In the House, Speaker Boehner has three times already this year violated the so-called Hastert rule to allow legislation that a majority of his caucus does not support to come to the floor--the "fiscal cliff" deal, Hurricane Sandy relief, and the Violence Against Women Act. That has allowed enough moderate Republican support for these measures to win passage. There are enough Republicans now in the House who either do not support the more radical elements in their party, or are fearful of their own re-election in swing districts to comprise a working majority with Democrats to support a lot of legislation. Even the failure to reach an agreement to avert the sequester cuts, which makes Congress as a whole look bad, could open the door to a more sensible agreement.
In the Senate, President Obama treated a dozen Republican Senators to dinner out last night, a gesture they said was much appreciated. That's another indication of a willingness to engage in dialogue, and opens the door to enough Republican Senators to allow votes to take place on important legislation. Even Rand Paul's marathon old-fashioned filibuster yesterday can be seen as a hopeful sign. Senator Paul demonstrated how filibusters should be done--by taking the floor for as long as humanly possible to make a stand over a matter of principle. A far cry from the invisible filibusters the Republicans have been practicing the last few years, where they require a 60 vote majority to allow nearly every piece of legislation, and many presidential appointments, to come to the floor. Paul's stunt could help shame the Republican minority into using the invisible sort of filibuster more sparingly.
The lessons for Republicans: Stand up and make noise when you feel strongly about an issue. Propose alternatives and amendments that are likely to have a lot of support. And bide your time until the public grows tired of the majority party and gives you a chance to govern. But stop obstructing and delaying in a way that prevents anything from getting done. That strategy only made sense to try to prevent President Obama from obtaining a second term. But now that it has failed, it is time for the Republican party to start acting more like a traditional minority.
These lessons will not be heeded by the majority of Republican members of Congress, because it's not in their political interest to do so. But fewer than 20 Republican votes are needed in the House, and only about 5 in the Senate, to allow Congress to move forward and do its job. Ignore the noise, and start counting the increasing number of times that those votes will be there.