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New Senate Offers Fresh Hopes, Big Challenges

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leads a larger GOP Conference in the 112th Congress.

“We have 23 Democrats who are up in ’12. Many of them, I think, are listening to the American people and saying: ‘They want us to address spending, they want us to address debt — and by the way, I don’t think they like the health care bill that we passed,’” McConnell said. “I think we could have the potential of building bipartisan majorities in the Senate for things that most of my Members are for anyway.”

Former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who served as Minority Leader and Majority Leader, said both Reid and McConnell must adjust their strategies to be successful in the months ahead. Lott said the unusual dynamic of a Republican House and Democratic Senate and White House adds a measure of unpredictability to the mix.

Lott said party unity is going to be a lot harder for Reid, and he said the former Majority Whip is going to need all of the skills he has learned over the years in leadership to hold his Conference together.

But McConnell also is going to face an added burden of leadership, Lott added. Given that House Republicans are going to send the Senate several pieces of legislation that the GOP is likely to want to send to the president, the onus will occasionally be on McConnell to find the votes to make that happen.

“They both have to review how they’re going to do business,” said Lott, who served with both Reid and McConnell. “Assuming the House is able to pass some legislation that McConnell would like to get through, he’ll have to come up with the votes.”

One consequence of the new Republican House majority and strengthened Senate minority could be fewer GOP-led filibusters.

The Republicans spent the 111th Congress pushing back against legislation sent over by a Democratic House that it deemed too liberal. Additionally, Senate Democrats knew that if they could just get a bill sent over to the House, there was a strong likelihood it would pass and make it to the president’s desk. The strong GOP majority in the House negates both dynamics.

Senate Republicans might have additional reasons for shying away from the filibuster.

“Senate Republicans are no longer the first line-stopper,” said one Republican lobbyist with relationships in the Senate. “Is it better for Mitch McConnell to force Reid to round up 51 or better to let the Democrats in tough races hide behind a filibuster? I think we will want to let the conservative Democrats vote often on tough issues.” 

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