WASHINGTON (AP) — A budget agreement between key Republicans and Democrats. Even President Barack Obama was on board. All without anyone threatening to repeal this or shut down that.
Gridlock, however briefly, took an early holiday in the bitterly polarized, Republican-run House.
But across the Capitol, the high-minded Senate remained in the grip of some of the worst partisan warfare in its history after majority Democrats curbed the Republicans' power. A round-the-clock talkathon is the result, putting no one in the mood for cooperation. Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to shorten the Senate's cherished Christmas vacation if need be.
A Republican called his bluff. "What's new about that? What's even threatening about that?" challenged Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
Traditionally effective prods to action are often less so in the divided, crisis-managed Congress. Lawmakers have lurched from sequester to shutdown over spending, national health care and more in the three years since Republicans won control of the House with a sizable group of newcomers reluctant to compromise. Their approach proved costly — to the nation's credit rating, to Congress' standing among voters and to the GOP, which took the brunt of public blame for the partial government shutdown in October.
The scene has been no better in the Senate. What remained of that chamber's deliberative nature blew apart last month when majority Democrats, citing GOP obstructionism, curtailed the Republicans' power to block some presidential nominees. Republicans have tried this week to do what they can to protest, but Reid's slate of 11 nominations didn't appear in peril. Early Thursday morning, the Senate approved the first of those, voting 51-44 to confirm Cornelia "Nina" Pillard to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
President Barack Obama praised the confirmation of Pillard, the second judge seated on the D.C. Circuit this week, noting that Pillard would give the court five active female judges for the first time.