With everything else going on this week, a lot of people probably didn't notice that yesterday Congress finally passed an extension of the transportation funding bill, that will authorize over $120 billion for much-needed highway construction projects and repairs; as well as an extension of a measure to subsidize student loans. The bill passed only after months of theatrics and debate, and only when highway funding authority was about to expire, and when student loan rates were set to double, both of which would have happened this weekend without Congressional action.
Yet when the bill was finally brought up for a vote, the vote in the House was 373 in favor to 52 opposed. In the Senate it was 74 to 19. Let's ponder those numbers for a moment. Obviously, this is stuff that is absolutely non-controversial. It is stuff that everybody wants. Yet it took a gigantic struggle to get to the floor a bill that had overwhelming popular and legislative support, and the bill did not pass until the eleventh hour. Why? Because members of Congress wanted to use this bill as leverage to force action on items that do not have overwhelming popular support, such as the Keystone pipeline.
Can Congress learn to stop doing that? If someone in either party introduces a bill in favor of apple pie, can Congress just pass it, and pat themselves on the back for being able to agree that we all like apple pie, instead of turning it into a titanic battle? The legislative process doesn't need to be so hard. If Congress would just get the things done that we pretty much all agree need to get done, without quite so much drama, there is a chance that public favorability rating of Congress, which is currently around 17%, might actually increase a bit.