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CQ Roll Call: Congress Approves Highways, Judges; Gary Ackerman Retires

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David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

With the warm weather in Washington this week, there seemed to be a slight thawing of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. The Senate passed a bill overhauling federal highway and transit programs with bipartisan support and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) negotiated a deal to vote on confirmation of some judicial nominations and debate a small-business bill. 

David Hawkings, editor of CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, talks with WAMU 88.5 Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about what these agreements mean for the session going forward. Here are some highlights: 

On why was there some productivity in the Senate this week after so much gridlock from this Congress: "They need to clear the decks of the easy things they need to get done," Hawkings says. "Because both parties know that pretty soon they are going to want to use the Senate and House floor to do really nothing more than have polarizing votes that both sides want to position themselves for the election."

Why that election posturing hasn't started already: "They have a little bit of extra time, because the Republicans especially don't know who their presidential nominee is," Hawkings says. "Once the Republican presidential race becomes clear, either Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney will meet with Republican leadership and essentially decide what sorts of debates they want to have … in which they can have roll call votes to put the Democrats in a tough spot." 

Whether there's hope for more cooperation: "I really don't see cooperation continuing," Hawkings says, likening the situation to that of children of divorce parents. "When parents are divorced and you hear that they have come to an agreement on something simple, like who's going to pick up one of the kids from the high school dance, it doesn't mean they're getting back together." 

On why these particular bills made it through: "This was pretty easy stuff," Hawkings says. "The highway bill is essentially only a continuation of more or less current policy. And the agreement on judges was only on about 14 of the judges … and none of these are opposed by anybody."

Whether the small-business bill will actually succeed in the Senate: "It's not as though the Senate is going to just pass it next week," Hawkings says. "The longer it sticks around, the more opposition is raised to it. There are some consumer advocates who feel this would be an undoing of consumer protections that were put in after Enron. Especially when it comes to crowd funding, meaning using social media and the internet to raise capital, [advocates say] that this would take protections away and create Ponzi schemes all over the web."

On the retirement of colorful Congressman Gary Ackerman, who's spent more than 30 years in Congress living on a houseboat on the Southwest waterfront: "He lives on a little tiny houseboat … with the name "Unskinable 2," Hawkings says. ["Unsinkable 1 apparently sank in the 1980s.] "This is exactly the reason why Gary Ackerman was beloved by reporters and some colleagues alike," Hawkings adds. "He was one of the wittiest and drollest members of Congress, and it's yet another example of how the house seems to be losing many of its so-called characters."


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