In my youth I worked on Capitol Hill running a House and Senate office. It gave me an inside view of how Congress operates, and one of the secrets is that Congress can move with remarkable speed if they want. While we all know about the filibuster, partisan deadlock, and short work weeks, the potential national rail strike posed a genuine risk to the economy and Washington responded in three days – yes, three days!
On Tuesday of this week the President called the bipartisan leadership to the White House to urge action. President Biden as a Senator was strongly pro-labor and would likely not have supported a bill that faced union opposition. However, 8 of the 12 rail labor unions had approved the deal that had in fact been negotiated by the President’s Secretaries of Labor and Transportation.
After the Tuesday White House meeting, on Wednesday the House considered legislation imposing the labor deal on the industry, and in the very partisan House the bipartisan vote on approval was 290 to 137. The next day, Thursday, the bill went to the Senate for action. There was no filibuster but an agreement that the bill would need 60 votes. It passed on a vote of 80 to 15. President Biden signed the bill this morning.
When I talk to students and others about DC, I often mention that the political spectrum between left and right can often be more a circle than a line with both sides meeting on the circle. The rail vote was such an example. Of the 15 NO votes, two came from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and two came from Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.
The next major deadline for Washington is December 16 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires. The CR is the funding bill that keeps the government open if Congress is unable to pass a spending plan for the new fiscal year that began on October 1st. At the White House meeting that focused on the rail legislation, the leaders and the President also discussed the budget, and there was a consensus that Congress should try to pass a so-called Omnibus Spending Bill to fund the government through the current fiscal year, but that will be heavy lift. The good news is that the rail legislation showed what Congress can do when they want to act.