Lawmakers understand why Congress hit new lows in public approval this year.
Elk Grove Democrat Congressman Ami Bera arrived in Washington with hopes of reaching consensus in his first year.
“Let’s say it’s been a surprising year,” said Bera. "I wish I could sit here, and say things aren’t as dysfunctional as they look like from the outside, but this has been a pretty dysfunctional year.”
Dysfunction is one way to put it. Fairfield Democrat Congressman John Garamendi has another.
"This Congress gets an 'F,' said Garamendi.
The parties mostly agree this was a bad year in Washington. But in a sign of how deeply Congress is divided Northern California lawmakers can’t even agree on the low mark for the 113th Congress.
Republicans said the flawed rollout of the health law, but Garamendi suggested the 16-day government shutdown.
“There were lessons learned this year, lessons learned by the Republicans," said Garamendi. "You shut down the government you pay a big political price, and they did.”
While polls show voters blame the GOP for the shutdown, Granite Bay Republican Congressman Tom McClintock blames Democrats. He said they should have negotiated on the Republican demand that the healthcare law be delayed for a year before the government could be funded.
“The only way that anything can happen is for them to come together at the end, isolate their differences, and resolve those differences through negotiation, and compromise," said McClintock. "That is what the Senate refused to do and why the government ultimately shut down."
The Senate did pass some divisive issues. Nearly 70 lawmakers from both parties approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Another bipartisan coalition passed legislation prohibiting sexual or gender based discrimination.
Bera noted both of those measures have sat untouched in the Republican-controlled House.
“Well, that’s the dysfunction, right? So it does look like the Senate is finding ways to agree to compromise and so forth," said Bera. "What we have to do is get Senate leadership and House leadership really talking.”
This Congress is now being labeled the least productive in history.
But Richvale Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Some of us look at the less legislation maybe the better because we just don’t need more bills just for the sake of passing bills and have that be our grade point average," said LaMalfa. "What’s the quality of legislation you are doing or what are you undoing that’s causing people problems now?”
While senators came together on some big issues, all wasn’t rosy in the upper chamber. California’s two Democratic senators helped their party change the long standing filibuster rule.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the change was an important one.
“There are literally dozens of appointments that just languish,” said Feinstein.
Republicans argue lowering the voting threshold needed to confirm appointees and judges will lead to a more polarized Washington if the GOP wins back the White House.
Feinstein resisted the change until the end, but she says the administration was being weakened by Republican filibusters.
“And I believe very strongly that a president is entitled to have his cabinet, his subcabinet, his judgeships, his commissions, the heads of departments, etc., voted on in a reasonable period of time,” said Feinstein. “Either vote them up, or vote them down.”
Washington was not all gridlock in 2013. While some prominent California Democrats supported the president’s request to use military force in Syria, the vast majority were skeptical. Congress forced the administration to wait and officials eventually used diplomacy to take control of the regime’s chemical weapons.
McClintock said that was a highlight of the year for a divided legislative branch.
“And it was Republicans and Democrats both standing up, and saying you can’t do this, that I think ultimately stopped the president from plunging this county into a ruinous, and unconstitutional war in Syria,” said McClintock.
Lawmakers do not return to Washington until January, which marks the beginning of an election year.
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