Don’t look too closely quite yet, but there are some indications that Congress might soon be able to actually get some things done – and in a bipartisan manner, in an election year, no less. If you’re skeptical, that’s entirely reasonable – all of the areas where progress may actually get made could collapse at any time, with little or no warning. While that doesn’t seem to be a likely outcome at the moment, we’ve all seen it happen before with delicate negotiations, whether in Augusta or in Washington. It’s easy to forget now, but then-House Speaker John Boehner and then-President Barack Obama once nearly came to agreement over spending before Boehner’s own caucus foolishly torpedoed the whole thing. None of the current negotiations on various issues is nearly as sweeping as that deal could have been, but that may be exactly the reason that both sides are willing to work on them.

With the deadline for current government funding rapidly approaching, the two parties are making enough progress in spending talks that a costly government shutdown doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Even though the two sides haven’t reached agreement on a top-line number, let alone begun consideration of individual spending bills, they’re not walking away, either – they’ve agreed to a stopgap funding bill through mid-March to let talks continue. That might not seem like much, but it’s certainly progress, as is the general lack of unrealistic demands in the budget bill from the lunatic fringe of either party. Those may yet arrive, but leadership in both parties seems inclined to simply dismiss them this time around, allowing us to avoid another pointless government shutdown. Simply keeping the government open and operating might not seem like much of a victory, but these days it’s worth taking it as a win.

The two parties may also be able to reach agreement on another key issue: electoral reform. After the failure of the Democrats’ efforts to pass large, sweeping electoral changes failed in spectacular fashion, people began to notice that Sen. Susan Collins had been quietly working with a bipartisan group to enact changes to the Electoral Count Act, the federal law that governs the certification of Electoral College votes. In the immediate aftermath of the failure of their elections legislation, many liberals were understandably frustrated and dismissed these efforts to actually make some reasonable changes. In the weeks since, though, Collins’ efforts have only gained steam, with more senators joining the discussion and expressing optimism that a deal could be reached.

As with government funding, there aren’t a whole host of extremist ideologues eager to sink changes to the Electoral Count Act. That, too, may yet change, but as long as leadership from both parties remains open to it, fixing the flawed Electoral Count Act has real chance for passage. Even with the filibuster, a few lone wolves can’t single-handedly kill legislation if it enjoys wide bipartisan support.

Despite how Democrats like to portray them, Republicans are in fact willing to work across the aisle on areas where they can. It even seems that Republicans are ready to do some governing, with the midterms approaching and the political winds turning in their direction. They need to show ordinary Americans that they can be trusted to hold the reigns of power if they’re given the majority, while the Biden Administration is eagerly looking for a win of some kind.

If Republicans really want to step it up, they have a golden opportunity as Biden prepares to name Stephen Breyer’s replacement on the U.S. Supreme Court. If Biden’s nominee is well-vetted and well-qualified, there’s little reason for most Senate Republicans to oppose her: She’ll be replacing a fellow liberal, and it’s not a presidential election year, so there’s no point to slow-walking the confirmation. To be sure, Republicans need to do their own thorough examination of any nominee’s qualifications and decisions – that’s part of their constitutional responsibility. Even if most Senate Republicans won’t end up voting to confirm Biden’s nominee on ideological grounds, they needn’t throw up unnecessary roadblocks. Filling this seat is the perfect opportunity for both parties to dial back the tensions of recent nominations and prove that we can still have a thorough, sensible confirmation process that is neither rushed nor drawn out. It might not be a heavy lift, but accomplishing that would be a good signal from both parties that this country is still capable of good governance.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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