WASHINGTON — At the top of the House agenda this week is the expected approval of a bill to address the problems of those people whose health insurance is being canceled in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.
After approval in the House, the bill will go to the Senate, where, if recent patterns hold true, nothing will happen.
Last week when the Senate, with much fanfare, passed legislation to ensure federal workplace protections for gay and transgender employees, there was almost no expectation that it would get a House hearing.
This is Washington gridlock as pantomime – frenetic gestures and dramatic poses that quickly fade away to nothing.
There are dozens of such bills sitting in congressional limbo, passed by one chamber but not the other – and allowing both the House and the Senate to indulge the pleasant illusion that they are being productive.
Some of the bills are the victims of ordinary congressional gridlock. But others are doomed from their very beginnings, conceived not as serious legislation but simply as political instruments intended only to stoke the passions of base voters.
With the gridlock worse than ever and the 2014 midterm elections less than a year away, that category is expected to grow.
Leaders of the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate have been accusing the other chamber of ignoring public opinion and impeding the nation’s progress.
“Speaker Boehner, please, please do what is right for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., implored last week after the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, does not plan to hold a vote. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called him a prison boss.
But complaints from Senate Democrats about legislation ignored by the House ring hollow on the other side of the Capitol, where Republicans have passed even more bills that have been dismissed by the Senate.
In the Senate, leaders have done slow, painstaking work this year to gather bipartisan support behind a few broad bills. The idea, it appears, has been to present the House with a vetted compromise on subjects such as immigration – one that already has obtained at least some Republican support in the Senate.
That strategy ignores the dynamics of the House Republican Conference, where the split between the most conservative members and the others makes consensus difficult on almost any issue. So these “bipartisan” Senate bills sit.
Besides ENDA, the Senate has passed at least 26 measures that are stuck in limbo. The most prominent of those is the sweeping immigration measure that the Senate passed in June with 54 Democrats and 14 Republicans voting “yea.”
In the House, however, that bill’s prospects are unclear. Last month, Boehner said he was hopeful that immigration – the issue, not the specific Senate bill – could be tackled this year. But days later, Boehner’s aides said that immigration legislation will have to wait until the next short-term spending plan is approved in January.
But at least one House bill is expected to win Senate approval and garner the president’s signature. The measure gives the FDA more power to regulate how medicine is shipped. It is in response to the outbreak of fungal meningitis that killed more than 50 people last year.