"Good news, frustrated American citizens! Congress is not a clogged up, hidebound legislative slug after all," says Gail Collins at The New York Times. On Wednesday, the Senate passed a $109 billion transportation bill that lawmakers claim will save or create nearly three million jobs. Last week, the House passed a more modest measure — known as the JOBS Act — intended to help small businesses. Both bills passed with strong bipartisan support, and coming after years of exhausting, relentless bickering, observers say something new is afoot on Capitol Hill. Here, a guide to the sudden friendship between Republicans and Democrats:
What exactly will these bills do?
The transportation measure is a big one. It extends funding for dozens of infrastructure projects that are scheduled to run out of money on March 31. Without an extension, thousands of construction workers would likely be laid off. The JOBS act — which stands for Jumpstart Our Business Startups — focuses on small businesses. Among other measures, it temporarily removes regulations for startup companies to go public, and gives entrepreneurs greater access to "crowdfunding," or pools of small investors.
And the two parties are cooperating?
Yes, and celebrating the fact. "This was a bill that brought us together, and Lord knows, it's hard to find moments when we can come together," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the sponsors of the transportation bill. Upon passage of the JOBS Act, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, "It is a welcome sign that we can put our differences aside and work together to help boost the economy." The White House also applauded Congress, and said it supports both bills.
What explains this sudden comity?
It's all about the election. Republicans in the House need "to counter President Barack Obama's re-election strategy of running against a 'do-nothing' Congress," says Alexandra Alper at Reuters. And it behooves both Republicans and Democrats "to be seen as doing something about the recovering, but still anemic, job market," says Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times.
Does this herald a new bipartisan era?
Don't bet on it. The transportation bill still has to make it through the GOP-led House, where conservatives want to tack on an amendment that would open up drilling in environmentally protected areas. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already told the House to ignore the "shrill voice that makes up so much of the Republican caucus." And the JOBS Act still has to go through the Senate, where Democrats are thinking about adding controversial amendments of their own. But "for a day at least, Washington lawmakers of both political parties worked together," says Jeff Plungis at Bloomberg Businessweek.