April 12 (Bloomberg) — That sound you’re hearing may be the cracking of gridlock in Washington.
Bipartisan bills on three of the big issues of 2013 — the budget, immigration and guns — could pass Congress this spring. If the B.I.G. agenda goes through, the public will cheer, providing incentives for politicians to do more. It would also go some way toward rescuing our system from being the embarrassment it is now.
The key to getting anything done is the combination of an inside game (cutting deals behind closed doors) and an outside game (rallying supporters, running blistering ads).
This week, Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania showed Washington how to legislate on guns. Both have “A” grades from the National Rifle Association (Manchin was even shown firing a rifle in a 2010 campaign ad) but enough sense to know that requiring comprehensive background checks before gun purchases is an idea whose time has come. More than 90 percent of the public supports background checks; the NRA did, too, back in 1999.
The deal won the enthusiastic support of President Barack Obama and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News). It had the backing of enough conservatives to defeat an attempted filibuster; the Senate voted 68 to 31 to begin debate next week on a measure that would expand background checks to the 40 percent of gun sales that are unregulated.
The measure has a good chance of passage in the Senate. That would be a serious setback for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. When you threaten a filibuster and lose, the next threat is less potent, which means diminished power to obstruct down the road.
Pessimists say background checks will fail in the House, where the NRA has a near-stranglehold on the Republican majority. But that fails to account for the new order of battle. Supporters of background checks have put a couple of dozen swing district House members on notice: If you oppose this bill, winning your primary against a Republican extremist won’t mean much because you’ll be in deep trouble in the general election.
To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, nothing so concentrates the mind as the prospect of millions of dollars’ worth of ads featuring the parents of slain Newtown children denouncing you.
After the background-check bill becomes law, get ready for comprehensive immigration reform. It probably won’t face a filibuster or sustained opposition, even from the most right- wing Republicans.
That’s because elections have consequences. All Republicans now know that they must do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics or they will go the way of the Whig Party.
It helps that the national climate is favorable for reform. The fever of U.S. nativism spikes from time to time before subsiding. Right now, it happens to be in check.