This set the stage for this month’s moderate reversal of some of the sequester’s spending cuts. The deal was championed — despite Tea Party opposition — by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the avatar of the anti-spending right. Dozens of House Republicans who had voted for the shutdown in October to fend off primary challenges voted for the compromise in December to put perpetual budget crises behind them. When the roll was called, only 62 Republicans voted no.
Even as House Republicans were backing away from their far right, Senate Democrats struck a blow of their own against obstruction by ending the filibuster for presidential nominees, including most judges. It was another move away from near-total gridlock.
Curtailing the influence of the extreme wing of the Republican Party certainly did not make Congress productive. The real shame of 2013 lies in the failure of Congress to agree to even modest steps toward enhanced gun safety after the horror of Newtown.
The bottling-up of immigration reform in the House is the most obvious case of how internal forces in the GOP have prevented a congressional majority from working its will. The test of how much Republicans have freed themselves from the Tea Party’s sway will be whether Boehner decides next year to act on an issue he knows it’s in the interest of his party to deal with.
And there was unalloyed good news in the scrambling of both partisan and ideological lines in the debate over the government’s post-9/11 surveillance programs. The lack of clear party positioning makes reform more likely in 2014.
By the measure of Obama’s ambitious State of the Union address, this was a year disheartening enough to justify Julie Pace’s question. But on a longer view, 2013 could be remembered as the year when the far right began to weaken, the forces of obstruction began to recede, and the country began moving toward at least the possibility of constructive government.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EJDionne
AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski