The end of the long government shutdown cleared the way for the House and Senate to begin advancing big legislative priorities, but now, lawmakers are facing the unavoidable gridlock that comes with divided government. The stalemate began Tuesday, when the GOP-led Senate and the Democratic-run House rejected each other's top legislative priorities for the new year.
House Democratic leaders struck first, announcing they would not take up S. 1, a pro-Israel, Middle East security bill that Republicans in the Senate deem critical, and which they plan to pass as soon as this week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters the measure would be referred to committee, not to the House floor for consideration. Hoyer said he does not back a key component of the legislation aimed at allowing states to ban business with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, or BDS.
“I think there is clearly a question of drawing the line on free speech,” Hoyer said, “And on actions to hurt an ally of the United States. That’s an important distinction, and I'm not sure the legislation drew that distinction properly."
Hours later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared House bill H.R. 1, which is aimed at reforming campaign finance and voting laws and represents a top priority for House Democrats, dead on arrival in the Senate.
“This sprawling, comprehensive proposal is basically the far left’s entire Christmas wish list where our nation’s political process is concerned,” McConnell said.
The political divide between the House and Senate likely guarantees top party priorities will die in their respective chambers.
That means Senate Majority Whip John Thune’s new bill repealing the federal estate tax stands no chance of becoming law, nor does Democrat John Larson’s bill increasing Social Security benefits or Democrat Mike Thompson’s measure to expand gun background checks. Lawmakers have no choice but to work together on “must pass” spending bills, like the Department of Homeland Security bill they are currently negotiating. Disagreement over border security funding caused a 35-day government shutdown that ended on Friday, and lawmakers in both parties are eager to avoid a repeat.
That's why lawmakers in both parties are optimistic that the partisanship will not ruin the negotiations, even as they fight over other less-pressing legislation.
“Democrats think they were winning politically on the government shutdown,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., referring to the polls blaming President Trump for the impasse. “But it’s a pox on both our houses when that happens. They want to avoid that as well.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the Republican Conference chairman, predicted the two chambers should at least be able to work together on one priority: an infrastructure bill. But even that isn't certain. Barrasso is chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, which will play a key role authoring infrastructure legislation and will have to do so in conjunction with the House Transportation Committee, chaired by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.“I want to work together with the House,” Barrasso said. “We need to do surface transportation, roads and bridges. That needs to happen in this session of Congress. I’m going to work with the chairman of the House committee on ways to do that.”