As Congress gets back to work this week, the Republican majority faces the daunting task of trying to advance several big-ticket legislative items amid a sometimes strained relationship between the two chambers.
House and Senate Republicans will not only wrestle with their Democratic opponents, but in some cases with each other, as they look to complete an emergency supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina recovery, as well as a pension bill, immigration reform and a lobby overhaul package.
The majority views passage of these as key to bolstering its chances in the November elections, along with consideration of several other measures important to the GOP base, including an anti-gay-marriage amendment, abolition of the estate tax and energy legislation.
GOP tensions have risen in both chambers over some of the most hotly contested bills this year, leaving some to wonder whether the party can come together quickly enough to pass them in the time that remains in this Congress. Immigration and the emergency spending bill are the most high-profile measures on which Republicans have faced internal battles over how far to go in this election year.
“From the inside, it looks completely as if we are in a free-fall, chaotic mix,” acknowledged one GOP Senate aide. “We are debating amongst ourselves for competing proposals. We do have some differences, but ours are only visible because we have the spotlight on us.”
But this aide said: “Without a doubt, we need to realize that we need to be fighting the Democrats and not ourselves.”
“There’s always this natural tension between the House and the Senate that is almost imprinted on everyone’s DNA,” added a House Republican leadership aide. “That always tends to create a tough work environment.”
At the same time, the House aide said, “for as many House folks as there are who hold grudges, there are other folks who 30 seconds later forget they’re mad at the Senate. The bottom line is we have to put points on the board. We’ll be judged at the polls.”
In part, the GOP infighting can be attributed to the inherent differences between the two chambers: The House is known for striking a more conservative tone, while the Senate is viewed as more of a consensus-building body.
But beyond that, Republicans say they currently lack the powerful mediator they once enjoyed in President Bush, whose poll numbers continue to lag and who lacks the political capital he had just a year ago.
And the GOP is facing pressure from a conservative base seeking to move it to the right while trying to appeal to a broader electorate.
Another House Republican leadership aide described the current state of House-Senate relations as “decent” and said the attitude of House leaders toward their Senate counterparts was “trust but verify.”
GOP Senate sources said Republicans in both chambers know they must spend the next couple of months working together to try to get as much done as possible. The closer to November they get, the more difficult it will become to advance legislation against a Democratic Party looking to deny the GOP any victories to take to the voters.
“Most people recognize that accomplishment on good bills is important to Republicans in both houses,” another well-placed Senate GOP aide said. “We’ve got enough gridlock coming from the Democrats. We don’t need to create any of our own.”
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