached earlier on raising the debt limit and funding the government for the next two years. Now all they have to do is pass full-year appropriations to keep the government running before a shutdown deadline on Dec. 13.

If only the rest of this Congress's record was as solid.

The continued backlog in the Senate on dealing with Barack Obama’s judicial and executive-branch nominations continues to be a disgrace and a significant failure of competent government.

Another problem is the lack of tough and constructive oversight of government. Instead, we have plenty of partisan "investigations," whether it’s the Select Committee on Benghazi or the new Planned Parenthood committee or Representative Lamar Smith’s efforts to harass scientists.

Nor has Congress done its job on foreign affairs. It has still failed to pass any authorization for the war on Islamic State (or, alternatively, to forbid that war).

And this list includes only the tasks already on the legislators' agenda, whether they wanted them there or not.

When it comes to taking on new challenges, the record is dismal. Whether it’s climate change or mass shootings or health care or economic growth or immigration or other important challenges the nation faces, this Congress has either ignored them or offered only conservative platitudes, without any real effort, let alone legislation, to address them.

Still, something is better than nothing. So good for Republicans for ending this congressional session on something of a positive note. Let's hope they resolve to improve their record next year. 

  1. I'm not making a judgment on whether the legislation itself is good. But the authorization for some programs was expiring, giving Congress a job to do; in these two cases, they did that job. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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