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Bipartisanship Breaks Out in DC        04/18 12:11

   On Iran, Medicare, education and trade, Republicans and Democrats have come 
together to make deals, and that's something rarely seen lately.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Suddenly, bipartisanship has broken out on Capitol Hill.

   On Iran, Medicare, education and trade, Republicans and Democrats have come 
together to make deals, and that's something rarely seen lately.

   "It's great," Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said after the Senate 
followed the House's lead this past week in overwhelmingly passing a bill 
overhauling the Medicare payment system for doctors. "There's just a huge 
pent-up demand to actually get something done, on both sides."

   The same day as the Medicare vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 
unanimously approved legislation empowering Congress to review and possibly 
reject an emerging Iran nuclear pact. Those breakthroughs were followed two 
days later by unanimous approval of a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind 
education law in the Senate's education committee, and the announcement of a 
long-sought bipartisan deal allowing President Barack Obama to negotiate trade 
accords for Congress' review.

   Congress-watchers are applauding.

   "Democracy had a pretty good week, and it's been a long time," said Jason 
Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

   But no one's declaring partisan bickering over, and the moment may not last 
long, especially as campaigning picks up ahead of next year's presidential and 
congressional elections.

   Indeed, even as lawmakers sealed deals on some issues, they were gridlocked 

   Obama, at a news conference Friday, highlighted the contradiction. He hailed 
"some outbreaks of bipartisanship and common sense in Congress" and then 
bemoaned the Senate's delay in approving his nominee for attorney general, 
federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch.

   "There are times where the dysfunction in the Senate just goes too far," 
Obama said. "Enough."

   Lynch may get a vote as soon as this coming week. Lawmakers seem to be close 
to a compromise on a human trafficking bill that has bogged down on a dispute 
over abortion, and Republican leaders had decided to put off the Lynch vote 
until the trafficking measure was resolved --- a linkage Democrats decried.

   That's the kind of partisan head-butting that often seems more common and is 
certain to continue in the months ahead in some areas, such as negotiations on 
a combined House-Senate budget. Republicans in the House and Senate celebrated 
passing balanced budgets last month, but the nonbinding blueprints were 
approved over the protests of Democrats and without their votes.

   House Democrats also lamented as Republicans passed a repeal of the estate 
tax this past week, though several other low-profile IRS bills won bipartisan 
approval. The new Congress got off to an ugly start when lawmakers came 
perilously close to partially shutting down the Department of Homeland Security 
because of Republican objections to Obama's executive actions limiting 
deportations for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally, though the final 
vote to fund the department was bipartisan

   Yet amid such familiar disputes, lawmakers have also found opportunities to 
get along.

   In addition to the bills advanced this past week, Democrats joined with 
Republicans earlier in the year to send Obama measures such as a bill 
authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the president vetoed, and one 
to extend a terrorism risk insurance program, which Obama signed.

   Grumet attributes the accomplishments in part to old-fashioned dealmaking 
and an institution-wide desire to claim some achievements.

   Republicans who took control of the Senate in January and increased their 
majority in the House say they have tried to allow Congress to function more 
openly, with more work done at the committee level and more chances for 
lawmakers of both parties to offer amendments.

   "We're getting the Senate up and running and back functioning again, and 
we're on the cusp of passing some very significant legislation on a bipartisan 
basis that we can put on the president's desk," Senate Majority Leader Mitch 
McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview.

   Democrats are reluctant to give too much credit to the GOP, noting that 
there were also bipartisan achievements under Democratic control, such as 
Senate passage of an immigration overhaul in 2013, although it died in the 
House. Some Democrats said the GOP, and Congress, are benefiting from low 
expectations after a period of partisan gridlock ahead of the 2014 midterm 

   "It's like we set the standard at the idea that there's never any 
bipartisanship, so now that there's some bipartisanship we're acting like it's 
the beginning of a big new era," said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate 
Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

   Congress' ability to deliver in a bipartisan fashion will be tested in the 
weeks ahead. Lawmakers face tough tasks in getting the education and trade 
bills to Obama. Also, there are deadlines ahead for action on the highway trust 
fund, the Export-Import bank, the nation's borrowing limit and the annual 
spending bills needed to fund the federal government.

   There is hope for legislation on cybersecurity, but scant expectations of 
major legislative achievements beyond the must-do items.

   Still, the recent bipartisan legislating has some people believing 
Republicans and Democrats do remember how to work together.

   "Without venturing a prediction, I have high hopes," said Sen. Tim Kaine, 
D-Va. "We've got a lot more work to do."


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