It's no secret this Congress hasn't done much. Lawmakers who opened the session in January had hoped cooperation would replace the rancor and ill will of the last Congress. That didn't happen.
Instead, nearly all the large, comprehensive bills now before Congress -- bills that require votes and compromise from both sides of the aisle to pass -- appear to be on the rocks.
The farm bill is stuck after House Republicans split the food stamp section from the agriculture programs. Education legislation is in limbo on the House floor. An immigration law overhaul is also uncertain after the House GOP decided to tackle multiple smaller immigration bills rather than take up the Senate's comprehensive bill.
'DEATH' OF COMPREHENSIVE BILLS
In sweltering heat last week outside the Capitol, some 70 lawmakers, including DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar, pledged cooperation on big bills during a bipartisan rally. After retreating to the air conditioning indoors, many went right back to bashing the other side on the big issues.
"What you're seeing is really the death of comprehensive bills," said Dan Holler, communications director of Heritage Action, a political group affiliated with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The idea that there's not a ton of stuff being passed I don't think is a bad thing if your goal with the policy process is to have a smaller government."
The deal making necessary to pass big legislation leads to higher spending and more regulations, so it's better for Congress to tackle issues bit by bit, Holler and other conservatives say.
Republicans are trying to avoid the messy legislative process that produced the health care and financial sector overhauls Democrats enacted in 2010, said Minnesota GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen.
"There's a hesitance to do these thousand pages bills that just take time to read over, to study, to get a thoughtful approach," he said.
Holler says there's another reason behind the reluctance to pass big bills: With Republicans controlling only the House, "the chances for good, conservative policy victories right now are very narrow."
WALZ KNOCKS SMALL-BALL APPROACH
The small-bill approach, though, is a break from more than 220 years of tradition in Congress forging compromises in the national interest, DFL Rep. Tim Walz argues.
"Some of it comes from, if it's not your complex piece of legislation, you don't like it," Walz said. "This idea that you're going to take one piece of legislation, very small that's specific to you, building a coalition around that is virtually impossible, that's what you've seen around here. That's why nothing is happening."
Taxes may be the issue to bring lawmakers together for a major overhaul, although there is no big bill yet and if one does come to a vote it's guaranteed to be filled with messy compromises and run hundreds of pages -- the kind of bill Congress has struggled to pass lately.
It's a big measure, though that Paulsen would like to see.
"I don't think it's going to be broken up into chunks," he said of a potential tax deal. "I think it's going to include business reform, individual reform, small business reform," Paulsen said. "It will be the whole package."