WASHINGTON — For the first time in a while, members of the two parties — at least some of them — appear to be talking about getting things done, even without the deadline of a manufactured crisis looming.
With Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., reaching a deal to expand background checks on firearms purchases, the way appears to have been cleared for the Senate to start debate on gun-control legislation. Although their provision is not as far-reaching as what President Barack Obama proposed after the Newtown, Conn. massacre in December, he praised it as "common sense."
Another bipartisan deal also is in the offing, as a group of eight senators nears final agreement on a plan that would give illegal immigrants a path to legal status and, potentially, citizenship.
And Wednesday night, Obama continued his outreach to Senate Republicans, dining with a dozen of them to discuss the nation's fiscal future and the budget he put forward earlier in the day. It was the second such dinner in a matter of weeks.
"What we did, we did right," said Manchin in an interview Wednesday, referring to his background-check deal. "And you have to look at that in the toxic atmosphere that we're in, that I've experienced for 2 1/2 years. Oh Lordy, if we're able to get this, I think, good piece of legislation through, it'll be a major accomplishment."
This moment may mark the beginning of a real thaw. Or it may just be a false spring.
Either way, it was a sign of how low expectations have sunk in Washington that any of these developments could be heralded as a breakthrough.
After all, the Senate will now debate a measure that nine out of 10 Americans say they want.