Suddenly it seems as if things are getting done on Capitol Hill.
Today, negotiators are expected to unveil a more than $1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year that should be easily passed by the end of the week. Later this month, a conference committee is expected to put the finishing touches on a long-delayed Farm Bill. And completion of those two big bills will come just a few weeks after Congress passed a bipartisan budget agreement with very little resistance.
But, after that flurry of legislative activity, will come, well, not much. That's it. Once the appropriations and farm bills pass, the era of big legislation -- at least for 2014 -- will be over.
There's nothing special to what happened in the last few weeks, because Congress needs to pass these three big bills in order to keep the government and the nation's agriculture sector running smoothly. The legislation is leftover unfinished business from 2013, anyway, so technically it's just getting done late and therefore, not the start of a trend.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) admitted last week to the difficulty facing lawmakers as they try to reach accord, telling reporters that "we have a very divided country. And as a result, we have a very divided Congress." He added: "We're in this era where, frankly, things are more partisan, things are more ideological. And what we have to do is we have to figure out, where is the common ground? That is the -- that's the key to what I try to do every day, where's the common ground? There's not as much as there used to be, I'll grant you that."
Yup. Of late, Democratic and Republican senators have tried reaching agreement on a plan to extend unemployment benefits for at least three more months. The issue is expected to come up for a key vote Monday evening in the Senate but there's no guarantee that it will advance. Leaders of the House and Senate tax-writing committees also unveiled a big trade promotion authority bill last week that they hope will earn serious consideration this year. (Spoiler alert: It probably won't.) And the GOP-controlled House will once again turn its attention this week to concerns with the Affordable Care Act and pass another bill designed to address concerns with the law. But the measure will be ignored by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Then there's immigration reform. Supporters continue hoping that the House will turn its attention to the subject once Republican congressional primaries conclude in several states in May and June. Members of both parties agree that it would be good to make progress on immigration because a majority of Americans want to see the issue addressed and because any attempt to pass legislation could demonstrate progress during an otherwise unproductive stretch of years for Congress. (It is also very much in Republicans' broader interests in 2016 to find a way to pass some sort of immigration legislation.)
But once again this year, the issue faces the risk of remaining unresolved for too long while fights on other subjects play out. In the coming weeks, the House and Senate are poised to fight over extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, revamping the health-care reform law and finding a way to raise the federal debt limit. By the time those fights are over, there likely will be little willingness to tackle immigration, especially with elections fast-approaching.
So anyone holding out hope for bipartisan cooperation and progress in Congress should enjoy the next few weeks, because pretty soon it'll be hard to come by.
Lawmakers are reserving judgement on Gov. Chris Christie (R).
Terry McAuliffe (D) was sworn in was Virginia's 72nd governor.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) defended the troubled Maryland health exchange.
Former Comptroller General David Walker (R) will explore a run for lieutenant governor of Connecticut.
Should former defense secretary Robert Gates have waited before releasing his memoir? Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) think so.
Embattled Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) is getting a new communications director.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) was mocked for eating pizza with utensils.
"Hillary's Hit List" -- Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Politico magazine
"Christie’s bridge scandal and the muddled search for a GOP nominee" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post
"Lobbyists poised for more profit declines, but also finding ways to keep business flowing" -- Holly Yeager, Washington Post