"No one is more frustrated than Sen. Reid," said his spokesman, Jon Summers. "Unfortunately, when Republicans force us to spend two months on a jobs bill that they then ultimately block anyway, it makes it difficult to get things done. Hopefully, Republicans will hear the voices of the American people, drop their Medicare-killing agenda and start working with us to create jobs and strengthen our economy."
Republicans, however, put the blame squarely on Reid for being afraid to expose his caucus, many of whom are up in 2012, to tough votes.
"If Democrats are frustrated with the pace of the Senate floor, they don't have to look any further than their leader," a senior Republican aide said. "Republicans are more than willing to have debates on legislation, but that would require Harry Reid to let us have votes on our amendments. The only way to speed up the Senate is for the majority to allow an open process with amendments, votes and debate."
Despite the slow pace, Begich said there are signs of legislative life starting to percolate on the Senate floor. And younger Senators are now pushing the agenda from the bottom up through the committee process instead of from leadership down. That's different from two or four years ago, Begich said, when there was an extensive leadership-driven agenda.
He said newer Senators on the Democratic side are looking for something beyond the budget that can get bipartisan support.
"I think it's going to be energy," Begich said.
"And the reason why is they're getting beat up at home every day. I don't care if you're a House Member, Senate Member, tea party, not tea party, you're getting your teeth kicked in every time you go home, and people are getting fed up with paying $4 a gallon [for gas]," Begich added.
Sen. Claire McCaskill said the focus right now is rightly on the fiscal situation, and that has put a chill on other agenda items.
"We're obviously constrained," the Missouri Democrat said. "A lot of legislative proposals over the last decade were about spending money, and that's not going to be the priority for a long time."