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Its approval rating at new low, Congress plows ahead on immigration, taxes

The approval rating for Congress has never been lower, a poll shows. Might that change as the 'the broken branch' of government makes bipartisan headway on vexing issues of immigration and tax reform? 

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“I’m trying to not let that stop our discussions on policy issues that would make up the tax reform bill,” said Camp. “I say, Look, let’s not go to our corners. Let’s move forward on policy and see what we get.... I don’t think it’s productive to focus on where we disagree.”

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Though the White House is not publicly out front on tax reform at the moment, that doesn't mean it's disengaged, Baucus said. The senator, who has served Montana in the Senate longer than anyone else and who opted not to seek reelection in 2014 in part to pursue tax reform with all his energy, said he has met regularly with the president’s economic team and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to work through tax reform questions.

But Obama has avoided inserting himself into this debate and the one on immigration so as not to scare off Republicans. “I think [Obama], wisely, is looking at tax reform the same way he’s approached immigration: carefully,” Baucus said Friday. “In this climate, it might not be wise to be too upfront too soon, because it may cause a bit of a storm.”

Republicans who are attempting to get to yes say they appreciate the president's approach. 

“He’s played the right role so far. The outside cheerleader … [and] that’s been useful and effective,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona, an author of the Senate’s immigration reform legislation, earlier in the week. “It would be more difficult [for Republicans in Congress] if he were out front pushing this issue.”

Make no mistake, there’s still enough partisan bickering on Capitol Hill to cause C-SPAN viewers to wince. House Republicans trotted out a full repeal of the president’s signature health-care law, bringing to at least three dozen the number of anti-Obamacare notches in their belts. Senate Democrats turned up their noses at a House GOP proposal on student loans that largely mirrors Obama’s own plan, even as the clock ticks down toward a doubling of student loan interest rates at month’s end.

Immigration reform, despite its head of steam in the Senate, faces an uncertain path through the House. And while Baucus and Camp envision pushing their tax-reform plan through during this fall's negotiation over raising the federal debt limit, the political reality is that tax code overhaul has eluded lawmakers for almost three decades.

But if Washington can break through? With a fall schedule that includes the debt ceiling, funding the federal government, and a host of other must-pass priorities, Congress will need all the confidence it can muster.

Passing an immigration bill “will be an important thing on the merits, but it will also be evidence that the institution of the United States Congress is not in fact broken and can make some hard decisions,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado, a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight who appeared with Senator Flake at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast on Wednesday. “And we are going to have to make some hard decisions on our debt and our deficit.”

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