A Democratic aide indicated Republican leadership in the Senate has given committees the blessing to do their work in regular order but that the real test will be whether Republicans will allow those spending bills to go forward as the elections creep closer. And, of course, the demeanor of House Republicans will be key to that debate, given that the House originates spending bills and Republicans have had trouble persuading their rank and file to support compromise budget numbers.
The mix of political test votes and real work will be a strain on a Congress that has struggled to carry out the normal business of previous sessions. And Democrats think they can use this to their advantage, much like they feel like they did in December, when they were able to pin the near-failure to extend jobless benefits and a tax break for 160 million Americans on House Republicans.
"I think they're struggling right now," another Democratic aide said. "Their side is divided into two camps, those who feel like they need to support an affirmative agenda and then the other half that feels like they can sit back and do nothing and rely solely on this election being a referendum on the president."
The aide suggested that the recent push by Hill Republicans to force a vote on a conscience clause amendment regarding the Obama administration's decision to mandate contraception coverage in employer health care plans is an example of a fight that would not be happening if Romney were already the nominee.
"If Mitt Romney had been selected, his people probably would have pressured Congressional leaders to make this go away," the aide said. "They would not want this issue that's alienating independent women, and the divisions are empowering social conservatives into making a big issue of this, which is a distraction."
Republican sources, however, said GOP Members would have made a principled stand on religious issues no matter what.
An aide pointed to a presentation given by one GOP Senator at the Conference's retreat last month during which the Member compared all of the plans of the major nominees, highlighting the large similarities and rallying the party around a united cause.
"From a broad brush-stroke perspective, there's a lot of overlap and similarity, what he was trying to show to the caucus — whatever it is, whoever [the nominee] ends up being, we're going to be able to have a unified message on a lot of these jobs issues and spending issues," the aide said.